Saving the world, one EY office at a time

Plastic bottles
Allison Walker
  • Allison Walker

What if you could help a major organisation save around 57 tonnes of plastic a year? And inspire colleagues around the world to do the same? Meet Allison Walker, who’s doing just that with her EY colleagues and Core Business Services team.

How did you become a planet-saving, plastics-reducing champion?

Allison: "I got into this role by chance at my last job, where I was tasked with reducing the environmental impact of the manufacturing operations. I had no experience in environmental management, so it was a huge learning experience. I was climbing into skips looking at waste, taking energy meter readings and educating myself on environmental legislation.

"It was a real lightbulb moment for me. I realised that I can make a difference beyond the workplace. I can help reduce our environmental footprint and make an impact locally and globally. So I decided to become a full time sustainability professional and qualify as an IEMA Practitioner. Then the Environment Manager role at EY came along in 2009 – and I’ve never looked back."

What does your job at EY entail?

Allison: "I work on everything ranging from policy and strategy development, through to waste audits, awareness campaigns, building design and refurbishment projects. I absolutely love what I do. It gives me an incredible sense of fulfilment every day."

Tell us about your ambitious initiative to eliminate single-use plastics in EY’s buildings.

Allison: "It started back in 2017. The world was waking up to the fact that plastics pollution in marine environments was a major problem – international organisations, national governments and the general public were getting involved, and there was an urgent sense that we needed to do something now.

"In January 2018, I raised the idea of developing a plastics-reduction strategy, with the aim of eliminating single-use plastics in our UK buildings. It was a huge process. We mobilised a stakeholder team from across the Administration and Workplace Services team to review all the items we were procuring and identify things we could eliminate or replace with environmentally-sustainable alternatives."

What were the main challenges?

Allison: "We had three main issues. First, we needed support from leadership to help us get the buy-in and investment required. The second challenge was establishing an effective collaboration with our service partners. Finally, the hardest challenge – we had to change the behaviours and habits of our employees.

"A key stakeholder in the UK & Ireland Leadership team agreed to be the figurehead and sponsor for the project, which gave us the support we needed from the very top of the organisation. And we worked with our service partners in catering, vending, document services and print procurement to review, identify and implement solutions that were efficient, cost-effective and workable.

"To drive behavioural change among employees, we worked closely with our Workplace Services Management team and individual managers to champion the initiative. We also collaborated with our Internal Communications  and in-house creative services teams to develop an effective, ongoing communications campaign – which was essential to every step of the project and key to changing the way people think, act and work."

How was the initiative received?

Allison: "It’s such an emotive subject, so everyone got on board really quickly – and it made everything much easier. People understand it’s an issue that will affect us and future generations, so they’re all very supportive.

"In fact, I get people from every level of the business saying to me, 'This is amazing, I’m so proud to be a part of it. I’m proud that EY is doing this'.”

You managed to reduce EY’s plastc use by 91% within eight months. What does that mean for the business and the environment?

Allison: "If we keep doing what we’re doing, we’re going to reduce our plastic waste by nearly eight million pieces a year – so there’s clearly an environmental impact. People are adopting these new habits in their personal lives too, such as using reusable cups out of work hours. 

"It has also enhanced people’s trust in the EY brand. We’re seen as innovative, creative and proactive, and by accomplishing so much in a short time, we’re showing that we’re taking this seriously and pushing the agenda forward. We even won our first environmental award – The Waste2Zero award for best waste reduction project."

"And our switch to reusable cups will save the business £79,000 every year. This means we’re delivering commercial benefits, as well as environmental and social benefits – a triple bottom line result! It’s like the holy grail of KPIs."

Are other EY offices taking up this challenge?

Allison: "We’ve been approached by 20 other EY firms around the world. So we’re developing a plastics reduction toolkit to help them understand what we’ve done, the lessons we’ve learned and the shortcuts to getting things done. We’ll send this out across our network to help them accomplish it in their own countries."

What’s next?

Allison: "We’re considering installing reverse vending machines, where you put your empty can or bottle in and receive an incentive in return. This will ensure that these waste streams are uncontaminated and fully recycled.

"We’re also hoping to be part of a Vegware composting trial, which involves developing a new industry process to turn plant-based food packaging and cutlery into fertiliser and energy. Hopefully, we’ll help build a commercial system that all of the UK can benefit from." 

Allison Walker
  • Allison Walker

About the author

Allison is an Environment Manager in EY's Adminstration and Workplace Services team.

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