Simon Dormer on the war against plastics


As Plastic Free July 'wraps' up, Bupa Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability Advisor, Simon Dormer, discusses the important role corporations can play in the fight against plastic and shares how Bupa is working towards a healthier, more sustainable planet.

Why is Plastic Free July important?

Plastic isn’t inherently bad; however, every piece of plastic produced remains in our environment for thousands of years.

The problem comes from our behaviours and the throw away mentality that many of us have. Plastic Free July is about rethinking those behaviours.

We can each make a difference by avoiding single-use plastics as much as possible, or reusing and recycling anything we cannot avoid. It can take a little forward thinking to remember shopping bags, but collectively that difference can have a real impact.

If you’re still not convinced, traces of a plastic container you threw away last year may be in the next pint of beer you drink.. We’re seeing the formation of gyres, large patches of garbage, forming in the oceans. As these ‘trash vortexes’ degrade into the ecosystem they’re consumed by wildlife, causing traces of plastic to make their way into our food chain.

That’s not just uncomfortable to think about, it can lead to serious health issues for both humans and wildlife.


Is it possible to completely remove single-use plastics from our lives?

Many people don’t realise we’ve only been mass producing plastic for the past 70 years or so. Our lives have become much busier, and so we have adapted to the convenience of plastic.

In some cases, plastics enable people to lead more independent lives, particularly those living with disabilities, who rely on pre-packaged foods or straws to feed themselves with minimal assistance.

It’s not realistic to completely remove single-use plastics from our lives, but we do need to look for sustainable options, and particularly those that can be reused.

It’s quite exciting to see new biodegradable materials being produced, but ultimately it will require behavioural change from all of us to adopt those options.


What role does Bupa have to play in reducing the negative impacts on our environment?

Like any business, Bupa has a responsibility to its customers to remain commercially sustainable, but we also have a responsibility to think and act in environmentally sustainable ways.

The digital revolution is exciting and brings countless opportunities to innovate. At the same time, we’re learning that the systems we have created and inherited are significantly changing the environment.

Bupa is aiming to future-proof health and care by reducing our environmental footprint and taking a sustainable approach to growth and development.

In Australia, we recently made digital cards available to many of our health insurance customers. While this change was initially made to improve the claiming experience for our customers, it also carried a side benefit – removing around 5,000kg of plastic from the environment annually. The great news is our customers are getting on board, and the number of claims processed digitally is growing each week.

Similarly, our aged care homes make up 83% of our greenhouse gas emissions footprint, but as one of the largest private rooftop solar owners in Australia we’re able to produce 12 per cent of our electricity sustainably, and by installing over 36,000 LED lights we’re making that power work harder for us.


How can businesses ensure they’re making meaningful change, rather than just ‘greenwashing’?

There are many reasons for businesses to act sustainably whether it’s cutting down operational costs, getting some positive publicity, or simply being motivated to do the right thing.

However, if your sustainability claims are unsubstantiated or misleading you might be criticised for greenwashing, and rightly so.

To avoid this, it’s important to first create a culture within your organisation that is resilient to change and invested in sustainability as a strategy.

The reality is, social media brings greater transparency. A business that markets itself as green while producing goods in a country that has more relaxed environmental regulations can be exposed by anyone with a smart phone within minutes. In this landscape, a proactive and genuine approach will always be rewarded.

There is no plan(et) b, as they say.

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