Plastic Free July: how Bupa is making positive steps towards a healthier planet

29 July 2019 . Australia

Plastic Free July is a global movement that challenges each of us to reduce our consumption of single-use plastics and slow the build up of harmful materials polluting the environment.

Simon Dorner CRS Advisor Bupa Australia

We caught up with Simon Dormer, Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability Advisor in Bupa’s Melbourne office, who was inspired by David Attenborough documentaries. After starting his career as an architect, he eventually combined his two interests to become an advocate for sustainable development. We asked Simon about Plastic Free July and how Bupa is making positive steps towards a healthier, more sustainable planet.

Why is Plastic Free July important?

Plastic isn’t inherently bad; however, every piece of plastic produced stays 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 by 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, think about a plastic container you threw away last year. Particles of it 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, but we do need to look for sustainable options, and choose reusable alternatives. It’s exciting to see new biodegradable materials being produced, but ultimately it will require behavioural change from all of us to adopt these 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. We’re managing our environmental impact, focusing on reducing our carbon footprint and increasing our use of renewables, as well as eliminating avoidable waste.

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 five tons of plastic from the environment annually. Our customers are getting on board, and the number of claims processed digitally is growing each week. Similarly, our aged care homes in Australia 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 energy efficient LED lights we’re making that power work harder for us.

How can businesses ensure they’re making meaningful change?

Whether it’s cutting down operational costs, getting some positive publicity, or purely being motivated by doing the right thing, there are many reasons for businesses to act sustainably. The reality is that businesses are expected to consider sustainability as part of their strategy, it’s not just a ‘nice to have’. Regulation is becoming increasing stricter, especially in more mature markets, which will expose businesses that make unsubstantiated claims.

It’s important to first create a culture within your organisation that is committed to sustainability. A proactive and genuine approach will always be rewarded.

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