11 Aug 21
Living More Sustainably – Our Waste Wise Journey
Sustainability expert and Waste Wise advocate Birte Moliere talks to Dave Reynolds, Founder of RAW Travel, about why he embarked on his sustainability journey and what he’s learnt along the way.
“We’re not afraid to challenge industry norms and champion business that’s good for the planet. While we recognise it’s impossible to run a completely flawless business, that doesn’t stop us from taking responsibility and striving for better standards.” – Dave Reynolds, Founder, RAW Travel
What does it mean to you to be a sustainable and ‘waste wise’ business?
RAW Travel specialises in iconic walks around the world, such as the Camino de Santiago in Europe and the Kumano Kodo in Japan, and more recently walks closer to home in Australia and New Zealand. We deliberately specialise in walking because, by nature, it’s a low-impact activity. It allows you to slow down and really see the world around you, connecting with nature, people and cultures. By choosing a walking holiday, our travellers make a positive choice for the planet, and we honour their commitment in our operations. Every single step we humans take can have a negative impact. The challenge for businesses is to take responsibility and to actively try and minimise our negative footprint across our supply chains.
In terms of being ‘waste wise’, we’re very aware that the world’s resources are finite. At RAW, we actually don’t believe in ‘waste’. Instead we view everything we use as a valuable material. We have a minimalist approach and try to avoid anything that’s single use. When we need something, we often try to buy second hand or even borrowing it – especially if we’ll only use it a handful of times. The last thing we want to do is contribute to Australia’s landfill crisis.
Another big focus for us is litter! Our business’s success is directly dependent on beautiful natural environments. Over the years, we’ve been encountering a great deal of litter along our treks and that can make for a really negative experience. So being ‘waste wise’ for us also means no litter. We have a philosophy of ‘what you carry in, you must carry out’ and have adopted the principles of ‘leave no trace’.
What are the biggest sustainability challenges?
As a global business, we have a big-picture lens. We are well aware of the environmental degradation that’s going on around the planet. Taking our global perspective back to a local level, some might think we don’t have any big challenges down here. But we have a different take. We think we’re very fortunate on the Mornington Peninsula and need to take extra care in ensuring it stays that way.
We want our region to take a real leadership role in protecting what we have. That includes making sure we protect our biodiversity – our local species – in both our bays and on land. With so much private land, we love seeing local landowners support the biolink program designed to help our local wildlife survive, especially given our changing climate.
Our region needs to lead by example when it comes to going carbon neutral and we have an opportunity to go a step further – to become a carbon sink for our state. Victoria is definitely behind other states and countries on this front, so let’s not wait for our State Government. We want to see thousands more trees planted instead of cutting down existing forests for mining and see a shift to community owned renewable energy. We also have an amazing opportunity to expand an Aussie owned local food bowl. Regenerative agriculture is the future, there are so many exciting opportunities in this area!
Lastly, waste still has a very long way to go. When we look at some of the places we travel to, we are definitely behind when it comes to single use plastic and how much waste – especially food waste – we’re sending to landfill. And we can’t believe how much plastic we allow to flow freely into our bays!
Tell us a little about your ‘waste wise’ journey
While we’ve always been committed to sustainable travel, we’ve started to take things really seriously over the past few years and have become involved with a wide range of initiatives beyond our own operations. There are quite a few social and environmental causes we champion. In terms of environmental sustainability, we’ve committed to being Australia’s first climate positive hiking company. That means, along with our partners Intrepid Travel, we’re one of the first Australian tourism businesses who’re taking more carbon from the atmosphere than what we emit. As part of this program, we plant trees for every customer who comes on a walk with us.
When it comes to waste, we’ve adopted a zero waste to landfill commitment which helped us to drastically cut our waste. Our commitment includes everything from how we run ‘zero-waste’ information nights to the merchandise we buy. We say ‘no’ to single-use plastics, run local beach cleans and advocate for zero waste travel more broadly.
We’ve also adopted a ‘sustainable supplier guideline’, making sure we select our suppliers and local partners based on stringent sustainability criteria, including their commitments to reducing waste and carbon neutrality.
We’ve been very conscious to formalise and independently verify our commitments, rather than just making green claims in our marketing. That’s why we’ve adopted our 10% for the Planet program, officially committing 10% of our annual profits to support environmental and social sustainability programs. We’ve also been certified under the BCorp Certification program, a rigorous, independent verification that we’re a ‘business for good’ – meeting the world’s highest environmental and social sustainability standards.
Tell us more about your approach to waste
We first looked at how we can reduce waste across our operations, committing to eliminating single use. This included a huge reduction in the amount of hardcopy documents being sent to our customers by developing our own travel app. It also included single use takeaway items. We stocked our kitchens with reusable cups, metal straws, containers, cutlery – you name it.
We ran a bees wax wrap workshop to help staff eliminate clingfilm. For remaining materials, we set up what appears to be a bin for every colour of the rainbow – everything from soft plastic recycling (which we take to REDCycle) to batteries (they go to ALDI), cartridges (Officeworks) and so on.
A big step was setting up our own compost in our courtyard to avoid sending food to landfill. Interestingly all the steps we took weren’t just good for the planet; they were also good for the businesses’ bottom line. We reduced the collection frequency and volume of our recycling and landfill bins resulting in huge cost savings – especially when you consider the cost of waste services will keep going up.
What challenges have you faced?
A couple of staff initially didn’t jump on board our ‘zero waste’ journey. They kept coming in with single use coffee cups, didn’t wash out recyclables and just weren’t interested. And emptying out compost bins is most definitely not a team favourite, so we developed a roster. And just kept going. It’s really important to remember that old habits are sometimes hard to change. You’ve got to create new expectations and over time you’ll establish new norms. Championing your sustainability initiatives from the top and rewarding passionate staff for the right behaviours is really important.
More holistically, we’ve started to include sustainability contributions in our performance reviews and all team members have paid volunteer days. As a result of creating new norms over time, we also saw a change in the caliber of people wanting to work with us – highly skilled applicants deliberately seeking us out as they wanted to work with a values driven organisation. That’s been another added bonus!
What advice would you give other businesses embarking on the sustainability journey?
There are so many things you could get involved with while at the same time you’ve got a business to run. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed or to not make sustainability a priority. For anyone who’s just starting out, we encourage you to only worry about your own operations to start with. First up, tackle something that’s easy to change and makes a noticeable difference to your staff and your customers! Celebrate your first win. Once you’re on the journey, pick the next thing. Then over time, you might want to look beyond your own operations and see how you can support your local community.
We’re big believers in ‘thinking global and acting local’. Pick one or two causes that are close to your team’s heart and commit to a longer term journey. We highly recommend not spreading yourself too thin or jumping from cause to cause. Change happens when you make a long term commitment. Another thing that’s worked well for us is to contribute our time and expertise, rather than financially. This has seen our staff volunteer with a number of community causes, taking real ownership and being able to achieve specific outcomes.
What’s next for RAW Travel?
One thing we’re working on at the moment is the introduction of Australian Certified home compostable packaging for our RAW Tucker range. We want our travellers to come home after a trip and be able to just chuck their packaging into their home compost to feed their garden with it. This would be a game changer for the food industry and we’re keen to help innovate in this space!
On a bigger scale, we’re always looking to help improve industry standards and are expanding our commitments to our destinations – to work hand in hand with our local suppliers. As part of our trips closer to home, we’re currently planning a series of cleanup walks to continue to help tackle Australia’s litter problem.