Luckily, the benefits of sustainability in the workplace can go beyond an environmental impact. One of the biggest misconceptions is that sustainability means giving something up or spending more for the greater environmental good. It can make eco-friendly business practices harder to sell to company bosses. But whilst it's true that sustainability often meaning paying an upfront cost (whether time or money), it also often leads to a greater payback further down the line.
Creating a Company Culture that People Want to Be a Part Of
In an article for Forbes Magazine, Afdhel Aziz makes several interesting points.
· 64% of millennials said they wouldn't take on a job unless the company had a strong corporate social responsibility.
· 80% said they'd be more loyal to companies contributing to social and environmental issues.
Millennials aren't stupid. They know how capitalism works, but a younger working population now expects employers to contribute more than just a paycheck. According to The Harvard Business Review, research shows that 21st-century employees now focus more on 'mission, purpose, and work-life balance. Employees want to work for companies creating value in the world. Studies show that morale is 55% better in companies with a strong sustainability programme. Employee loyalty, they say, is 38% better. Those are big numbers.
Company culture can dictate whether employees stay or leave. Social media and employer review sites also play a significant role in attracting talent to an organisation. This trend isn't going away. Within 4-years, Gen-Z will make up 30% of the working population. Businesses don't have to go all-green, all-vegan, or all kumbaya around a campfire to attract and keep employees. Committing to a sustainability policy and engaging with whatever that means in your industry or for your workers is often enough. Talented employees may find work elsewhere if they don't feel part of a positive working environment. Sustainability could reduce your HR costs.
Employees Are More Productive When Companies Seek Sustainability
Employees in sustainable workplaces are generally more productive and engaged with their jobs. It's not as complicated as you think, either. Lighting affects productivity. LED bulbs are more energy-efficient. They're also brighter than incandescent and halogen bulbs. Researchers from Northwestern University in Chicago found a relationship between workplace daylight exposure and office workers' sleep, activity and quality of life. This all made them more productive at work. Another study found that employees in green-certified buildings had a 26-per cent increase in cognition and 30-per cent fewer sick days. Some employees reported that they were sleeping better after the buildings had been re-certified as green.
Further studies in other buildings found that the use of non-toxic and eco-friendly cleaning products, better light and ventilation, and the inclusion of indoor plants reduced the amount of employee sick days and employee turnover. Sustainability doesn't just help the environment; it helps improve productivity and, in the case of LEDs, save a business money, too.
Get Ahead of Upcoming Environmental Legislation
Businesses that are not doing enough to decarbonise may find themselves in the crosshairs of environmental legislation. Equally, there are likely to be grants, tax incentives, and rewards for businesses supporting the Government's target. One Forbes article suggests that more than a third of executives were worried about the potential impact of climate legislation on their businesses. It's a good PR opportunity, too. 400 UK companies are currently lobbying the Government to amend the Companies Act. The Grocer describes the Better Business Campaign as a way of ensuring that company directors can advance shareholders' interests "alongside those of wider society and the environment". At the moment, stakeholder interest has greater weight than any social or environmental consideration does. Brewdog, Body Shop, and John Lewis are amongst the 400 calling for change.
Sustainable Policies Save Businesses Money
Green initiatives in the workplace can cost money, but they can save money, too. If you're having problems with the word sustainability, replace it with efficiency. That's really all it is. Efficient businesses waste fewer resources, spend less on bills and services, and they perform better, too. Let's take LED light bulbs for example. They're more expensive up front, but they last up to twenty-five times longer than other bulbs. That's a big saving. What's better for the environment is better for your business's bottom line, and better for employee productivity.
The LA Times list several examples of companies cutting costs by focusing on environmental saves. Swapping from paper towels in public bathrooms to hand dryers cuts carbon emissions and saves money. When the Chicago Bears switched to dryers, they reduced their carbon emissions by 76% after each use. They also saved $12,000 a year on the cost of the paper towels alone.
- You could encourage employees to telecommute to meetings with people in other cities rather than drive. This cuts down on travel costs and the amount of carbon burned for that journey.
- Adding motion sensor lights in low-traffic areas of a building can stop wasteful energy use.
- A company could also install energy-generating equipment into its building. It could be a solar array on the roof or an electricity-generating indoor bike? Encourage individuals to take a short time away from their desks to help power your building.Aside from being better for the planet, what else do all these things have in common? They make workplaces more efficient and save the company more money.
Climate Change Will Negatively Impact Your Business
No business operates in isolation. We're all connected. Whether it's our manufacturing process that's international, our customers, or even the appliances and machinery that make our products, what happens in one place will have a knock-on effect elsewhere. COVID-19 is the best example of that. For a CEO sitting in Birmingham, it's easy to be complacent about the effect that climate change can have on business. Just because you don't trade in Bangladesh, the Brazilian rainforests, or the Australian bushland doesn't mean your company is immune to extreme weather.
Sustainability Can Build Brand Reputations
People like to see companies adding value to the world, and there's no reason not to shout about it. It can be a good PR opportunity, especially if you can get your employees involved. But one word of warning. Don't overstate your eco-credentials, because that's green-washing and it's a PR nightmare. Green-washing is where companies pretend to be more sustainable than they really are. Energy providers sometimes do this with their green tariffs. Be honest. For most companies, sustainability is still a work in progress. It's OK to admit that.
Because it's the right thing to do
Why wouldn't you want to reduce the negative impact your business is having on the world we live in. There are a lot of benefits to a sustainable workplace. There will be some specific to your industry that we haven't touched on. That's why it's important to be creative and innovative and to get employees on board; they're often the ones with the most original ideas. But that doesn't mean that there aren't challenges to sustainability in the office.
Disadvantages of Workplace Sustainability
- Knowing where to start can be difficult. It can be hard to measure progress, too. Numbers are important. They're how you know how well you're doing. They allow you to celebrate milestones and to understand where to improve. Some businesses will be able to track their own progress easily. Others may need professional help in order to get an accurate figure. You can hire an energy auditor. That's what Energym is doing over the coming months.
- There are a lot of different data points that you can use: energy consumption, reams of paper saved, C02 saved by carpooling or telecommuting, the weight of litter bags collected in the community or even the amount of energy created by riding an energy-generating indoor bike. Picking the right metrics to follow can be difficult. Turning numbers into data that people can understand and engage with maybe even more so. Companies must find a way of showcasing data and information in a way that educates and inspires.
- It can take time to implement change. Employees may not always engage with the idea straight away. Older employees may not want a change in policy.
- The benefits won't be clear straight away. CEOs that sign them off may never see them. Long-term commitment is vital, but it's a much harder sell to decision-makers especially when there's a cost involved.
- There is often an up-front cost attached. This can be difficult for newer businesses that don't have the available income to give staff half a day off to litter pick or install solar panels.
- Green-washing your company's eco-credentials is easier than you think. One innocent exaggeration can reap havoc on social media. Don't let your PR team get carried away with your sustainability principles.