Businesses can no longer afford to sit on the fringes of the sustainable revolution. Once upon a time, it was easy to get by on very involvement with ‘the world of green stuff’, and businesses that weren’t directly involved in renewable technologies and solutions could make do with a recycling initiative and, perhaps, a departure from single-use plastic cups and cutlery in the cafeteria downstairs.
Times have certainly changed, and the mounting pressure on the public and private sectors to do as much as they possibly can for the environment – and, more specifically, to mitigate their negative impact on the environment both local and global – means that falling behind could represent the undoing of a once-strong business model. From clothing labels to leading tech houses, food producers and umbrella companies, the headlines are frequently unveiling the household names that are contributing to the problem and putting our shared future at risk – and exactly how they are doing it.
Big or small, businesses need to make a stand. Research shows that more than 80% of customers favour sustainable brands – and that’s not limited to just one industry. Whether you’re in food, tech, fashion, or anything else, the expectation is the same.
But what does a sustainable office really look like? Beyond recycling initiatives, how can professional spaces put themselves at the forefront of climate reform?
Charging points for electric vehicles are growing more and more common out in the world. From supermarkets to motorway services – not to mention the thousands of private stations installed in garages and on driveways. In fact, as of January 2022, there were 28,375 EV charging points available to the public – and yet, well over half a million EVs on UK roads.
The rising popularity of EVs and hybrids over the past few years has been great to see – but, compared with the UK’s target for net zero carbon emissions by 2050, it’s nowhere near fast enough. Commercial premises are perfectly placed to support the drive toward carbon neutrality, and demonstrate how much easier it is to own and use an EV these days.
The government has been looking to incentivise just this over the past few years. Currently, the Workplace Charging Scheme (WCS) enables businesses to receive vouchers that make the process of boosting EV charging infrastructure in your area far more manageable.
With the technology installed, greater numbers of the workforce invest in EVs. More to the point, your business can start attracting new employees. By some statistics, more than half of prospective employees will be swayed by a business’s commitments to corporate social responsibility, and few changes will make as much of a statement as EV charging.
Commercial spaces require a lot of energy each day. From machinery to lights, computers, refrigerators and heating – or cooling – keeping a large space going throughout the working week takes a hefty investment into fossil fuels, unless you intentionally divorce yourself from dependence on the national grid.
Installing commercial solar panels is a great way to affirm your commitment to reducing carbon emissions, and offering customers a truly sustainable company to lend their business to. It’s an excellent way to build a strong, favourable reputation in the local community, particularly at a time when more consumers than ever before are looking to align themselves with brands and businesses that have something concrete to show for their verbal commitments to sustainability.
It's also an excellent way to boost workplace culture. Numerous studies over the years have consistently shown that people are happier when they feel involved with a greener, more environmentally friendly way of life.
And, finally, there is the added (and tangible) benefit of lowered operating costs. Between healthy, free production during the day and night-time battery storage to keep the company online even when the sun has gone away, the financial benefits of installing solar on your office are clear to see.
Smaller spaces are much less of a burden on the environment – and fewer people travelling to the office also reduces the daily carbon impact of simply going to work. The past few years have taught many businesses that flexible work-from-home arrangements can work out without making a major dent in productivity or that sense of workplace culture.
Hot desking is a simple idea, traditionally used by businesses who have grown beyond the capacity their original offices offer, but it doesn’t need to reach that point before you consider it. By transitioning to a smaller space, you’re cutting down on overhead without losing that central space needed for major meetings or other events. Hot desks ensure everyone always has the option to spend a few days a week (or month) in the office, without so many carbon emissions.
Eco-friendly cleaning products
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a long-term impact on our approach to keeping shared workspaces clean – and for good reason. So, while it may feel like one (relatively) small detail in a much larger picture, there’s no escaping the fact that even the smallest changes are essential. Cleaning products can have a significant impact on the health of employees and the environment, and taking decisive action to adopt healthier alternatives.
By gradually replacing all of the usual office supplies with eco alternatives, employees can start to really see the scope of your plans – and, hopefully, implement a few changes of their own.
Supported by a realistic climate manifesto
‘Going green’ doesn’t happen overnight – and, given the fact that the public are growing increasingly sceptical of companies’ attempts at greenwashing their practices, gaining the social benefit of sustainable initiatives without the investment of time or money, transforming the business in no time at all really isn’t the best way to go.
Everybody is aware that creating a truly sustainable business is a process – one that is managed in increments, rather than one flat-out sprint to the finish line. Things need to be sustainable for the business as well as the environment, after all.
For that reason, there is nothing wrong with admitting that your current position isn’t ideal, but that you have put together a strong, long-term plan for reducing your carbon emissions and transforming the ways in which you do business. In this way, you can represent a trailblazer in your industry – someone who has put in the legwork to integrate sustainability into the very core of the business.
A clear recycling initiative
While businesses can (and should) go far beyond their recycling efforts in order to really call themselves sustainable and green, it is important that the fundamentals of environmental consciousness aren’t forgotten in the rush to adopt a more comprehensive approach. From recycling wastepaper to cans, plastic, compostable waste, and more specialist materials, maintaining a clear approach to recycling waste – and why it is so important – will remain key, no matter how many other initiatives the business takes on.
A corporate sustainability team
Sustainability initiatives don’t spring up out of nowhere. While forming a corporate sustainability team will require an investment of time from a portion of your existing workforce – and a healthy investment of money, to ensure that they have the resources they need to actually make a difference – it’s a great way to signal a genuine interest in bolstering the company’s sustainability efforts, rather than ‘waiting and seeing’ if things start to improve on their won.
Don’t forget that recognition is central to motivation. Don’t let the corporate sustainability team operate in the shadows, occasionally sending out memos and newsletters that, for the most part, get buried under work-as-usual.
Take on feedback
Whether you’re taking the time to listen to your employees, your distributors, or your customers, feedback is an essential component when it comes to establishing your sustainability goals, fulfilling them, and ensuring that the most important people – your customers – are aware of the work you are doing.
It’s not an issue to talk ‘loud and proud’ about your work on emissions reduction and climate reform. Criticism falls on companies who overblow the work they are doing, or mislead customers with vague language that could be interpreted in myriad ways.
Taking on feedback is a way of bringing your customers into a positive conversation, and actioning that feedback is a way of proving your commitment to them, and the world beyond your own four walls.
Make climate reform a part of your long-term philosophy
Any change that you can make today, in the next month, or over the course of the next year to aid in reducing your climate footprint is a positive step toward a stronger and healthier reputation, but consumers are aware that, right now, ‘green’ is something of a buzzword.
It is growing easier for us to recognise companies who are adopting environmental awareness into their corporate strategy like a fresh marketing campaign that appeals to today’s market.
True commitment is signalled through a combination of the efforts listed above, and a genuine sense of openness to new solutions – starting today.