Like charity, sustainability begins at home – your work home, that is.
5 min read
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You don’t have to search too hard to find a company flexing its green credentials. There are startups like co-working company Upflex, which plants a tree for every booking it receives. Then there are the industry behemoths. Recently, massive asset-management firm BlackRock announced its plan to shift away from investing in companies that contribute to the climate crisis.
A January report from McKinsey urges companies large and small to take immediate action. “Much as thinking about information systems and cyber-risks has become integrated into corporate and public-sector decision making, climate change and its resulting risks will also need to feature as a major factor in decisions,” observed McKinsey Global Institute Director Jonathan Woetzel, in the report.
Sustainability is a business imperative, and a great place for employers to act on it is in their own workplaces. Creating more sustainable workspaces, i.e. greening the office itself, does carry some benefits beyond a positive climate impact. First of all, energy-efficient workspaces are typically cheaper to operate, so there’s a potential for savings on utilities and maintenance. They’re also more pleasant to work in, which can aid recruiting and retention efforts, especially among environmentally conscious young people. Lastly, greener offices prove a company’s commitment to sustainability, which can be a powerful branding and marketing tool.
No matter what prompts you to approach the issue, it’s evident that tomorrow’s offices can and should have a much smaller environmental impact than they do now. Fortunately, sustainability initiatives won’t force your employees to compromise on comfort or perks. Here are some ideas every company can adopt.
1. Arrange for green days
A company’s carbon footprint includes its employees’s emissions from commuting. The 2019 Urban Mobility Report found that the average U.S. commuter wastes 21 gallons of gas a year sitting in congested traffic. Indeed, the transportation sector is one of the largest contributors to climate change, accounting for 29 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2017, according to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency. Business travelers are a big part of that. Of course, there are often lower-carbon options than commuting and traveling for business, as remote work and teleconferencing are on the rise.
Green days and similar initiatives aim to reduce the amount of time people spend traveling for work. Employees are allowed to work from home on green days, and the rest of the year, they’re encouraged (even incentivized) to use public transportation and set up interoffice meetings using videoconferencing. All told, there’s a clear business case for green days.
2. Prioritize sustainability in all spaces
Something as easy as adding more plants to the office (or even a show-stopping living wall) can improve air quality without emitting anything but oxygen. A study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that plants boost productivity, too. In fact, elements of biophilic design, which models indoor spaces after nature, are cropping up in many offices. Google has added skylights and lined its walls with wallpaper that imitates natural patterns. Amazon’s Seattle headquarters, called the Spheres, looks more like a botanical garden than an office space, and Microsoft has built treehouses for its campus in Redmond, Washington. While you don’t have to go that far, biophilic principles can offer green inspiration for any indoor projects you undertake.
Small changes throughout the office add up to big gains in sustainability. Any time you’re refurbishing or moving into a new location, consider how you can spruce up the space in a green way, from lighting to plants to flooring. “Renovations offer ideal chances to reduce waste and scale sustainable efforts. Best of all, no one needs to reinvent the wheel to make sustainable magic happen,” notes Stephen Lewis, technical director at the carpet and floor care company milliCare, in trade publication Facility Executive. “Decades of environmentally friendly practices have made way for designs that improve energy use and waste management.”
3. Set standards with suppliers
Your business is part of various supply chains that should be audited for environmental impact. Are you committed to reducing pollution? Consider buying secondhand office essentials, like coffee makers or printers. If sustainability is a true priority, make it a deciding factor when choosing supplies and vendors. Look for electricity providers that rely on renewable energy sources. Buy computers that are repairable, upgradeable and TCO-certified. Engage with cafeteria food-service vendors that offer compostable packaging and plenty of meat-free options.
Engage suppliers in an open dialogue about your goals and values, strive to build long-term relationships, offer sustainability incentives when necessary and use the fewest number of supplies possible. You can vet any supplier by first defining the criteria you’ll use and the evaluation process you’ll follow. Nike, for instance, has created a Nike Sustainable Manufacturing & Sourcing Index to rate the environmental friendliness of its suppliers. The company has set a 2020 goal to source 100 percent of its products from contract factories meeting its internal sustainability criteria.
As that example illustrates, smart companies have already taken the lead in terms of sustainability, and it’s time for stragglers to catch up. The point is that it should be a priority now. As you make your workplace greener, the benefits to your business and the planet will only increase over time.