Increased awareness of the climate crisis has led to a boost in the levels of responsible investing since the 2016 Paris Agreement. With a combination of evermore desperate news about the rise in world temperatures and the increase in shareholder funds flowing towards environmental, social and governance (ESG)-related assets – expected to hit US$53 trillion (€48.8 trillion) by 2025 – it is no surprise that companies are interested in promoting sustainability in the workplace.
However, both internal and external stakeholders demand authenticity when it comes to the environmental programmes of businesses. Accusations of greenwashing – erroneously branding something environmentally friendly when it isn’t – can be damaging for a company, so you have to commit to sustainability in everything you do.
This means getting your own house in order, so to speak, and creating an environmentally conscious workplace. This article explains why and how to go about creating a sustainable workplace.
Why engage employees in sustainability?
When you try to build a company culture, you need buy-in from all parties, starting with senior leadership and moving on to all other employees in the organisation. This does not happen by dictating how internal stakeholders will behave but rather by engaging with them and winning over their hearts and minds.
If you want people to adopt environmentally friendly practices in the workplace, they need to understand what they need to do and why they need to do it. They must believe in the vision that the organisation has and want to work to fashion it into reality.
Staff engagement on sustainability involves a two-way conversation about the best ways your company can cut out damaging practices and integrate sustainability into the working day seamlessly. If employees help shape the policies, they will be more willing to implement them and work at them until they become successful.
Instil a green(er) culture
Company culture is key to driving positive changes, so the first step to promoting sustainability is to promote a green culture within the organisation. Here are some ways to achieve this goal:
Update your mission statement
Your mission statement holds your business responsible for delivering on its promises, so creating a sustainability statement is essential to show you are serious about green issues.
Be clear and concise in your statement, explaining why sustainability matters to your business, what you want to accomplish and what your success criteria will be. It should appeal to all staff and provide them with a rallying call to help the business meet its aims.
Update your company newsletter
Your company newsletter is one of your biggest internal communications channels and should be utilised to update employees on your sustainability push. Showing staff what you want to achieve and documenting your efforts to make a real change helps them to understand your policies more clearly and see that you are serious about your targets.
Sharing your goals and results can inspire employees to set up their own green working practices and provide recognition for those who are already doing their part.
Run employee awareness campaigns
It must be clear to employees how they can improve their sustainable working practices before your strategy can bear fruit. This means running campaigns to raise awareness of what practical steps they can take. For example:
More efficient recycling
Signage explaining clearly which common materials found in your offices, kitchens and other common areas can and cannot be recycled and how to do so.
Lower energy consumption
Screensaver messages on office computers providing tips on ways to reduce energy consumption (turning off the lights, reducing the use of air conditioning, etc.)
Source ideas from employees
Your employees are a great pool of ideas. With so many experiences combined, asking them to share ideas for green activities to increase your sustainability should generate a large number of suggestions.
In addition, having been engaged in the process, they will feel valued and have one more reason to get behind the green strategy that you intend to implement.
Host sustainability workshops
Sending emails and other written communications about your sustainability plans is a good start, but some people are kinaesthetic learners and need to engage in practical activities to really take them on board.
A workshop environment can really bring to life the strategies that you want to put in place and help your employees understand how they benefit them and the world in general.
7 key strategies for promoting sustainability in the workplace
1. Encourage remote and hybrid work
Researchers in Spain have found that implementing remote working for two, three or four days a week can cut the amount of Nitrogen Dioxide polluting the air by 4%, 8% and 10% respectively. Nitrogen Dioxide can irritate the eyes, nose, throat and lungs and worse — areas with particularly high levels of NO2 report increases in cases of asthma and more people requiring hospital stays for respiratory complaints.
By encouraging employees to work from home full time or on a hybrid basis, you can help to improve the air quality in your local area. And it is not only beneficial to have employees dialling in to complete their regular work; there are many areas of the business which you can take online in order to cut your environmental impact. Here are some examples:
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Company town hall meetings
Present in a fully virtual or hybrid format with some employees in-person and others watching online through a professional webcasting platform. This allows staff working remotely or utilising flexible working to attend without travelling to the venue.
Use a board portal to take board meetings online. The portal allows them to collaborate from anywhere and use the video function to attend the virtual meeting.
Investor relations events
Whether it’s an online roadshow or a cutting-edge experience, such as the ESG Days we’ve been organising at Company Webcast, there is a lot you can do with virtual and hybrid events to engage your current and potential shareholders. A great benefit of this is that you eradicate the need to send executives out on the road.
2. Go paperless
Paperless technologies are becoming ever more effective for organisations, allowing them to cut their carbon footprint. Taking advantage of programs like Google Workspace, on which you can collaborate in the cloud, means that it is entirely feasible for organisations to cut down on their use of paper, and even eradicate it completely.
And, for the environment, that is great news. It takes a lot of energy and water to produce paper, not to mention the problems that deforestation brings. The World Counts states that “from 2001 to 2019, a total of 386 million hectares of forest were lost globally (in all forest types combined). This loss represents an almost 10% decrease in tree cover since 2000”. In addition, paper accounts for around 26% of total waste at landfills. Still, offices across the world are using trillions of sheets every year.
This is not necessary. With all of the digital tools at our disposal, it is easy to at least reduce the amount of paper that your organisation uses.
3. Conserve energy
In large companies, it is common to waste energy. Employees might leave their computers on overnight, for example. Simply shutting them down at the end of the day, rather than leaving them on standby, could save a significant amount of energy when you consider implementing this policy across a large business.
Other ways to save energy in the office include turning down the thermostat or reducing the power of the air conditioning, depending on the season. As long as the room temperature is still comfortable, even slight adjustments can conserve energy and lessen your impact on the environment.
4. Conserve water
Water is a precious resource and we should ensure we do not waste it unnecessarily. With the effects of climate change becoming ever more pronounced, we must guard against droughts and ensure we use the resources that we have wisely.
In an office, you could install waterless urinals and encourage employees to fill a sink when washing up in the kitchen, rather than keeping the taps running as they wash. You can also check for leaks in the plumbing of the building and collect rainwater to water any green areas you have and more.
5. Encourage sustainable transportation
The European Environment Agency states that “transport…leads to releases of pollutants, which can spread beyond the reach of transport networks. They can contribute to background concentrations of particulate matter, ozone and nitrogen dioxide, affecting people, plants and animals. Some areas, including mountainous regions, coastal zones and seas, can be particularly vulnerable to pollution from transport.”
Cutting down on the amount of travelling your employees do for work, particularly by car or aeroplane, is important for your sustainability. You could encourage car sharing for employees commuting to the office or incentivise cycling or walking to work.
Another way to cut down on the impact of transportation relating to your business is to encourage remote or hybrid practices. Taking meetings online, rather than travelling to attend them, is a much more sustainable way of working. For example, using Company Webcast’s professional webinar platform to host events, such as all-hands meetings and training sessions, is a way to eradicate unnecessary travel.
6. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
An environmental mindset is key to becoming more sustainable, and advocating Reduce, Reuse, Recycle as a mantra is part of this.
You should have intuitive recycling processes on-site so that recyclable materials go to recycling plants, not to landfills. Encouraging employees to use only what they need, whether that is water for hot drinks or electricity when charging devices is also important, as is reusing materials and resources when there is still life in them, rather than throwing them away.
7. Become involved in the community
Your quest for sustainability does not need to end at the lobby of your building. You can show your commitment to the environment by getting out into the local community and becoming involved with environmental projects on your doorstep.
You could plant trees, clean up the local river or parkland, go litter picking or do any other activity that makes your community a better place and helps protect the environment for other people.
8. Light it up with humour
Using humour can be effective in maintaining the thrall of the audience. Laughter is one of the universals in life, as it is a release and a communal experience. It improves the mood and keeps you engaged with the person delivering the humour. These are all great qualities if you want to combat webinar fatigue and increase audience engagement.
A well-placed and pitched joke here and there certainly adds to the experience for the audience, but you do need to be careful. The jokes you use must be appropriate for the audience in terms of their age, background and beliefs. If you are trying to sell products or promote your business, you don’t want to risk alienating those in attendance.
Similarly, you should remember that your brand can come across as jovial, but must never be the butt of the joke. British businessman Gerald Ratner discovered this to his peril in 1991 when he jokingly told a conference of the Institute of Directors that his jewellery company’s products were “total crap”. Ratners Group lost £500 million from its value following the fallout of the speech.
Why sustainability in the office is the future
Your external and internal stakeholders are more invested in sustainability than ever before, and that will only increase with the next generation. This is not a fleeting trend that will go away; it is here to stay, and the only way to future-proof your business is to embrace it.
Not only is it the right thing to do when the data shows that the environment needs our help like never before, but it is essential for your business reputation, too. Consumers and investors have shown they are more inclined to think fondly of sustainable organisations than those that do not have environmental policies in place.
In addition, the cost savings from cutting down on transport and reducing your energy consumption can add up to a significant amount. With these powerful arguments in favour of sustainability, now is the time to engage your employees and empower them to do the right thing.
Do employees prefer sustainable companies?
77% of workers would like their company to be more sustainable, according to the 2021 Corporate Climate Crisis report from PLAY. Companies must take sustainability seriously in order to placate not only investors and customers but also employees.
Should you set sustainability targets for employees?
Implementing sustainability targets can add some clarity to the role that employees play in helping a business be more environmentally friendly. However, good internal communications for spreading the word of the organisation’s green policies also helps to this end, meaning that targets are only part of the answer.
Encouraging sustainability in the workplace requires engagement with employees and good internal communication. It is a two-way street that involves canvassing opinions and then working with employees to develop systems and strategies that will have an impact on the way you look after the environment.
Taking meetings and training sessions online or in a hybrid format is a key element of this. You can achieve this with Company Webcast’s secure, professional webcasting platform. You can try a free demo of Company Webcast now.