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Sahaas – Nothing Is Waste

The challenge

Bangalore is fast on its way to becoming a dumping ground for waste. It generates municipal solid waste to the tune of an astounding 4000 tonnes a day and the highest quantum of e-waste in India at 50 tonnes a day. Despite government regulations and guidelines on waste handling and management, there exists a huge disconnect between policy and practice. Individuals and organizations are grappling with fundamental issues such as lack of understanding, resources and experience to implement good waste management practices. Realizing the gravity of the situation and with the objective of driving environmental and behavioural change, Sahaas was born in 2001.

Business model

Having started as a non-profit organization, Saahas’ initial role was to create awareness and motivate communities to adopt waste management practices.  However, they realized that while organizations intended to act upon the conviction, they lacked the platform and understanding to implement waste management. Today, Sahaas is a registered private limited company that provides professional waste management solutions and services to industries, companies, schools, communities and apartments across Bangalore.

Saahas has an extremely comprehensive model in place that includes conducting a waste audit  to quantify the waste and map the existing infrastructure, providing customized recommendations and solutions, training and sensitizing the relevant teams, implementing the system and monitoring impact. Saahas covers its operational cost from the revenue generated by the sale of the waste and by charging a service fee to the client. It also offers premium products made out of recycled material such as tuff roofing sheets, stationary etc.

Corporate partnerships

Saahas has worked with several corporates such as State Bank of India, Britannia, Vodafone, Microland, Microsoft Research, ANZ India, Schneider, Texas Instruments, etc. to establish an effective waste management facility within their premises.

Under the partnership with Vodafone, as facilitated by Samhita Social Ventures, Saahas implements wet and dry waste segregation at its office in Embassy Golf Links in Bangalore. A waste segregation and recycling facility was set up in 2013, focusing on composting food waste onsite and disposing dry waste responsibly.

Benefits of corporate partnerships

Value to Saahas

Companies are a core market segment for Saahas and a natural fit to its model focussing on bulk waste generators. It is relatively easier to get corporate buy-in essentially because corporates, as a part of the mandate from Government, must align their business objectives to environmental sustainability and product responsibility.

Corporate partnerships such as that with TetraPak have helped the organization to prove and establish its credibility and efficacy in offering a diverse array of waste management services and enhance its visibility. They have also allowed it to follow a rapid trajectory of growth and sales.

Value to companies

Several companies do not have the wherewithal to fulfil their environmental or sustainability commitments or comply with waste management and product responsibility regulations issued by the government; they lack the understanding, expertise and logistical support. Sahhas offers cost-effective and professional solutions to close these gaps in the system and addresses the dire need to engage companies with the agenda of environmental sustainability.

Lessons

For companies

Internalize the commitment

Getting sign off on waste management projects may sometimes involve navigating multiple layers of authority and decision making in a company as the agenda maybe driven by the sustainability or the EHS team but the budget allocation may come from the facilities team. With MNCs, approvals from head office can be a lengthy process.

These barriers make the approval process very slow, increasing risk and uncertainty for the social organization. While some hierarchy is unavoidable, companies can help expedite the process if they provide clarity on the process and more importantly if they ensure that all departments in the company have internalized the commitments to environmental responsibility.

Create awareness regarding regulations

Certain industries that make excessive use of packaging material have been mandated by authorities to provide for product responsibility. Yet there can be differences between different teams within the organization with regards to the importance and priority given to recycling. It would be helpful for companies to spread awareness and allocate clear resources and budgets for the reverse logistics required to comply with EPR.

For social enterprises

Offer a complete solution with focus on quality and sustainability of operations

Having itself started as an awareness creating organization and eventually developing into a solutions company, Saahas believes that in addressing waste management issues it is important for social organizations to offer not just awareness and information but also concrete services and solutions on the ground, thus closing the loop between theory and practice. In order to offer such services, organizations may have to diversify their funding base and move from donation-based models to revenue-generating models so as to be able to cover the huge operational costs that waste management services entail. A revenue model will also encourage accountability to the client and allow for focus on quality of services and ensure long term sustainability of the organization.

Develop robust monitoring systems

Social enterprises must invest in designing and building monitoring mechanisms for waste management solutions to ensure adherence to the segregation process. Monitoring also allows for course correction and defining and measuring impact, which are quintessential for any corporate partnerships.

For sector intermediaries

Educate and inform

Having typically worked with not for profit organizations for years, Corporate India is only just beginning to acknowledge and engage social enterprises as implementation partners and is cautious and wary of their models. Independent and neutral sector intermediaries such as Samhita can play an important role in educating companies, enabling them to understand and appreciate the varied models social enterprises have.

Saahas also feels that intermediaries can be instrumental in bringing wider systemic changes that benefit the social sector such as advocating the inclusion of waste management under various environmental certifications.

Conclusion

Collaborations between companies and social enterprises can be mutually beneficial and an effective way of complying with existing laws and regulations. Sahaas’ extensive experience in working with companies demonstrates the values underpinning successful partnerships – genuine and deep commitment, clarity and sensitivity from the corporates and high quality, cost effective and professional services from the social enterprises.

 

Photo credit: Saahas