Five steps to improved sustainability for employers

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First published on Forbes, 04/11/21

With the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in full swing, now is the time for employers to step up and reduce their impact on the environment. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it is also good for business. It can even, research suggests, help combat the Great Resignation. In WeSpire’s State of Employee Engagement study 2021, 93% of employees who said that their company was making a positive impact in the world were planning to stay in their jobs.

Some organisations are already on the road to improved sustainability and have announced ambitious net zero targets. But for others taking their first tentative steps, where should they focus their efforts?

Have a plan

Every organisation is different and its impacts will vary according to the industry it’s in, but every business can play its part. The priority is to understand where the business is today, identify areas for improvement and have a clear plan. Free tools such as The B Impact Assessment are a great place to start.

Getting together a group of employees – your ‘green team’ – will help take your sustainability drive forward, while creating a plan with clear objectives will give your efforts focus. This should include tangible goals such as reducing your business travel or reducing your office energy use by X percent, and evaluating your progress on a regular basis.

Support flexible working

The first way that office-based businesses can make a difference is by continuing to support flexible working. As remote work strategist Molood Ceccarelli points out, “Without billions of people commuting every day in various countries, we are experiencing cleaner air and water and are contributing positively to the environment. A continued approach to this lifestyle has the potential to delay the destruction of our planet.”

A study from Global Workplace Analytics backs this up. It estimates that if everyone who can or would like to work from home did so for half the week, “it would have the greenhouse gas equivalent of taking the entire New York State workforce off the road.”

Achieve (home) office efficiency

However, while doing away with the daily commute seems like an easy climate win, any gains could be cancelled out by what happens inside employees’ homes. That’s why your sustainability efforts should factor in both the office and the home office.

With buildings responsible for almost 40% of annual energy-related carbon dioxide emissions globally, your commercial office offers enormous untapped efficiency potential.

Switch to a renewable energy provider, recycle waste, go paperless, turn down the heating by a few degrees, unplug equipment when not in use. Added together, these changes can reduce your energy use significantly. If you’re in a rented office, speak to your landlord about what’s possible. And if you’re in a shared space, join forces with other tenants to make a collective difference.

Influencing employees’ home set-up is more challenging, but sharing advice on simple energy-efficient wins can help. You may even want to follow the example of SkySpecs and offer clean energy as an employee perk.

Travel less, travel wisely

How employees get to work and travel as part of their job also needs to be considered. The mental and physical benefits of active commuting are well reported. And by encouraging employees to take up greener modes of transport, businesses can also reduce their carbon footprint.

However, a comprehensive ‘green’ travel policy should encompass all business journeys, whether that’s to meet with a client or attend an event. Does that meeting need to happen in person or could it be conducted via video call? And could I take a train to my destination rather than a flight?

If flying is the only option, a new search feature from Google lets you choose flights based on carbon emissions.

Keep good company

To effect real change, though, businesses need to think beyond their own operations and consider their partners and suppliers. That means sourcing locally and sustainably. For every purchase you make or supplier you appoint, consider whether it’s the most sustainable option for your business and budget.

Working with companies that have achieved third-party validation such as B Corp Certification provides peace of mind. According to B Labs, the not-for-profit that administers the certification, B Corps are twice as likely to use 100% renewable energy and 2.5 times more likely to be carbon neutral than ordinary businesses. Whether you’re looking for accounting services or IT support, its directory will help you find a certified provider near you.

If you’re investing in new office furniture or equipment, choosing products recognised by the Green Good Design Awards is recommended. The Awards are not only a mark of good design, but of design that inspires “greater progress toward a healthier and more sustainable universe.”

Think long term

These are just some of the measures that will help you minimise your negative impact. Some may seem small or insignificant but if practiced by every business, they can collectively make a big difference.

The key is to be authentic, not just a storyteller who talks about taking action but a live participant who does what they say. Also, you need to be in it for the long haul. This is not about quick fixes and short-term gains but a long-term commitment to being a better business and a better employer that is making a better contribution to society and the planet.

Author David Morel Tiger Recruitment Team

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