Becoming A Zero Waste Company: An Interview with Dagmara Perlak, Senior Marketing and CSR Manager at intive

Sustainability is an increasingly important issue for many people, including the business world. In this interview, we talked to Dagmara Perlak - intive’s CSR Manager - about the main principles of zero waste lifestyle and how to successfully incorporate them into a company strategy.

-For the entire last month, people all over the world participated in Plastic Free July - a global movement to reduce personal consumption of plastic. How was intive involved in this challenge? 

I believe that small efforts add up. Being a global organization with more than 1,500 employees, intive can act both on personal and company level achieving a satisfying impact. 

Awareness is the first step to action. We launched Zero Waste July initiative, which involved a series of webinars tackling a variety of zero waste topics. We offered intivers an opportunity to better understand the trend and showed them step-by-step solutions how to reduce plastic waste in everyday life. Because every little bit helps. 

Our invited expert, Kasia Wolszczak from Akademia Zero Waste, ran 4 webinars across the 4 weeks of July. intivers from Argentina, Germany, Poland and the US joined this interactive tour and learned the golden rules of recycling and upcycling, as well as best practices for staying environmentally friendly in our workplace.

-What are the most important take away points from these “zero waste” webinars? What are the tips for becoming eco-friendly? 

Oh, there are many important takeaways, since the “less waste movement” touches upon every aspect of our life, and there is so much we can do on every level of everyday activities at home, work, shops, etc. But what really appeals to me is this healthy approach to the problem – start with the simplest and easiest changes. You don’t have to make a revolution. Rather, make it an evolution, modify your routines and habits, and eventually the changes you so gradually implement, will stay with you for good, becoming permanent.

Also, use your common sense. Not everything labeled “zero waste” actually is what it seems. Unfortunately, we have been seeing the rise of the so-called “greenwashing” practice, when companies try to take advantage of the trend and profit from consumers seeking environmentally friendly products. This often means simply more “marketing”, instead of real commitment to make processes and operations greener.

Finally, you should try to follow general 7 “R” rules which will help you in rethink the choices you make:  refuse what you don’t need, reduce the things you need, reuse whatever you can, repair and use longer, rehome if someone else needs it, recycle what is left and rot organic waste, relying on nature’s own process of recycling.

-More and more companies are becoming aware of environmental issues and want to reduce their influence on the environment. What’s intive’s general action plan to make this happen?

intive is not a manufacturing company, but even in service-based organizations there is a lot that can be optimized. Our carbon footprint, for instance. In a global company like ours, business travels generate the most of it. That’s why since 2019 we’ve been measuring it carefully and planning for offsetting. 

We’ve also started measuring our resources consumption, in order to take actions concerning rational usage of water and energy, plus to manage waste efficiently. We do recycle at each office location. 

In 2019 we finalized a major relocation project, we were merging 2 offices into one new space. It was our priority to leave behind as little waste as possible in the old offices, so we introduced an application to let our employees buy office items for symbolic prices. What was left, especially office desks, chairs and desk containers were donated to a local school and NGOs. 68% of items found new homes.

It’s also worth mentioning that the money raised by these purchases was donated to a tree planting NGO, and in Autumn 2020 we will be planting intive’s own forest in the Wroclaw area, with 5,000 tree seedlings. We’ve also introduced eco-friendly solutions in the new office, such as water aerators or chairs that have replaceable parts. 

Environmental issues are also part of our Supplier Code of Conduct in which we encourage our Suppliers to seek continuous improvement and ways to minimize their environmental impact. This is also what we keep constantly in mind – major changes can’t often be achieved instantly, but you have to care enough to do the most you can and to iterate, to improve year after year. 

-That sounds like a great plan. In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges businesses’ face when going zero-waste?

It depends on the nature of a business, of course. But in general, I would say the biggest challenge is making the decision – and once it’s been made, sticking to it, with all the consequences. For example, if you have a Business Travel Policy defining which means of transportation impact the environment least, then your natural course of action would be choosing a video conference instead of taking a plane to meet a single client. Without a doubt, direct contact is crucial for a service company, but reducing the number of flights to, let’s say, kick-off and project wrap-up meetings could also work fine. The pandemic situation has proved it’s feasible and just as effective. 

Another example is making purchasing decisions: whether you buy fair trade, offer filtered water from a dispenser – even during a C-level business meeting, or what kind of promotional gadgets you give away and who produces them. And yes, sometimes it means it’s more expensive. 

For ages, it was believed that the only purpose of a business is to bring profit. It's still true, but there’s a long way between business operation and profit creation. And this “in-between” is the space in which you can be socially responsible and act in a sustainable manner.

-Last but not least, why is zero waste so important to you personally? What fuels your passion for pursuing a “green” lifestyle?

I think I’ve always had a compassion for nature. I grew up in the countryside and back then it was so natural to be natural :) Surprisingly, in a very short time, the world’s had to face so many changes regarding production and consumption. And personally, I think advertising is also to blame. It’s stopped being informative and instead has been focusing on artificially creating needs for goods. Within the intive company, I’ve made a shift from a marketing role to a CSR role and I strongly believe there is much to be done in that area. 

And my lifestyle? I’m back in the country from the city, trying to grow my own veggies, planting trees and hoping to spark that love of nature in my kids. In the future, it will be up to them to make the decisions. 

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