Want to minimise your waste? Learn how SHAPE Australia uses circular economy principles.

SHAPE Australia (SHAPE) is a fit out and construction services company with 9 offices across Australia. SHAPE is committed to implementing best practices in waste management. It aims to reduce its environmental impact and contribute to a more sustainable future.

Maddie Greenwood, project coordinator in SHAPE's Sydney office and the NSW environmental champion, shares how the business implements circular economy practices, increases recycling and involves employees.

What does best practice waste management mean for SHAPE?

We have a comprehensive waste management policy and plan. The key elements we have implemented in our Sydney office include:

  • circular economy principles: we’ve adopted a circular economy approach. We focus on minimising waste and maximising resource efficiency.

  • sustainable procurement: our management systems have embedded practices within our procurement teams to support reducing waste.

  • waste streams and recycling: within our Sydney office we have 6 waste streams – e-waste, coffee cup recycling, compost, general (landfill), paper and mixed recycling.

  • regeneration: we’ve planted an edible garden of fruit trees and herbs in the terrace area of our Sydney office. This is one regeneration example.

  • continuous improvement: our practices are regularly reviewed and updated based on new technologies, best practice and feedback from our people.

For our Sydney office fit-out, we designed and specified products and services with a longer lifecycle and encouraged the reuse, refurbishment and recycling of materials, not just during the build process but also during our tenancy use. Our Sydney office fit-out achieved a 6 star Green Star Interiors rating – the Green Building Council of Australia’s highest rating. 97% of all construction and demolition waste was recycled.

Maddie Greenwood, NSW environmental champion

Have you set targets to reduce waste or increase diversion from landfill?

Yes. We outlined waste targets in our financial and strategic plan which supports us in maintaining our Climate Active certification.

To maintain this certification, we continually develop, implement and record the waste reduction and diversion from landfill efforts of every state and territory office to provide as evidence to the Climate Active third party audit and certification bodies.

We’ve also developed on-site targets for our client projects. This includes landfill diversion and reuse targets, as well as supplier take-back programs.

And how do you keep track of progress?

We track office waste monthly by entering data into our impact sustainability platform.

A waste champion from each office collects the weight of each waste stream daily to feed into monthly and annual reports.

Can you tell us how your procurement or other business polices help you minimise waste?

These policies play a crucial role in reducing waste. They evaluate products based on their durability, recyclability and delivery. When we can, we choose items that have a longer lifespan, can be easily recycled and have minimal distance to travel. We also encourage our suppliers to introduce waste reduction in their production and supply chains. This collaboration is reviewed and monitored by our local environmental champions and sustainability working groups. It’s also supported by our environment, health, safety and quality management system.

SHAPE office, Sydney

Tell us how you keep employees motivated and engaged. Do you have a structured approach to maintaining interest and progress?

Our Climate Active commitment fosters engagement at all levels.

Environmental leaders in the business, such as myself, provide support to realise projects, encourage and influence others.

A sustainability working group in each state meets every 6 weeks to discuss solutions and initiatives within the state branch. This has been instrumental in sharing knowledge at the state and national level.

We foster a culture of sustainability through training sessions, presentations in staff meetings, short informative videos and word of mouth.

How does waste management look day to day? What have you introduced?

We’ve put in place systems and programs to make waste management easy. In some cases, there are great co-benefits for the community too.

Circular economy principle #1 - design out waste

  • Edible coffee cups are available instead of disposable coffee cups.

  • Coffee machine training reduces disposable coffee cup use.

Circular economy principle #2 - keep materials in circulation at their highest value

  • We repair work phones inhouse instead of purchasing new ones.

  • Electronic waste is sent to Pony Up for Good who decommission devices and on-sell them for reuse.

  • We regularly donate our laptops to schools in the NT and rural NSW.

  • Our ReSHAPE initiative aims to salvage redundant furniture and materials from our projects to be reused for pro-bono and charitable activities. Green Furniture Hub supports furniture recycling from commercial offices.

  • We have a coffee cup recycling stream. The building manager uses Simply Cups.

  • We provide reusable takeaway containers for employees from Replated .

  • Best practice waste signs prompt recycling and reduce contamination.

Circular economy principle #3 - regenerate nature

  • Instead of the usual corporate gifts, we support tree planting as handover gifts.

  • Our roof space in Sydney is used to compost and grow edible plants.

We also make environmental sustainability commitments on a construction project / site level. We have an easily accessible list of environmental sustainability opportunities for teams to reduce waste on site. This makes carrying out strategies easy.

Maddie Greenwood, NSW environmental champion

Do you have any lessons you wish to share with other businesses?

Make it fun – Bring enthusiasm and bad jokes to the staff presentations. Begin light-hearted conversations with colleagues. Create fun stickers to show how to recycle correctly. Allow staff to use edible coffee cups. Purchase fun coloured reuse containers for employee takeaway lunches. Host a communal coffee training session with free coffee afterwards. Romanticising mundane routine tasks – making them seem exciting –will spread enthusiasm.

Keep it simple – If you’re the environmental leader in your office, there is a high probability you are more knowledgeable on the topic of waste reduction initiatives than most. Try not to overload employees. Keep messages short, sweet and simple. It makes it easier for the team to retain the information and they’ll be more likely to start a new habit the next time they throw away rubbish.

Highlight a leader – Create a single contact person within the office, a sustainability champion. Curious employees will then know who to go to with any questions or queries on how to get involved. If you have too many leaders or there is confusion about whether you have one, people will be less likely to approach others out of the blue.

Tackle one bite at a time – The sustainability and waste reduction target and goal can often be overwhelming. Separate the goals and plan the activities within the office across the calendar year. Focus on each one as they pop up. This improves quality and engagement.