What Does the Phrase Sustainability in the Workplace Mean?

people sitting in an open-plan office

It's one little word that keeps rippling through the business world. Your company may already be embracing it. Maybe it's not. But consumers aren't the only ones becoming more eco-conscious. Employees (and prospective employees) are too.

We all have a responsibility to be eco-friendlier. That's as true for CEOs of billion-dollar companies as much as for Etsy side-hustlers. We're all living and working on the same planet, after all. But sustainability is a tough sell to some business owners.

Moral responsibility doesn't pay the bills. Sometimes, it increases them. And sustainability in the office can be time-consuming, too. Who has the energy for that in the middle of a global pandemic?

But sustainability isn't just about the planet.

Businesses must appeal to their target markets. They do this by aligning their values with that of their audience. Consumers do this, too. People born between 1980 and 2001 are more likely to put their money where their morals are. They spend more with the businesses that share their values.

It doesn't just happen between customers and clients.

Sustainability also influences how employees and prospective employees see a company. Employees that feel proud and aligned with their company are more likely to stay with them. Prospective employees are more likely to pursue employment opportunities there.

Over the next few days, we'll be releasing a series of short posts looking more closely at what sustainability in the office is. And what it means for company decision-makers, employees, clients and customers.

What is Sustainability?

It's concerned with the long-term consequences of what's happening now. That's why it's a harder sell. It's not as sexy as a short-term fix. Sustainable policymakers may have to wait years to see positive results and may never reap the benefits of what they started.

Sustainability examples might be putting solar arrays on a roof to generate clean energy or banning single-use plastic bottles. It could be reducing the amount of packaging a business uses during distribution or installing LED lights in a home.

What Does the Phrase Sustainability in the Workplace Mean?

According to Business Leader, nearly three-quarters of office workers want their workplace to improve its sustainable policy.

But what does that mean?

Workplace sustainability concerns itself with the environmental impact of a business. Where necessary it seeks to change current practices, processes, and systems to be eco-friendlier. Switching to LED lighting is one example of a sustainable change. As are putting solar panels on roofs or banning single-use plastics.

Sustainability must be measured. Otherwise, it's just guesswork and difficult to engage with. Successes make good PR and prove company accountability. Failures highlight areas of improvement. Having clear numbers helps with this. Calculating a carbon footprint can be difficult. If you're not comfortable doing it yourself, you can hire a carbon auditor. That's what Energym is doing. We want to look at our entire business to see how we can reduce our carbon emissions. Once we have a number, we'll better understand what it is we need to do. We want everyone else to see this number, too. We want to be accountable.

Sustainability shouldn't be buried in a mission statement that nobody reads. It should be talked about. It should be referred back to during discussions and brainstorms. Employees should be encouraged to make suggestions and to advocate for them. One word of warning: don't let management or over-zealous marketing teams run away with a sustainability policy. Over-promising and under-delivering can quickly damage a company's reputation. It can alienate employees, too.

Examples of Sustainability in the Office

One example of sustainability in the office is Nike's Lunch Programme. Staff at the sportswear brand's global headquarters were encouraged to only bring reusable lunch containers to work. This simple move led to 16,000 fewer single-use items being used per quarter.

Disney recycles the food waste of its employees and turns it into biogas that's then creates fertilizer and electricity. According to Recycle Coach, 'Disney's biogas facility produces 5.4 megawatts of heat and electricity from 120,000 tons of organic material every year. That's enough to power about 2000 homes.'

In 2022, Gymshark is installing electricity-generating indoor bikes into its flagship gym. The energy created during each workout will help power the building. This third example is important. We'll explore the benefits of a sustainable workplace in a later post, but it's worth mentioning here that sustainability can also help businesses save money.

What is a Workplace Sustainability Policy?

A workplace sustainability policy is a document outlining a company's commitment to sustainability.

Sustainability policies should be easily accessible to employees and the company's position clearly communicated. If the policy is particularly formal and dry, then it's an idea to make an abridged version covering the key points. Get employees talking about it. Go through the main areas with them. It's not easy getting people excited about policy but make it fun by suggesting events or campaigns that different teams can get involved in.

What's the point of a workplace sustainability policy if the copywriter is the only person who knows about it? And your policy shouldn't just live in a document. It should be the reference point for dialogues between staff and employers moving forward.

Encourage people to make suggestions or to swap ideas, support fundraising, create projects, and put the best ones into action.


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