How can you as an employer or an employee actively contribute to a sustainable office space and is it worth the effort?
It is difficult to know where to begin in becoming more sustainable and it may be a topic that you’re not knowledgeable about. However, it can prove to be a useful asset for your company and not only make you feel better about your contribution to climate change, but 62% of millennials surveyed wanted to work for an organisation that makes a positive impact on the planet.
Reducing your environmental footprint will make you more attractive to prospective employees and set an example for other organisations. It’s sad to say that the tech industry is one of the worst industries for fossil fuel emissions. In fact, a recent study predicted that if trends in information and communication technology (ICT) continue at the current rate, the field will constitute 14% of global carbon emissions by 2040. So, what can you do to help?
Large companies are setting an example by committing to utilising renewable energy like Google who were the first to go carbon neutral in 2007. As an employer, you have the option to switch to renewable energy, it is not overly expensive as one might think, and the planet will be better off for it. The Big Switch can help show you how much your organisation could save by switching. In terms of storage, look for ways to reduce storage and power use at data centres. Using a data centre can improve operational efficiency by analysing setbacks and the performance and organisation of data to ensure you’re getting optimum use. Installing a smart temperature control device will reduce energy output by monitoring the data centre temperature and turning off cooling devices when it reaches the right temperature.
A great way to ensure an office is sustainable is to check your supplies (i.e., paper and technology) and suppliers. Are the companies themselves supporting environmental practices? Checking with your suppliers ensures your organisation is being good to the environment and it also spreads awareness to supplying companies that it should be a priority for them. When looking for a new supplier, try using ethicalconsumer.com which rates companies on their ‘ethiscore’- a combined assessment of the company’s policies and actions surrounding politics, people, the environment, and animals. They look at issues regarding workers’ rights, fossil fuel investment, and pollution.
Another option is developing a sustainable procurement policy as a guide for staff when purchasing products such as electronics, food, textiles, metals, or chemicals. It will help those unaware of certain products that are harmful and make them aware of ones that are better to buy. You could include details such as the materials to avoid and more repairable, recyclable, or affordable ones. It is possible to source information for this from online sources and independent advice guides. Certifications on products are also helpful to look out for such as fairtrade and soil association organic labels.
Sourcing your paper sustainably is probably one of the least intimidating ‘first steps’ to helping the environment. If your paper doesn’t specify where it’s come from then it may well be linked to deforestation. Recycled paper may have an old-fashioned association with being off-white or less professional, however, it is now indistinguishable from the real thing! Opt for using 100% recycled paper or FSC certified as this helps protect the forests.
Reducing Your Carbon Footprint
Everyone’s heard of this one, but they may not know what steps to take in doing so or understand what it really entails. Your carbon emissions are divided into 3 scopes. The first is related to the emissions from owned or controlled sources (so on-site energy production). The second is emissions from purchased energy, and the third is indirect emissions (such as staff travel) that you’re responsible for as an employer. Try to reduce scopes 1 and 2 as much as possible, and significantly reduce the third. For more advice on this take a look at emissions reporting organisations like CDP or use online calculators such as Climate Care. You can even work out your own emissions using the Greenhouse Gas Protocol.
To make it seem achievable, you can set small targets for reducing your and your company’s carbon footprint. Start by trying to reduce travel emissions by 5% or aiming to reduce water by 2% each year. Your own ventures could inspire other staff members, and you could even incentivise reducing their carbon footprint by setting targets with rewards for your staff. (For example, the first person to reduce their water by 2% receives extra holiday leave.) Publishing what your business and staff have been doing for climate change on your website/social media is a good way to show that you’re a sustainable company to prospective employees and clients.
The pandemic has taught us that business travel is not completely necessary and that video conferencing can be a perfectly suitable alternative. Choosing to video conference instead of travelling will save on carbon emissions, time, and expense. Develop a travelling policy for your employees that ensures they commit to travelling via public transport when engaging in work activities and it could inspire them to continue the trend in their personal life. One way you can ensure this is by offering to subsidise their travel if it is via public means.
Ditch the paper and go digital. According to stopwaste.com, of all trees harvested for industrial use, 42% go to making paper. Using paper slows down processes as it lacks a centralised repository of information. Office workers can waste up to 20-30% of their time looking for files. Using software like Adobe Sign or digital proofing tools such a Draftable, and producing more reports digitally reduces the need for paper. To go one step further, you could set your printer to only print double-sided or black and white or set a limit on how many sheets each staff member can print a day.
There’s a phrase used when considering how to purchase and deal with rubbish in a more sustainable way called ‘Waste Hierarchy’. This stands for: Refuse - to purchase fewer items or not accept ones that aren’t useful to you, reduce - to buy in bulk to reduce packaging, reuse - to go for reusable options such as reusable packaging or containers, recycle (as much as possible), rot (composting food waste) and energy recovery (incinerating general waste rather than sending it to landfill).
We’re well accustomed to the convenience of plastic, it is lightweight, easy to transport and flexible. However, it causes harm to the environment in such a way that it harms habitats (like oceans). Disposable plastics are all over the office like cutlery, cups, Sellotape, bubble wrap, plastic packaging, envelope windows, etc. and can be easily swapped for sustainable items.
Even in terms of food, which contributes greatly to biodiversity loss. When catering for meetings or events, offering some vegan options or ensuring less meat but a better quality (free range, organic) is there to improve your office’s sustainability. People can be resistant to meat-free options, but they are very convincing and tasty these days!
And finally making your team aware of the changes that are being made and the importance of sustainability to you, will not only let them know you’re serious about the environment and responsible for your impact but inspire them to perhaps take on the same mindset. This can also be done by getting the office involved in activities that positively contribute to the environment and community. For example, annual volunteering days at a charity like Wildlife or a food bank. It may also help with the mental well-being of your staff to take a break, get outdoors and bond.
There are all sorts of ways in which an organisation can improve their sustainability and multiple benefits that come alongside it. Even small actions such as installing a bird box or insect house in your outdoor space is benefitting biodiversity. Or placing a few plants in the office which will absorb toxins in the air and make the place look nice.