For decades, environmental sustainability has been a popular topic of discussion – and for a good reason. Humans spend approximately one-third of their lives working, so creating a sustainable and environmentally friendly workplace is essential for combating the current climate crisis.
What Are The Benefits Of A Sustainable Workplace?
Over 93% of companies want to be sustainable and believe sustainability is essential to the business’s future success.
Yet, only 2% achieve their sustainability goals.
When companies engage in sustainable business practices, these are often referred to as green initiatives, some of which are:
- Conserving: Reusing, recycling, and repurposing.
- Working sustainably: Creating streamlined processes and sustainable products.
- Avoiding harm: Minimising pollution.
- Influencing others: Educating and training for sustainability efforts.
- Taking initiative: Activism and creating workplace programmes.
Other benefits include:
- A healthy environment for employees.
- Sustainably-minded talent.
- Respect from customers who shop sustainably.
- Reduced your bottom line by investing in materials and tools that are reusable.
Younger people increasingly value sustainability and want to know if their employer shares those sentiments.
Which Sustainable Practices Can I Implement At The Organisational Level?
The traditional office environment offers several opportunities for becoming more sustainable. Let’s first look at systemic changes.
A. Incorporate The Waste Hierarchy.
WWF implores people to “think about the last item you threw away, now imagine the resources that went into it – materials grown or made, the energy consumption, the water, the manpower, the shipping.”
You can conserve resources in the office by incorporating the waste hierarchy:
- Refuse: Stop purchasing or accepting items.
- Reduce: Buying in bulk, reducing quantities, and packaging.
- Reuse: Opt for reusable options such as containers and packaging.
- Recycle: Implement a recycling program wherever you can.
- Rot: Composting food waste.
(Related: Are Social Enterprises Failing In Australia?)
B. Check Your Carbon Footprint.
Emissions fall into the below scopes:
- Scope 1: Directly produced by your organisation, such as fleet vehicles or on-site energy production.
- Scope 2: Emissions from purchased energy.
- Scope 3: Indirect emissions you are responsible for, such as staff travel.
Once you determine the size of your footprint, you should:
- Set monthly and annual targets to reduce it.
- Set targets that aren’t emissions-based, like reducing energy or water use by 2% a year.
- Report your targets publicly on your website.
- Strive to reduce your emissions in line with a 1.5°C level of global warming.
Race To Zero is a global initiative encouraging more businesses to consider how to reduce their carbon footprint.
C. Check Your Suppliers.
For anyone involved in your supply chain or the product itself, ensure you engage in sustainable behaviours and purchase renewable energy wherever possible. You should:
- Research a supplier’s ethics and environmental practices.
- Tell suppliers that ethical and environmental aspects matter to you and send a clear message that in 2023 things need to change!
- For product teams, develop a sustainable purchasing policy.
- Compose a list of typical purchases for the team with details about what staff can and cannot purchase.
Ethical Consumer Magazine rates companies on their ‘ethiscore’, which factors in animals, workers’ rights, fossil fuel investment, and pollution. Check your own score and that of your suppliers.
D. Engage Your Employees.
A survey about corporate social responsibility found that 83% of millennials (who will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025) would remain with a company that values sustainability and tackles environmental issues.
To build a sustainable team:
- Elect 1-2 people to champion efforts amongst the wider team.
- Recruit based on values.
- Encourage incentives for modelling sustainable behaviours to others in the office.
- Ensure behaviour is affirmed from the top-down.
E. Encourage Hybrid Working.
Keep sustainability front of mind by celebrating environment-focused days or weeks during the year. You should also consider a hybrid model to reduce commuting days for employees.
Green Office was created in the UK in 2009 and is a week-long initiative encouraging workers to practice environmentally friendly habits.
Consider prizes or team lunches to celebrate those with consistent efforts towards sustainable practices.
Patagonia allows employees to champion sustainability through activities such as a 5km run to support environmental groups or volunteer opportunities. For more ideas from global companies, read here.
(Related: How To Lead A Large-Scale Transformation Project).
Which Sustainable Practices Can I Implement At The Team Level?
You should also reevaluate daily practices in the office.
1. Reduce Single-Use Items.
Many offices provide single-use items for the sake of convenience. With minimal effort, you can eliminate the need for these.
- Replace individual sugar packets with a large, refillable sugar container.
- Buy reusable and Fairtrade coffee pods.
- Do not offer single-use cups – gift your employees a reusable mug or cup.
- Opt for recyclable options when you purchase staples such as cling wrap/baking paper.
- Buy environmentally friendly toilet paper, like Who Gives A Crap.
- Set up an outdoor compost bin to dispose of fresh fruit and vegetable scraps.
- Colour-code bins into waste, soft plastics, and recycling.
These simple steps will significantly reduce the amount of waste your office produces. Be sure all teams are aware of the new processes.
2. Turn Off Technology.
Electricity uses almost half of Australia’s energy, which you can directly reduce. At the end of each day, make a habit of turning off or unplugging all electronics in the office, especially computers.
You can also:
- Save money by turning down the cooling and heating.
- Install timers to turn off specific lighting.
- Assist with power conservation by having a weekly ‘Earth Hour’. You can make the office technology-free during a Friday lunch break.
Reduce your monitor brightness slightly (from 100% to 70%). According to Harvard University’s energy manager, this will save up to 20% of the monitor’s energy.
3. Replace Lighting.
Making a few minor adjustments will significantly benefit the environment.
- Choose environmentally friendly options such as LED and T5 fluorescent lighting.
- Install skylights for natural lighting.
- Add a sensor or timer to switch off lights when not needed.
- Consider solar-powered lighting options.
Have you read my guide to improving your home office lighting yet?
4. Reduce Paper.
The average office worker generates 1kg of paper waste every day. The process of producing paper damages the environment in several ways.
- Trees and water (90,000 litres) go into making 1 tonne of virgin bleached paper.
- The paper industry pollutes waterways and air.
- Paper workers are not always ethically paid.
- Transporting paper uses fossil fuel resources.
In 2023, it is entirely achievable to become a paperless business. Do this by:
- Setting incentives for less paper use in the workplace.
- Restructure the business to go digital.
- Utilise technology and software to report and store files.
- Programme all computers to automatically print digitally.
Using less paper also reduces your need for other materials, such as toner, printers, and waste collection.
If you MUST print, you can set your printer to print double-sided automatically, reducing your paper waste by 10–40%. You can also save 13-20 trees per tonne of paper by purchasing recycled paper.
5. Buy Plants.
Adding plants to your office is a great way to improve air quality and morale. We recommend:
- Philodendrons/snake plants are low-maintenance plants and purify the air.
- Choosing vessels made from biodegradable materials or terracotta.
- Growing edible plants and herbs in your office for employees to use.
Succulents are a great choice since they require very little maintenance.
6. Encourage Sustainable Commuting.
Cars emit carbon dioxide, which warms the atmosphere and contributes to climate destruction.
Greener commuting options include:
- Public transportation.
- Carpooling with others in the officer or family.
- Riding a bike.
- Working from home.
You can offer incentives and prizes for those who commute sustainably multiple times a week.
Frequently Asked Questions.
You and your employees may have a few questions on your mind.
What Is Sustainability?
Sustainability has a range of definitions:
- Living in a way that benefits and preserves the natural environment.
- Living in a way that assists future generations to exist on earth long term.
- Reducing dependency on non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels and plastics and turning to natural resources and renewable energy instead.
What If I Can’t Make Many Changes?
While it would be great if every person could take their own steps towards a more sustainable world, we must aim for progress not perfection.
As author and plant-based nutritionist Simon J Hill states, ‘Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good.’
All businesses should do what they can as soon as they can.
How Do I Get Started?
Some of the steps in this article need to be revised for your particular office.
You should sit with your management team to discuss a 4-6 week plan of changes that will roll out, plus a way to inform and encourage employees.
What Items Should I Replace With More Sustainable Options?
Sustainability is not just taking action – it is a mindset.
As you become more thoughtful about your impact, you will consider the items you use and discard. Donate items you no longer need to local charities.
Creating an eco-friendly workplace that’s more sustainable may sound intimidating, but it is necessary for 2023.
You can improve your work environment and the world with just a few small changes that your team can easily maintain. The benefits will return in your improved company reputation, employee satisfaction, customer retention, and contribution to the planet.
We encourage you to be mindful of your behaviours, both in and outside the office, and continue to look at ways to integrate sustainability into your everyday life.