Cleanaway reimagining waste under Vik Bansal’s leadership
At the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit in September of 2015, all 193 Member States adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Providing a “shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future,” at the heart of the blueprint lay 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
These actionable and interdependent goals sought to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change. From eradicating poverty and hunger to tackling the climate crisis, the SDGs encompass the most fundamental challenges we face as a society. They are simple and daunting in equal measure.
In order for these goals to be met by 2030, the responsibility cannot be placed on governments alone, or the individuals who live there. Businesses must also play a major role, and they stand to gain a lot from doing so. The challenges that the world is facing globally also affect businesses and limit their potential to grow, such as scarce natural resources, weak financial markets, limited local buying power and lack of qualified talent. By putting the SDGs at the heart of their strategies, business leaders can drive growth, address risk and attract capital.
One such leader was Vik Bansal of Cleanaway, Australia’s largest waste management company. Bansal became chief executive officer and managing director of the company in 2015, and soon after updated the company’s mission statement to “making a sustainable future possible.” In his six year tenure with the company, Bansal transformed the way the waste management industry and indeed Australia viewed waste, from a problem to be dealt with to a resource that had value.
In 2020, Cleanaway released their first stand-alone sustainability report, an 88-page document spearheaded by Bansal that was the result of a thorough process of internal discussions and engagement with shareholders. The report comprehensively summarized all the actions that Cleanaway had already taken toward sustainability on multiple fronts, as well as their goals and directives for the future, taking the policies and goals already put in place by Bansal through their “PEMAF” operating model (people, earth, markets, assets and financials) and putting them in the framework of the United Nations SDGs.
Research and identify
The first critical step Vik Bansal took in aligning his company with the SDGs was doing the appropriate research to identify how the goals directly and indirectly related to Cleanaway. In order to better engage with customers, employees, and stakeholders to make a positive impact companies should take a strategic approach and align their corporate priorities with the relevant SDGs. For Bansal, this meant identifying the SDGs that had the biggest impact in terms of risk and opportunity over the long term for the company, as well as where it had the biggest ability to contribute to the progress toward the goals.
Bansal and his team identified nine priority SDGs most aligned to their waste management business: gender equality (SDG 5), affordable and clean energy (SDG 7), decent work and economic growth (SDG 8), industry, innovation and infrastructure (SDG 9), reduced inequalities (SDG 10), sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11), responsible consumption and production (SDG 12), climate action (SDG 13) and life on land (SDG 15). In the report it was acknowledged that all 17 goals are of equal importance and work together interdependently, but by identifying and selecting the goals that most aligned with the business they were able to come up with a more tailored approach that would allow them to have the biggest impact.
Develop clear and specific targets
Although aligning the SDGs to the company’s operating model is an imperative first step, Bansal knew that alignment is not equivalent to impact. By setting identifiable targets, Bansal was able to create an ambitious agenda that could serve as a roadmap for future strategic and operational changes that would allow Cleanaway to increase its impact on the SDGs. While this may sound basic, many businesses never make it past that first step. An analysis of company reports conducted by PwC shows that while 72 percent of companies mentioned the SDGs, only 14 percent reported having specific targets for their contributions.
Across the 17 SDGs are 169 specific, global, and universally applicable targets, and as Bansal and his team identified the nine SDGs they intended to prioritize, they also worked to consider their strategy, setting their own clear targets and key performance indicators to monitor and communicate their progress. The company’s “Value Creation Story” was also released at this time which demonstrated how the PEMAF strategic pillars enabled Cleanaway to deliver beneficial outputs that aligned to the SDGS, and easily identify where improvements could be made and concrete targets could be set.
Create business opportunities
While the idea of aligning a business with the United Nations SDGs may seem like a daunting and costly task, in reality they provide a framework for generating revenue, business growth opportunities and fostering innovation in products and services. By identifying new products or services that drive progress toward the goals, it is likely that more resilient and prosperous communities will emerge, markets will expand and new ones materialize, and consumer bases will grow. In short, implementing the SDG goals into your operating model is an investment that indicates you wish your company to thrive in the long-term.
As a waste management company at a time when there is an increasing public awareness of the need to more sustainably deal with our trash, Bansal identified that Cleanaway would play a crucial role in the coming years in developing solutions for this global issue. He sought to reduce the link between economic growth and intense use of natural resources and materials, promoting the idea of “closing the loop” and developing a circular economy in Australia by heavily investing in recycling infrastructure. The company invested in online resources to increase education, improve recycling behaviors and help people use waste services correctly, stimulating the economy through increasing the local economic power while preserving the environment.
Collaborate across the board
Just as all of the SDG goals are interlinked and interdependent, Bansal also recognized that a single company cannot solve any of the problems on their own and collaboration would be vital in order for the SDG goals to be met. In fact, collaboration will likely be the main enabler for successfully addressing the goals and scaling up efforts. It will take an unprecedented coordination between individuals, the government, and businesses across sectors to leverage networks, share responsibility and achieve mutually beneficial solutions.
A perfect example of government, individual, and industry working together toward SDG goals is Cleanaway’s joint venture with Pact Group and Asahi. In the states of New South Wales and Western Australia, the plastic collected from the government’s container deposit schemes will be directed toward two new plastic recovery facilities, the construction of which being funded in part by the Australian government’s Recycling Modernization Fund.
Cleanaway will leverage the plastic processing expertise of the industrial packaging company Pact Group within these two facilities, and the New South Wales facility will also partner with the beverages company Asahi, ensuring the influx of pelletized plastic and bottle manufacturing will have the demand to meet it. With consumers depositing the plastic through a government-established program and recycled in a cross-industry operation, these joint ventures spearheaded by Bansal represent a golden standard of collaboration that other companies should look to when implementing SDG goals into their own companies.
Thanks to Bansal, Cleanway is well poised to usher in a new era of business where profits are seen as driven by how a business contributes to society. By creating a stand-alone sustainability report that identified quantifiable goals and actionable targets, Bansal has shown that he places the value of meeting these targets on equal footing with their own financial targets. SDGs may require a new way of thinking, one that rejects the idea of “every man for himself” and instead depends on new partnerships between business, governments, and civil society. However, they also offer a road map for companies to engage with their internal and external stakeholders on how to create sustainable strategies that can not only transform their business and operating models, but also the communities where they operate