One of the first questions, Isabel Nardi, our Food Impact Apprentice asked upon joining the Cohere team was – how is “impact” defined? Sustainability was at the forefront of our minds coming into the new year and Zero Waste quickly emerged as a piece of our intended impact. We are aware that these topics – sustainability and Zero Waste – have been well explored, the question was how were we going to tailor them to “fit” for our work, team, and wider network?

With the inception of the #CohereFoodLab happening simultaneously, it seemed like the natural place to begin. Together Isabel and Chef Erik Oberholtzer launched a Lunch+Learn series to serve as a time for the Cohere team to share a meal and explore a sustainable practice. Just as we were getting into our groove, COVID-19 brought a new reality.

Despite this new reality, our commitment remains, and we quickly pivoted our Lunch+Learn series to a virtual model. This pivot has allowed us to continue to learn, share our findings with our wider network, and push towards our ambitious sustainability and Zero Waste goals.

For the 50th Earth Day Anniversary, Cohere was joined in the #CohereFoodLab for a Lunch+Learn by some great minds representing companies and organizations that truly stand for sustainability. Together we explored the importance of less waste in your space and debunked some myths about recycling, composting, and waste management. We left the conversation with the following tips to jumpstart small but mighty changes in the workplace.

  • Nic Esposito, Zero Waste & Litter Director for CleanPHL
  • Jared Cannon, Founder & CEO of Simply Good Jars
  • Jen Mastalerz, Partner of Bennett Compost

1. Get to know your waste

Isabel shared, “For me, I began to think more deeply about the waste I was producing when I started to take note of how many coffee cups I was throwing away weekly. What started as an observation, turned into a small goal, no more disposable coffee cups. This goal creeped into other routines and now I often find myself considering, do I need to waste this or is an alternative available?”

When we polled our team, each person was able to identify a things they could “do better” or at the very least, do differently — cloth napkins instead of paper towels, carry a reusable water bottle, take more notes on the computer and use less post it notes, or avoid the waste that comes with leftovers or takeout. One of the initial inquiries of the Zero Waste Partnership is for businesses to familiarize themselves with their waste. It sounds more daunting than it is and now amidst the “new reality” is a great time to begin; you can start small by simply taking a mental note of what you are tossing.

2. The power of a statistic 

Each panelist leaned on statistics throughout the panel to solidify commentary and their responses to attendees questions. It is true, people latch onto jarring numbers and it is hard not to when you learn that 40% of food is wasted or lost from the time it leaves the market and enters private residences or that 9-10ths of recycling does not actually make it through the recycling system.

However, to Nic Esposito’s point, a negative undertone looms when people hear Zero Waste, it is equated  to giving things up, reducing, or scaling back. Which is why relying on statistics such as 88% of the Simply Good Jars are reused or repurposed or the fact that utilizing a compost service such as Bennett Compost cuts the average person’s annual garbage (1600 pounds!) in half, are equally important and drive people to be a part of this necessary change.

3. Reuse then Repurpose

Over the last few decades, recycling was preached to the masses and while it is impressive to see that so many people have adopted the habit with blue bins lining the streets, the system is broken. As Nic shared, without more regulation and accountability (such as Extended Producer Responsibility) the recycling sign we see all over is misleading and encourages people to recycle things beyond our systems capabilities. The “sustainability street” goes two ways, consumers and vendors need to buy into sustainable practices and Zero Waste strategies. For this reason, we’re pulling a page out of Jared’s book and repurposing when we can no longer reuse.

4. Partners, partners, partners

Since the inception of the #CohereFoodLab Lunch+Learn series in the new year, it has been evident that partnerships are what is going to make our Zero Waste objective possible. As we learn from others like CleanPHL, Simply Good Jars, and Bennett Compost, we are ready and eager to introduce these ways, tools, and mindset to our wider Cohere network of change agents in food, real estate and design. Nic captured our sentiment best, “when one is thriving, we’re all thriving.” We’re excited to support putting Philly on the maps as a thought leader in the Zero Waste realm.

Bennett Compost is helping lead the way in terms of getting Philadelphia residents and businesses comfortable with composting. Composting is a great way to reduce individual waste impact and decrease landfill volume. Learn more about Bennett Compost and what’s compostable on their website!

5. Maintain a growth mindset 

When it comes to the topics of Zero Waste and sustainability, there is always, I mean always more to learn, in part because our environments are ever-changing, as we have re-learned with COVID-19. Zero Waste is a mindset, not a goal.

If you are looking to introduce your team, community, or organization to Zero Waste, invite them to be a part of the conversation, gauge their understanding, and tailor programming and events to echo their awareness and interest. People want to be a part of positive change and the framing starts with the leader. Still not sure how to get started? Get in touch!