The benefits of sustainability in the workplace often go beyond just an environmental impact. One of the biggest misconceptions is that sustainability has to mean giving something up or spending more for the greater environmental good. This can make eco-friendly business practices harder to sell to company bosses, but whilst it's true that sustainability often means paying an upfront cost (whether time or money), it can also lead 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 and Gen-Z may understand how capitalism works, but they also expect employers to contribute more than just a paycheck. They want to work for companies creating real value in the world. According to The Harvard Business Review, 21st-century employees now focus more on 'mission, purpose and work-life balance. It's working for businesses, too, as studies now show that morale is 55% better in companies with a strong sustainability programme. Employee loyalty, they say, is 38% better.
Company culture can also dictate whether employees stay or leave. Social media and employer review sites (Glassdoor, for example) 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 sing kumbaya around a campfire to attract and keep employees. Committing to a sustainability policy and engaging with it is a good starting point. What's great too is that sustainability can be tied into all sorts of programmes, missions, programmes or drives. Sustainability can impact every aspect of our personal and working lives, so it's easy to adapt into a working environment. Creating a working environment that supports an ethos may seem too much for some businesses but if it helps retain employees, it 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. It 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. There may be penalties for companies that aren't doing enough to reduce their carbon output. On the flip side of this, there are also 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, because 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 also last up to twenty-five times longer than other bulbs.
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. This is commonly used in hotels where corridors and public areas may be unused for prolonged periods.
- A company could also install energy-generating equipment into its building. It could be a solar array on the roof or installing a smart-water system to reduce water wastage. Companies could also add electricity-generating indoor bikes into communal or empty office space. Not only is this a great way to encourage physical exercise in the workplace (shown to increase employee wellbeing that we mentioned earlier), but it can also help support a sustainable mission statement or core values by encouraging employees to create clean power.
Climate Change Will Negatively Impact Your Business
Most modern businesses can't operate in isolation. They're part of a chain of suppliers, manufactures, logistics and employees, so what happens in one place can have a knock-on effect elsewhere. COVID-19 is a great example of how a single event can make waves around the world. It's something we've experienced at Energym with the pandemic affecting shipping container and microchip availability.
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 or the Australian bush 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, so there's no reason not to shout about environmental CSR. It can be a good PR opportunity, especially if you can get your employees involved. One word of warning, however, don't overstate your eco-credentials because that's green-washing and it can backfire massively. Green-washing is where companies pretend to be more sustainable than they really are. Energy providers sometimes do this with their green tariffs. Honesty is the best policy and even gradual shifts towards a more eco-friendlier model will be appreciated by customers and clients. For most companies, sustainability is still a work in progress, an it's OK to admit that.
Sustainability is 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. Some may be specific to your industry that we haven't touched on. It'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.
Disadvantages of Workplace Sustainability
- Knowing where to start can be difficult, and it can be hard to measure progress. Knowing your numbers is important because that's how you know how well you're doing, allowing you to celebrate milestones and to understand where to improve. Some businesses will be able to track their progress more easily. Others may need professional help in order to get an accurate figure. You can hire an energy auditor. This is where an external contractor comes in and measures the carbon footprint of your business. They'll also be able to advise you on where you can reduce your carbon output.
- There are a lot of different data points that you can use to measure sustainability, including 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 possibly even more so. Companies must find a way of showcasing data and information in a way that educates and inspires. Otherwise it's just a bunch of numbers that no one cares about.
- 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. It's important to be clear and to make transitions towards sustainability easy and straightforward.
- The benefits won't be clear straight away, and the CEOs that sign them off may never see them come to fruition. 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. Sustainability doesn't have to be done all at once. Not everyone has the budget of Bloomberg's HQ.
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.
Sustainability in the workplace is becoming more popular, especially for CSR and ESG. Energym supports this by designing and developing electricity-generating indoor fitness bikes to help businesses encourage physical activity among employees, create clean electricity, and start conversations around sustainability and climate change.
Find out more aboout the RE:GEN ECO:POD for your office space or drop us a message, we'd love to talk more about how we can help your company.