The Estee Lauder Companies Earth Month mission

  • Living
  • Tuesday, 18 Mar 2014

‘Hopefully with awareness and education, more people will gravitate towards biodegradable containers,’ says managing director Paul Slavin.

The global American beauty company is making a concerted effort to approach business in a green way.

THE next time you take away food, think about the polystyrene containers that it comes in and the damage it will do to the environment.

In conjunction with Earth Month this year, The Estee Lauder Companies (ELC) has teamed up with Mid Valley Megamall, Kuala Lumpur for its “Reduce: Adopt Biodegradables. Take away Responsibly” campaign. Other partners include HSBC Bank Malaysia and Shark Savers, an organisation founded by divers who share a passion for saving the world’s shark and manta population.

The mall’s theme is Beautiful Ocean and The ELC will be sponsoring biodegradable food containers at the the food courts. When you pack food from Mid Valley Megamall’s food courts between March 24 and 26, it will come in a food container that looks similar to the polystyrene ones normally used by food vendors. However, this version has a shorter life span and is a greener choice.

This type of container biodegrades in 90 days so it won’t end up choking an animal, pollute the oceans or waterways, and as such, won’t contribute to floods.

ELC’s campaign is spearheaded by Origins, a brand under The ELC that is recognised for its commitment to environmental causes. The brand will also have a booth at the South Court of Mid Valley Megamall until March 30 to promote awareness of biodegradable containers for packing food and the importance of recycling empty plastic cosmetic containers to reduce the amount of materials sent to landfills.

The ELC’s Recreational Club has bought each staff member a reusable food container for takeaway meals.

Shoppers are encouraged to take part in activities that highlight the importance of marine life, marine habitat and sustainable seafood. You can also learn about how we can play a part in helping to save the world’s oceans.

“Last year, we enjoyed a good synergy working with Mid Valley Megamall in reducing paper and recycling, so this year, we’re collaborating again on our global theme of adopting biodegradables,” says Paul Slavin, managing director of The ELC in Malaysia.

Scotsman Slavin, previously based in The ELC in Hong Kong, commented that Malaysia has the longest coastlines with beautiful beaches and corals, and it would be a shame if these were destroyed. When he started work here two years ago, he says he “inherited a commendable culture of good corporate social responsibility practices whereby The ELC in Malaysia (ELC is in 130 countries) is top three in the world for its efforts.”

During last year’s Earth Day programme, Origins – which has 11 counters throughout Malaysia – collected 90kg of recyclables through its recycling programme in which anyone can drop off empty plastic cosmetic bottles to be recycled, with no obligation to purchase at the store.

He adds that The ELC will be sponsoring 18,000 units of biodegradable food containers for the vendors at Mid Valley Megamall’s food courts, and hopes to raise awareness by educating the public on protecting our coastlines and oceans.

“These containers degrade quickly unlike the petroleum-based polystyrene which appears to last forever. Research shows that these non-biodegradable containers are a major environmental issue, ending up in landfills and affecting the ecological system of the planet. Polystyrene is now considered a main component of marine debris,” he says.

Polystyrene, plastic bottles along with other rubbish are seen littered along the beach in Batu Ferringhi, Penang.

“The biodegradable containers cost 30sen while polystyrene costs between 7sen and 10sen. Things will not change overnight but when more people start using biodegradable products, they will eventually cost less.

“We understand that vendors work on small margins and cannot afford the current cost of biodegradable products. But hopefully with awareness and education, more people will gravitate towards biodegradable containers. In fact, the bigger companies can work together by educating the public as well.”

The ELC’s efforts are laudable, but will a three-day activity at one location be enough to raise awareness?

“This event is a great way to start a conversation and think about what we can do permanently. We have to keep at it and talk to vendors. And we believe Mid Valley Megamall will continue its efforts as well,” Slavin explains.

“Change will happen when biodegradable products become affordable or when authorities take a stand. Polystyrene has many uses but it’s what people do with these polystyrene food containers that is the issue here.”

What’s even more encouraging is that The ELC also walks the talk. Last year, Slavin, together with his management team, spearheaded green initiatives within the Malaysian office.

The biodegradable food containers sponsored by The Estee Lauder Companies biodegrades in 90 days.

On a drive to go paperless and a plan to reduce 1,250kg per year, Slavin equipped the entire office with wireless Internet coverage, gave his managers large flat LED monitors, provided light notebooks with docking stations for staff to be mobile, implemented no printing days and paperless meetings, and reduced the copies of magazines and newspapers they were receiving.

“When the paperless day started, I was relatively new. What was amusing was finding staff hiding things in drawers and getting worried that they would get into trouble! I think we made the point very well as this is about changing behaviour,” he says.

The result was a 16% reduction in paper usage from July 2013 to February 2014 and 15 printers were cut down to two, saving cost on paper, toner and electricity. These days, only paperless meetings are conducted.

In the company’s first green audit done by Recycle for Nature at the end of 2013, out of the recyclables, The ELC in Malaysia saved two tonnes of carbon dioxide by reducing the use of materials such as plastic and paper. According to Slavin, the amount of paper that was recovered was equivalent to 16 trees.

Slavin also felt that the heaps of paper from invoices, quotations and purchase orders that vendors faxed over were unnecessary.

“It took us 18 months to communicate with our vendors about our paperless drive and by June this year, vendors will be sending quotations and invoices through e-mail, and we will pay them via telegraphic transfer. Also, by working online there will be a document trail,” he explains.

With the bigger vendors, Slavin says it was easy to put this into practice, however, it took more time with the smaller vendors.

“We understand smaller vendors need time and money to put systems in place. Some banks are charging to receive cheques so for smaller vendors this matters, and getting paid by telegraphic transfer saves them money. We told them that telegraphic transfer ensures immediate payment while cheques take time to clear, so it’s good business sense.”

However, with retailers who have many systems downstream, it’s more challenging to adopt paperless measures.

This year, the company will be bolstering its green initiatives through the introduction of recycling bins and energy efficient lighting. The staff will have to separate their wastes using a recycling bin provided under their workstations.

“We are also discussing with the landlord on changing the current lighting to energy efficient light bulbs. Currently, our buildings’ air-conditioning cuts off at 5.30pm and those working late can switch on individual units at their workstations so this saves money.

“We are always on the lookout for new things to implement but what’s more important is that these efforts stick. We can’t jump from one thing to the next without concrete efforts and results,” emphasises Slavin.

The toughest part about establishing green initiativesis changing a company’s culture.

“If someone has worked for more than a decade with the company and we are introducing ways to change the business model, it takes time. We need the patience and time to educate them. When there is resistance, it’s usually because it is not understood and change cannot happen overnight,” he says.

“We have to make it lighthearted and fun. So, on no paper days when someone is found with paper in hand, he or she is fined RM5 and this goes to one of the causes we work on, be it Earth Month, Breast Cancer Awareness or M.A.C AIDS Fund.”

He concludes: “I’m really proud that everyone in our office has shown their commitment to the Earth Month campaign as they see the value of what we’re doing.”

Related story:

Cutting down waste

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