By | June 16, 2017

Plant Chicago’s Jonathan Pereira, center, talks to Spherions about the hydroponic garden.

Sphera celebrated its first Sustainability Day in style on June 14 by participating in a series of volunteer events around the globe. Activities focused on social and environmental sustainability, which has been one of Sphera’s core principles since Day One.

“Our mission in this organization is to create a safer, more sustainable and productive world. That is not just true about the products and services we create, but what we do as individuals and a community. It’s all connected,” said Laura Hanson, Sphera’s chief human resources officer. “So this is a way to tie in to who we are—to do something at the individual level that is directly in line with us trying to make the world a better place. Sustainability Day is a nice way to demonstrate the commitment of all colleagues and their passion about the world.”

In Chicago, where Sphera’s headquarters is located, Spherions visited a South Side plant focused on sustainability to learn more about what closed-loop systems are and, of course, to get our hands dirty in the process by helping out.

Other Sphera Sustainability Day Events From Around the World

Here’s a rundown of some of the other activities that Sphera’s offices participated in for Sustainability Day.

  • In Bangalore, India, Spherions gifted plants to each other and volunteered their time composting and helping with waste management.Sphera Sustainability Day
  • In Houston, Spherions spent the day mulching, pruning and weeding the Willow Waterhole, a 290-acre green space in Texas where 600 million gallons of floodwater are stored.
  • In Montreal, Spherions spent their day packaging and sorting food at a local food bank.
  • In Nijmegen, Netherlands, Spherions spent the day at the beach cleaning the banks of the Waal River. They even got a surprise visit from a wild horse as you can see in the picture.Sphera Sustainability Day
  • In San Ramon, California, Spherions volunteered for Habitat for Humanity preparing materials and assembling playhouses and tables for children.Sphera Sustainability Day
  • In Toronto, Spherions spent their day putting mulch around saplings that were recently planted in the city of Markham to help protect the trees.
  • In Warwick, England, where Rivo Software is based, Spherions spent the day cleaning up the picnic area around their office and packing a box of items for homeless people in the area.
  • At various offices, Spherions also volunteered their time working at food banks, cleaning up roadside debris and even working at a not-for-profit museum.

When Upton Sinclair wrote “They use everything about the hog except the squeal” in “The Jungle” nearly a hundred years ago, he could not have guessed his words would foreshadow what was to come at one of Chicago’s meat-processing plants in the Union Stock Yards, a locale that Sinatra once-crooned about and that Sinclair made famous—or perhaps infamous is a better word.

Today, one of those plants—which for decades served as a pork-meat processing facility—is the home to Plant Chicago, a not-for-profit that promotes a sustainable environment in an urban setting through circular economy principles. Home to more than 15 businesses as well as a massive anaerobic digester on its grounds that can turn tons of waste into usable biogas for energy and sludge for fertilizer, Plant Chicago definitely goes whole hog in terms of making sure almost nothing goes to waste.

Activities ranged from cleaning weeds around the facility to tidying up the hydroponic garden to performing a waste audit by separating garbage.

Brian Payer, Sphera’s program manager for strategic operations, explained: “I learned a lot from the waste audit team about just all of the different stuff that gets thrown away, and we tend to forget about where those materials go. And tracking waste and keeping up with it is important, and it’s kind of interesting: We have some products at Sphera that help track materials and material flows, but until you actually get your hands dirty with the physical stuff, you don’t really think about it. It’s just numbers on a screen until you actually do a waste audit.”

If anything, that message rings loud and clear at Plant Chicago as you walk through the facility and notice all the initiatives the organization takes to ensure nothing goes for naught from collecting tilapia waste to help fertilize the plants in the hydroponic garden to gathering used paper towels and other natural materials for composting.

“Right now, especially in the U.S., we have products that are designed for the landfill or processes or systems that send materials to the landfills or into our rivers and oceans,” said Jonathan Pereira, executive director of Plant Chicago. “Ultimately, there’s not only lost economic opportunity but environmental destructions. In the circular economy, there’s no landfills. You keep materials flowing and there’s, most importantly, shared economic success.”

The numbers back that up, too. A recent study by Nielsen found that 66 percent of global consumers were willing to pay more for sustainable brands.

And it’s clear companies can do much more in terms of sustainability. “A lot of companies, the first thing they think of when they think of sustainability is recycling, which is OK, but actually recycling in itself is a very inefficient activity,” Pereira said. “We like to make ourselves feel better by being able to recycle it where in reality we should be designing products that can be recaptured.”

To be clear, Pereira is not advocating against recycling. He does, however, believe that “reducing and reusing” is a much better strategy. “Where you have packaging designed for single use, does it even need packaging in the first place? A perfect example is fruit—oranges and bananas come in their own packaging,” he said.

That’s some good food for thought.

The lesson from Sphera Sustainability Day is clear: The world can and should do more to help protect the planet—and that’s clearly not a load of hogwash.