Home > Blog > Thinking Green: A Business’ Guide to Promoting Sustainability in the Workplace

Around 30% of the energy produced in the UK is wasted. And, like it or not, it’s our fault. By ‘our’ we mean employees and employers, businesses and buyers. Collectively, then, it is also our responsibility to respond to this issue — and the best place to start making smarter choices is at work. 

Whether you work from home, in-office, or somewhere hybrid in between, there are countless attitudinal, physical, and technological changes you can make to be greener.

Regardless of whether you are a business owner or an intern, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I practice sustainability in my day-to-day work?
  • Do I consider if there is a greener option when making daily decisions?
  • Do I/does my company actively work to reduce my/their environmental impact while operating?

If the answer to any of these questions is ‘no’, or even a half-hearted ‘not really’, it’s time to change. With all the resources out there, it’s never been easier to make greener choices. 

The current state of affairs 

Since the pandemic, the concept of ‘The Workplace’ has never seemed more dynamic and in flux. 

Offices have never been emptier, and the number of employees working from home has never been higher. In fact, there has been a 400% increase in people who work at home full or part-time since 2010. 

What’s more, according to the Office for National Statistics, 8.4 million people (that’s 25.9% of the working population) completed work-related activities from home in 2020. 

And, while popular opinion likes to brand ‘WFH’ as a cleaner, greener alternative to the daily office commute, research is increasingly revealing that this may not be the case after all.

 

Working from home: good for the planet?

When considering the energy efficiency of office buildings in comparison to employee homes, it becomes clear that on-site working has a greater shot at sustainability from the foundations up — literally. As David Symons, Director of Sustainability at WSP UK, notes, “Energy management in buildings is generally more sophisticated than at individual homes”.  

When it comes to the impact of working from home on the environment, a cumulative approach should be taken. Recent research from LSE and More Than Now demonstrates how quickly the little things add up. Did you know…

  • E-waste, for example, weighed almost enough to match the weight of the moon in 2017 at 73.5 million metric tonnes — and that’s before global PC shipments boomed by 10.7% in the 4th quarter of 2020.
  • Sending one email produces 0.3g of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) while sending an email with an attachment can produce as much as 50g of CO2e. 
  • A single Google search produces as much CO2 as a family car travelling 52 feet. That means that a ‘typical business user’ creates 135kg of CO2 annual — the same amount produced by driving the 200 miles from London to Brussels!
  • Even video chatting isn’t green. If the world continues streaming and video calling at the current rate, our carbon footprint could grow by up to 34.3 million CO2e tonnes before the end of 2021. In order for that carbon to be removed from the atmosphere, a forest larger than 75% of the UK’s landmass would be needed. 

 

Since working from home is only set to increase due to convenience, employee satisfaction, and business necessity, the negative impact on the environment will worsen.  According to a study by Upwork, 73% of all teams will feature an aspect of remote working by 2028.  

Additionally, working from home is rarely 100% ‘from home’. Increasingly, hybridity in the workplace is being offered by companies which could, according to The Carbon Trust and Vodafone Institute for Society and Communications, cause a “worst-case scenario”. Hybrid working draws together the increased energy consumption of WFH with the emissions from commutes to the office to create a lose-lose situation.

So, while you may think you’re doing your bit by steering clear of the office, it is evident that there is much more to be done than merely reducing fuel consumption and emissions by staying at home. 

 

So what can be done?

Luckily for you, we’ve assembled this handy guide to practising sustainability in the workplace,  no matter where that may be. 

How To Be More Sustainable Working from home

As Stacy Kauk, Director of Sustainability for Shopify, puts it: “You have company control over what takes place in the office […] when you have everyone working remotely from home, corporate discretion is now employee discretion”. 

For business owners concerned about sustainability this can seem distressing since WFH becomes synonymous with a loss of control over a company’s ‘greenness’. However, distributing, centralising, and encouraging the following tips allows for a joint top-down and bottom-up approach to sustainability, no matter where the business is operating from. 

Light & Heat 

Letting in natural light, unplugging lamps & turning off overhead lights in the morning hours is a good place to start. Using energy-efficient lightbulbs is an even better idea. 

To keep the heat in, close any vents or windows, invest in insulation, and if you’re still cold, whack a jumper on instead of reaching for that thermostat (remember 19-20 degrees is enough!). To help you keep on top of your energy consumption, use a smart thermostat or an app — you bet there’s an app for it. In fact, in the first 2 months of 2020, over 26% of adults aged 35-44 relied upon internet-connected energy or lighting controls to reduce their consumption levels. 

 

Energy consumption 

USwitch estimates that households with occupants who work from home will use 25% more electricity and 17% more gas per day than an in-office worker. If you heat your home for just 4 extra hours a day, you’ll produce an extra 180kg of CO2e (costing you £60 more!).  

Be sure to unplug unused devices so as not to overcharge them, set your laptop & phone to an automatic sleep mode when not in use for a certain period of time, and switch to a greener energy provider.

Now more than ever, the gas provider you are with has a huge impact. As of November 2021, we are in the midst of an energy crisis and, since over 22 million houses are connected to the gas grid, we cannot afford to ignore the shortages. 

Companies, unfortunately, follow the money. Our single greatest weapon through this crisis of sustainability is our wallets, purses, or however you choose to hold your money! If we invest what money we, as a collective, have into sustainable products and sustainable energy, the market has no choice but to follow.

 

Financial Sustainability 

Not all money has to be ‘dirty’. While many people regard sustainability and their finances as entirely separate entities, they are more connected than you think. Many banks like the CO-OP actually have a strong environmental focus, working on initiatives that benefit the planet. You can read the CO-OP Bank’s sustainability report from last year here. 

Other banks, unfortunately often the household names, are less environmentally-inclined. You can see which banks will handle your money with green fingers here.

If an entire organisation’s employees all switch to a bank with a smaller carbon footprint and a cleaner, greener reputation, think of the good that could amount to!

 

Driving 

We know what you’re thinking: ‘This doesn’t apply to me, I work from home”. Well, actually you have much more of an impact than you think. 

Although the rate of driving declined from 31% to 27% when WFH rates rose during the pandemic, the total number of trips undertaken by home workers increased from 3.97 to 4.45 per week. This increase is actually much worse for the environment than merely longer drive times because 80% of emissions are actually related to engine start-up rather than trip duration!  

So, if you’re WFH then commit to it and try to stay at home, using alternative transport if you have to run errands. 

How Business Owners Can Help Employees Be More Sustainable

While it’s all well and good telling employees to put on a jumper, without encouragement from the business itself, there lacks incentive and accountability. Individual green behaviour can only become habitual with collective support from within the company, and here’s how:

Educate & Inspire 

Research and disseminate useful information surrounding climate change, recycling tips, local and global resources, and best practices such as plant-based alternatives and energy conservation hacks. Send out weekly internal e-reminders to encourage healthier habits both in-office and at home such as ‘switch it off’ prompts and themed green initiatives like World Water  Week. 

Act 

Set printing budgets and exclusively use recycled paper or look into reusable energy alternatives such as solar panels.

Other actionable improvements include: banning single-use plastics, purchasing recycling bins, setting up the Bike to Work Scheme and centralising the responsible disposal of small-scale e-waste like battery drives. 

Outreach 

Lastly, and most importantly, spread your company’s effort into the wider community. Donating to local food banks and clothes drives, organising litter picks, and even lobbying local councillors to make greener choices are all examples of how your company’s sustainability efforts don’t have to be merely internal.

 

Other in-office changes to be more sustainable

There are also plenty of other initiatives that can be rolled out across the office, irrespective of who by. 

Culture 

Above anything else comes attitudinal changes. If your business isn’t utterly committed to and convinced by the current climate emergency, it needs to reconsider its priorities. 

Make a dedication to sustainability a core value, central to recruitment, and part of training and development by creating clear aims and objectives, making them known to all employees, and reporting back on them regularly. For example, 

“We aim to reduce waste to landfill by 50% within two years”

 

Physical Changes 

Enforce printing guidelines and invest in eco-friendly inks while also making sure you are disposing of your ink cartridges en masse responsibly. At the same time, be pushing for paperlessness and increased efficiency in communications. 

If all that hasn’t convinced you to go greener as a business, we’re not sure what will. Maybe the fact that a consumer would be 58% likely to purchase from a company that actively cares about the environment. Or, perhaps, that customers are willing to spend up to 20% more on environmentally-considerate products and services. 

You see? This ‘sustainability stuff’ isn’t just for the environment, but it’s good for business too. Use the tips above to make smarter choices inside and outside your organisation for a greener future. 

So, what are you waiting for? Time to switch banks and recycle some paper!

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