At the 2022 COP27 meeting last November, the looming 1.5 degrees increase in climate temperatures, was an alarming reveal to say the least. As Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated in his opening speech, “the clock is ticking. We are in the fight of our lives, and we are losing … our planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible…. we are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator.”
This is the stark reality of the climate crisis. And it’s having a very real impact on the way we work.
Already we’re seeing changes to our working lives thanks to the 12 million or so Gen Z’s whose mindset and awareness of the climate crisis far exceeds that of its generational predecessors. These impacts include:
- A need for flexible working arrangements, including hybrid and remote working.
- Increased demand for job satisfaction.
- The ability to live with genuine work/life balance.
The impact of climate change affects every industry. And how companies approach their environmental responsibilities is no longer about good PR or the dreaded ‘greenwashing’; it’s about their very survival.
Today, we’re looking at how sustainability affects the way we work. This includes the factors your company needs to both consider and implement, to ensure you’re operating in a socially and environmentally responsible way.
The Shift to Sustainable Workplaces
For organisations to be able to consistently attract quality talent, especially at a grassroots level, a shift in how they impact the environment is needed. Many are already on this pathway. But this shift is certainly not the majority.
According to research by Business Waste in the UK, 67% of employees want their workplaces to become more sustainable and 48% said they would take a pay cut, if it meant working for an employer who operates in an environmentally sustainable way.
Source: HR Grapevine
The corporate social responsibility of your organisation is now a business imperative; the environmental footprint of your business reflects your ethos and values – two factors that Gen X and their successors are acutely mindful of.
But how can organisations better establish their green cred? It takes time, but there are many valuable initiatives we’ve uncovered. These include:
- Make recycling mandatory for all workers and offer incentives by department. Place instructional signage in kitchens and workstations about how and what to recycle.
- Ethically recycle old electronics and hardware via donations to charity or ethical recycling services.
- Nominate a ‘Green Leader’ to encourage and educate workers, monitor recycling activity, and report on achievements.
Engage green vendors:
- Engage vendors that behave in an environmentally responsible manner. Get your Procurement team to audit them on ACTUAL initiatives and outcomes, not on policy alone.
- Vendors with aligned sustainability vision and culture are a good fit to do business with.
Make reusing a company policy:
- Instead of using a takeaway coffee cup every day, provide reusable coffee mugs for your workers. The same goes for water bottles. Brand them, and you’ve got a new advertising channel.
The Average Office Worker’s Waste Generation
Move to paperless:
- Eco-friendly technology and systems enable organisations to run without ever having to use paper. From payroll to project management, digital tools and applications are available for all functions of your business.
- Promote the importance of your company’s paperless office initiative. Have workers question whether they need to print or use paper. Place signage around the office with your paperless message.
- Make sure the lights in your office are off at the end of the working day and week.
- Instigate hybrid working for relevant workers to reduce your environmental impact.
Introduce commuting and transportation initiatives:
- Encourage ridesharing across the workforce and incentivise cycling or walking to the office.
- Create departmental competitions regarding commuting with monthly recognition and prizes.
Think Strategic: Lessons for a Sustainable Workplace
At a more strategic level, your business can undertake to change policy, operations and business models to become more sustainable. Here are some of the lessons we’ve uncovered in making a real, strategic shift:
Develop a business case for sustainability:
From a recent joint research study by Boston Consulting Group and MIT adopting a clear business case for sustainability is the foundation of change. They found that while 60% of companies have a sustainability strategy, only 25% have developed an executable business case for its implementation.
Explore innovative business model opportunities:
Business models inclusive of sustainability policies and strategies have created new and innovative business opportunities – this is now a commercial reality, not just a positive contribution to the environment.
Get board of directors’ engagement:
From the BCG/MIT research, 86% of respondents agreed that boards must play a key role in their organisation’s sustainability efforts. Yet only 48% believe their CEO’s to be engaged in the mission, and a measly 30% agreed their sustainability efforts had board-level oversight. A top-down, lead-by-example approach is needed.
Build value creation for investors:
Investors want meaningful steps taken to integrate environmental, social and governance (ECG) issues and initiatives, into investing criteria. Corporate leaders will be held accountable by investors, for their ECG performance.
“We seek to analyze material issues such as climate risk, board quality, or cybersecurity in terms of how they impact financial value in a positive or a negative way. That’s the integrative approach we are increasingly taking for all of our investments.”
Source: Cyrus Taraporevala, president and CEO of State Street Global Advisors
And Finally… the Case for Hybrid Working…
Much discussion – and change – has been afoot across the globe’s white-collar working population thanks to COVID. One of the biggest shifts we’ve seen is the rise of hybrid working which has a net positive impact on the sustainability of participating organisations.
From our research, the positive environmental impacts of working from home include:
- Reduced greenhouse gas emissions, thanks to the decline of workers’ commuting.
- As a result of the reduced greenhouse gas emissions, improved air quality in big cities.
- Decline in plastic pollution: from the reduction in workers purchasing lunch in single-use containers, and from companies providing plastic cups or straws in the office.
- Decline in the use of office facilities supports a healthier environment: a reduction in power consumption from the use of dishwashers, lights, printers.
- Reduced impact on infrastructure: fewer cars on the roads, less pressure on public transport facilities where overcrowding and overloading the system lessens.
And the negative environmental impact of working from home, include:
- Higher energy consumption from home – impacting the worker in higher utility costs.
- Only a partial reduction in global carbon footprint for workers under a hybrid model.
Achieving a credible sustainability profile for your organisation can’t be achieved overnight. Small, incremental changes coupled with quality strategic intent and supporting technology will exponentially enable your business to have a significant and measurable impact over time. Looking beyond sustainability practices that impact the bottom line, but that also underpin your ethos and values as a business, is particularly important.