Sarah Stalberg is an environmental scientist based in Durban, South Africa, with over 10 years of experience within the environmental compliance and sustainability sector. She is a sustainability consultant for Green Office where she has been using One Planet Living®, and she recently founded Green Choice Consulting, a sustainability consulting company.

Can you tell us about your background and how you got into sustainability?

The environment has always been my passion. I come from a very outdoorsy family, and growing up I’d always be in the Drakensberg mountains or in the bush. I always knew I wanted to pursue a career in the environmental sciences, so I specialised in coastal and estuarine environments for my post-graduate studies. Estuaries are my passion - we have many in KwaZulu-Natal, so there are a lot of opportunities to study these dynamic environments!

Coastline, Durban, South Africa

You don’t have to be a large corporate company with tons of money to invest in becoming more sustainable

I started out my career in environmental consulting – helping developers with their environmental impact assessments and so on. I went into sustainability on a limb - it’s such a broad field, and some of it can be super vague. And that’s where One Planet Living came in – thank goodness – because it gave me some much-needed direction. It was perfect timing – Sarah Alsen (Director, Bioregional South Africa) contacted me in 2018, inviting me to a One Planet Living training session, so it was an absolute blessing.

At first, One Planet Living felt rather daunting – but once I read into it, ten principles seems a lot more do-able that achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. When you read through each principle, you think ‘Yeah - we can totally do that’, or ‘We can definitely try that’. You realise that you don’t have to be a large corporate company with tons of money to invest in becoming more sustainable – it can start with something small, and you can make a difference.

Maloti-Drakensberg Park, Southern Drakensberg, South Africa

You are the Sustainability Consultant for Green Office – can you tell us about what they do and your work there?

Green Office started out as a printer cartridge re-manufacturing company, and has since evolved into a complete document solutions business. When I joined in 2018, it was my first time dealing with sustainability in general. It is where I learnt about carbon footprints and recycling. It’s a wonderful place to work – Green Office’s CSI partner (Corporate social investment), GreenABLE, employs previously disadvantaged individuals with disabilities to dismantle and recycle used printer cartridges, which upskills them and provides them with valuable experience in the job market. It makes my heart sing to see the positive impact on people’s lives, as well as benefiting the environment. Green Office and GreenABLE aim to contribute to a circular economy and reduce waste to landfill, while uplifting members of the disabled community.

One Planet Living has helped dramatically by providing direction. Last year, we achieved a reduction in our overall carbon footprint of 14%

Behind the scenes at GreenABLE - saving waste from landfill while changing lives

What are you most proud of achieving with One Planet Living?

The fact that we now have an overall strategy is a key achievement. Green Office has always been a company focused on sustainability, and the directors have a passion for it, but previously it would be very piecemeal. One Planet Living has helped dramatically by providing direction. Last year, we achieved a reduction in our overall carbon footprint of 14%. We also achieved a 10% reduction in paper use, as well as a 12% reduction in waste generation.

When you’re starting out in the field, and you read the UN Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs), you think wow, how is a small company in Durban supposed to be able to contribute to these goals – they’re quite intimidating. One Planet Living makes the SDGs a lot easier to digest. We could see that just by making small changes, we’re making a positive difference and contributing to the SDGs in our own way. It’s not so scary any more!

I’m most proud of how Green Office and GreenABLE uplifts the disabled community. Companies often focus on environmental sustainability, and not so much about the people side of things. One Planet Living really brought home the need to always remember the people. There’s also the fact that Green Office keeps striving for zero waste and send very little waste to landfill. Green Office continually researches and develops new solutions to its industry’s waste, and that’s what One Planet Living encourages us do.

The GreenABLE and Green Office story - helping previously disadvantaged disabled communities into work

What are the most common challenges that businesses in South Africa are currently facing in terms of sustainability?

I think it’s just getting people on board with sustainability in general. To be frank, if you’re not a top-listed JSE (Johannesburg Stock Exchange) company, there’s a high possibility that sustainability is not on the agenda. And that blows my mind, because it’s that lack of focus on sustainability that’s brought us to the current global crisis. There’s a perception that you need large investment to implement sustainability initiatives, so that does make it a challenge. A lot of clients might say ‘Great idea’, but when it comes down to it, a lot of people just don’t buy in.

In your experience, is it possible to make positive changes while also saving money?

I think if you’re smart about it there definitely are opportunities – it's about partnering with the right people. I think with One Planet Living it’s a lot more do-able compared to some other frameworks. Covid hasn’t helped of course – there aren’t many businesses that haven’t been impacted. It’s about trying to find that balance. At the moment it’s a difficult time, but it can be done. Look at waste for example – you can make money from it if you know what will give you the most value, and you can earn an income from recycling.

Durban, South Africa

And are you planning on using One Planet Living with new clients?

Oh absolutely. If anyone is unsure of sustainability, then One Planet Living will squash that uncertainty immediately. It’s so simple – give it a go and see!

Do you have any advice for anyone starting out with One Planet Living?

Ask Bioregional for help if you need it! Honestly, Sarah Alsen of Bioregional South Africa helped me at every stage of the journey.

Another key thing is to get your whole team involved. It’s a holistic plan – it's not just down to the sustainability expert at a company to do all the work. At Green Office every Leader of every department was involved. I took them through the 10 principles and did a training session with the staff. If everyone is involved, then everyone will be positive about it, and then your plan will end up being all-encompassing – it won’t be just what the sustainability officer wants to do.

Find out more about our One Planet Living framework and our upcoming One Planet Action Plan training sessions.

Bushman’s river, Drakensberg, KwaZulu-Natal

Image credits:
Header image courtesy of GreenABLE
Maloti-Drakensberg Park, South Africa, by Arthur Hickinbotham on Unsplash
A view from the New Promenade pier in Durban, by LT Ngema on Unsplash
Drone view of ocean coastline, Durban, by Jason Briscoe on Unsplash
Bushman's river, courtesy of Canva

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