Over the last three years, I have been successfully transitioning clients to ISO14001:2015, with one part of that process including going through a PESTLE analysis with members of their Senior Management teams. One of the things we do is to look at the internal and external issues that are likely to affect the business and identify the opportunities that could help us overcome any potential risks or “threats”. This is simply looking at the context of the business.
During this discussion, you simply must consider the needs and expectations of your interested parties, such as customers, supply chains, and environmental legislators.
The plastic straw debate
This whole social movement to ban plastic straws is a good thing for the environment, I am behind it, I’m not a straw user and I can’t imagine people are really going to buy into the paper straw revolution. Now, on the manufacturing side of the straw debate there are undoubtedly a lot of displeased straw producers, so let’s discuss their situation and how it relates to sustainability.
If you were a straw manufacturer, your PESTLE analysis would have forced you to consider future legislation, changes in societal attitudes, sustainable resource consumption, the future of waste management, and the potential redundancy for straws.
In the last couple of years, we have seen the highly-respected and influential David Attenborough make numerous anti-plastic pledges in order to drive home the point about marine plastic, including when showing a turtle having a straw removed from its nose. We’ve also seen China lead a trend for overseas ‘recycling nations’ to increase their quality limits and refuse UK waste plastic exports. The combination of social pressure and waste management difficulties have created a perfect recipe for change, and so we are now observing many businesses switch to paper and metal straws.
So, even without a legal driver, those with a sense for the environment and the evasion of unnecessary pollution are ditching single-use plastic straws.
So what now for straw manufacturers?
Society may be looking at straw manufacturers and thinking ‘victory, we have nearly expelled you!’, but what about the communities and families who depend on the income from those jobs? Sustainability is about the Triple Bottom Line – People, Planet, Profit. If people suffer, as a result, the victory is lessened and often nullified. The three Ps are only successful and fully sustainable when there are social, environmental and economic victories.
So, did those people working at the straw manufacturing companies see the changes coming? Did they pay attention to the anti-plastic movements and the shift in society away from plastic straws?
Perhaps those people did predict this, but did they adapt? Did they plan ahead? How did they look to solve their monumental sustainability issues? Did they say ‘We’ve always done it this way’, plug their ears, and simply hope to ride out an uncertain and unsustainable future? It’s hard to say.
The ‘War on Plastics’ raises a lot of questions. Where will we find the answers?