New research has revealed that “67% of employees want their workplaces to become more sustainable [and] … 84% of those surveyed say the companies they work for aren’t doing enough to address climate change”. This research indicates that sustainability in the workplace has become an important part of company culture—and one that potential employees are prioritizing.
On the individual scale, sustainability can feel overwhelming and/or nearly impossible to achieve. Even an individual or family with an extremely small ecological footprint—walks everywhere, recycles, composts, uses electricity sparingly, doesn’t eat meat, etc.—makes a minimal impact on the global scale. With the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicating that only 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions, change really does have to happen on a larger scale. That’s why it’s important for organizations to incorporate sustainability in the workplace into their core values.
With research showing that 48% of employees would be willing to take a pay cut if it meant working for an organization that is more environmentally sustainable, it’s evident that sustainability in the workplace can play a critical role in recruiting and retaining top talent.
Many organizations claim they want to reduce emissions and better support sustainability, without any specific goals in mind—or at least none that are shared with their employees or the general public. It’s important that organizations have clear sustainability initiatives and goals that they share with all stakeholders.
Here are some of the ways that your organization can increase sustainability in the workplace:
- Appoint a sustainability person. Having an employee who is dedicated to green initiatives and is the point-person for all things green will make sustainability in the workplace a reality at your organization.
- Incentivize employees to carpool, transit, bike, or walk to work. Offer your employees rewards, such as gift cards or just bragging rights, to improve the environmental impact of their commute.
- Create opportunities for green initiatives in and outside of your workplace. Set up volunteer days where employees participate in activities such as planting trees, cleaning up a beach, or helping at a local garden. The springtime (April and May) is the ideal time to start planting pollinator plants to help the bees.
- Partner with organizations and suppliers that follow similar sustainability standards. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) writes that in the same way we may evaluate credit scores, organizations should also evaluate “a company’s ethics and environmental practices” for things such as their “policies and actions towards people, politics, the environment and animals, looking at issues such as workers’ rights, fossil fuel investment, and pollution”.
- Cut down on paper products or use deforestation-free paper. For organizations where being completely paper-free isn’t an option, using recycled paper is a great sustainable alternative.
- Switch out your old light bulbs and use motion sensors to reduce electricity use. The WWF writes that LED lightbulbs “are 80% more efficient than standard CFL bulbs”. With motion sensors, of course, even efficient lights don’t have to always be on.
- Go all out with a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. According to the LEED website, “LEED provides a framework for healthy, efficient, carbon and cost-saving green buildings”. Organizations earn LEED points “by adhering to prerequisites and credits that address carbon, energy, water, waste, transportation, materials, health and indoor environmental quality”.
- Set specific sustainability goals. Organizations can start by evaluating their current ecological footprint and determining places where they are able to reduce it and then set specific goals, e.g. reducing energy usage by 5% this year.
The final point for sustainability in the workplace is that it should actually be sustainable.
The changes that your organization makes should be easy to manage and not implemented all at once. Don’t try to go from barely thinking about sustainability in the workplace to switching over everything to compostable, getting rid of all paper products, and forcing everyone to carpool.
Ask your employees what initiatives are most important to them and what changes they’re willing and excited to make. Small, but sustainable changes will go further towards overall sustainability in the workplace.