Your business may be fighting for survival, but so is the planet. So work together.

Creating a sustainable, eco-friendly office has been on many companies’ agenda for a while and what better time to adequately address this issue, when there has been a fundamental shift? 

Following three months of lockdown, businesses will focus on returning to work, driving revenue and hopefully surviving a turbulent 2020. At the same time, they will also be looking to make cost savings along the way. 

But that doesn’t rule out environmentally-based savings, where we can reduce greenhouse gases and hone a more efficient business.

Being carbon conscious

Most people want to do the right thing with their businesses. That means they want their business to be green. They want it to be sustainable. They want it to align with their values. The challenge is that they’re just not sure how to do that.

If your business is carbon conscious, are you ready to reduce its carbon footprint? Or do you consider a carbon offsetting scheme as an easy way to silence critics?

Carbon offsetting compensates for the carbon dioxide your business emits through participating in schemes, or funding programmes, that remove the equivalent amount of CO2 from the atmosphere. Typically, offset projects involve tree planting and other indirect actions.

There’s a problem with carbon offsetting

Each year, we release 40bn tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere – averaging out to a whopping 5.5 tonnes per person. At this rate each person would have to plant over 2 acres, c.8,000 m2 (an entire football pitch) of trees each year, and trees don’t reach their most productive phase until they are ten years old.

Instead of looking to offset, why not make changes at the source which not only can help create a greener business but could also result in cost savings?

Attracting and Retaining Talent

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial, Strategy (BEIS) found that 65% of 16-24-year-olds would prefer a job in the green economy. These people are the future of the workforce who are looking for – or would be interested in – a position with a clear environmental focus.

If you’re looking to make yourself as attractive as possible to the young millennial professional, you’d better pull your carbon-neutral socks up.

Requests by employees, who are increasingly younger, no longer focus exclusively on money matters as was the case with boomers. Instead, they are concerned with quality of life and flexibility in their professional careers. Including this human value in economic salaries is known as Emotional Salary, and can be very effective for employee retention.

How do businesses become carbon neutral?

With such a high percentage of millennials wanting to work in a green economy, then there should be plenty of employee engagement to start a ‘Green Team’. A green team will give employees an opportunity to contribute to developing and implementing sustainability initiatives and also educate others that they can have a positive environmental impact. 

Why not start with getting everyone to calculate their carbon footprint (www.carbonfootprint.com/measure.html)? I calculated mine and was rather shocked that while my footprint is in line with the average of c.5 tonnes, a large proportion of this was attributable to eating meat.

Companies can reduce costs while reducing their carbon footprint. Think of turning off lights, air conditioning, and other power-hungry equipment in unused zones. There are many simple ways to achieve greater energy efficiency. 

Going paperless

The greenest paper is no paper at all. Printing documents to make corrections, revisions, signatures and invoices accounts for 80%+ of all office waste. And if we fail to dispose of waste paper, it will take up valuable space in office buildings or storage facilities. 

I have no doubt that during lockdown, people have become accustomed to reading and updating documents digitally rather than printing. They may not have a printer at home, or they may not want to fill up boxes with printouts. Digital files are greener than paper ones. Let’s make filing cabinets 100% a thing of the past.

I fully appreciate it is a personal preference, and I certainly find it easier to review a hard copy document. Still, the average UK office worker uses approximately 10,000 sheets of paper every year. And it is estimated that associated paper costs total to roughly 30 times the actual purchasing price; it comes at a great expense.

Here’s an idea for reducing paper usage. Think how Vitality Health monitors your active steps and you don’t have to pay for the Apple Watch. You could incentivise employees by offering a bike if their paper consumption is under a certain level, for example. 

Recycling

Every company should recycle and offer employees all the necessary means to do so. Still, in my view, this is the same as Carbon offsetting and does not aim to directly reduce usage, which is more important and has a more significant impact. 

People will continue to print but say it’s fine because they recycle. But why buy packs of batteries for keyboards and wireless mice when there are rechargeable ones available? 

Encourage green commuting and review travel policies

Companies can encourage employees to lower commuting emissions by walking, biking or taking public transit to the office, and offering incentives to do so like the one I mention above. 

However, people may be less willing to take the tube in the aftermath of Covid-19. But, by allowing flexibility in working hours, they can avoid crowded times. 

Offering work-from-home policies can also reduce your company’s carbon footprint. That said, I do not think working from home provides all the answers – see my previous blog, “Take the time to learn about what your team is thinking and let’s think ahead to how this will impact the modern office space”. However, it will lead many companies to develop a healthier relationship with flexible working and all of the digital technologies that support it. 

I am a big advocate of face-to-face meetings and being able to read someone physically. I also fully appreciate that senior management teams should meet in person some of the time. However, where possible, there should be a reduction in both local and international employee travel. 

I honestly don’t think people realise the impact of a flight. For example, a return business class flight from London to New York produces 3.4 tonnes of CO2 for a single passenger. Surely video conferencing could replace some of these meetings?

Again the coronavirus pandemic has helped with the emergence and usage of web/video conferencing such as Zoom, MS Teams, etc, this will reduce the requirement for travel and the associated costs. 

Indoor air quality and Biophilia

Consider popping some indoor plants on office desks and in reception areas, or using an outdoor space to grow flowers and other plant life.

Modern office buildings seal in air and can contain up to ten times more pollutants than the air outside.  Brought inside, plants will improve air quality by removing these harmful pollutants and stabilising humidity levels. Outdoor plant life will attract and feed the native bird, bee and bug population that’s needed to keep the ecosystem buzzing. 

An outdoor area filled with shrubbery nurtures the environment. But it will also provide a pleasant space for staff to socialise, resulting in an uplifting work atmosphere.

Making a positive social and environmental impact

So are you as a company making an effort in your office space to reduce your carbon footprint? Businesses should be looking to outperform in terms of positive social and environmental impact. They should instil transparency, accountability, performance and social responsibility to become a Certified B Corp, a new kind of business that balances purpose and profit. (www.bcorporation.uk), a gold standard for the way we should be doing business today and potentially a key part of employer branding.

The buck doesn’t entirely rest with the end-user and, and indeed the government, Landlords and Developers need to play their part to provide businesses with the systems and technology to reduce the impact.

The spotlight will turn to them in our next blog.