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Go green! Sustainability in the office

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​Because even the smallest person (or company) can change the course of the future

Saving money and helping the environment at the same time seems like a no brainer. Many companies have seen their investments repaid manifold when working to increase their sustainability. When done correctly, morale is improved and also efficiency – for example, the World Green Building Fund found maximising natural light increases productivity by 15%!

Furthermore, it is our duty: Edelman’s 2019 Trust barometer demonstrated that 76% of the public think business leaders should take the lead on sustainability issues. A quarter of a company’s market value is its reputation according to the World Economic Forum, and it is therefore no wonder that 230 of the world’s 250 top companies now produce an annual Corporate Social Responsibility report.

What is a sustainable office? Well this can be a new-build environment – the HQ of the Co-op at One Angel Square in Manchester houses more than 3000 employees and was built with sustainability in mind: having a combined heat and power plant it saves up to two thirds in energy costs. However, you can still go from grey to green in buildings that are decades old; it’s what (or, more accurately, who) is on the inside that counts. It requires that companies and staff promote environmental and ecological welfare, and there are many ways in which this can be achieved. Every little really does help.

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Case studies

Nike launched a Reusable Dishware Program, and with this single initiative they reduced related waste by over 7 tonnes per quarter, reducing waste per employee by 11.5% by the end of the year. Disney’s rigorous waste collections have resulted in an incredible 99.8% landfill waste conversion rate, and their biogas facility produces enough heat and electricity to power 2000 homes – all from their 120,000 tonnes of organic waste. In 2007, our very own M&S launched its famous Plan A campaign, committing to 100 social and environmental goals. This cost £40 million to implement, and five years on had resulted in a net benefit of £185 million. They understand sustainability is a work in progress and have updated their plans several times since to achieve new targets.

So what can you do?
  1. Get people involved! Speak to your staff and get everyone on the same page with what you are doing, why you are doing it, and what the goals are. These should include a range of shorter term, relatively easily achievable targets to get your personnel motivated to longer term aims. Consider appointing a sustainability leader or a small team, and using challenges and rewards, e.g. office pizza Friday after a month of meatless Mondays

  2. Power down at the end of the day: this doesn’t just mean your staff switching off from work, but also your appliances. Everyone can turn off their individual PC, and the last one out powers down the printers, lights etc. Consider a more comprehensive switch off before weekends and bank holidays. Also, when your energy contract is up for renewal, pick a company who sources 100% renewable energy

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  3. The kitchen is one of the main areas to target. Goals include;

    • Recycling – this is an obvious one but make it easy with clear signage and accessible bins, as research has proven people recycle 90% less at work than at home

    • Composting – how many tea bags does your office go through? Probably enough for its own composting bin if you are anything like us! But did you know that most teabags in the UK contain plastics and are therefore not suitable? Choose a brand with biodegradable bags and help save the planet while having a brew. If you’re more of a coffee drinker there’s room for improvement there too; many of us now use pods that will likely end up in landfill, so consider switching to compostable pods (also it’s worth looking into biodiversity boosting shade-grown coffees). Most local councils will have composting services that make this easier than ever before

    • Say no to disposables – not only for plates and cutlery, but things like straws too. Water coolers are convenient, but they are a fair expense and to be honest a large jug with some serving glasses beside it looks far nicer. Chuck in some mint and ice cubes if you are feeling fancy and bring spa days to the office! If this really isn’t feasible then ensure disposable water cooler cups are at least recycled

    • Cleaning products; choose green products and opt for washable cloths where possible instead of a mountain of paper towels

  1. Paper and printing; default printers to double sided as standard, and use failed print jobs as scrap before recycling. Recycle used printer/toner cartridges too, but go digital wherever possible – do you really need to print that document at all?

  2. Let there be light; opt for energy saving bulbs and, like your mum always told you, turn off lights when leaving rooms. Or, better still, consider motion sensor switches. If there is a row of light switches, avoid clicking each one every time to find the one you want by labelling them instead

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  3. Transport; many companies are now participating in cycle schemes for employees. Flexible working should also be used where possible to avoid commuter emissions. ‘Stay at home’ during the pandemic in 2020 resulted in our greenhouse emissions plummeting by 11% - the largest drop in 30 years, and undoubtedly the majority segment for this was commuter traffic. Also, if your company has a fleet, work towards a switch to hybrid or electric vehicles

  4. Electronics; did you know that at best screensavers use the same amount of energy, but many modern ones actually use more? Instead, in settings opt to turn off the display after a certain time period

  5. Procurement; when ordering materials there are a few things to consider

    • Carbon footprint – how far has it travelled to you? Can you buy local?

    • Manufacture – unfortunately the fact that something is recyclable, or even has already been recycled, doesn’t mean it is eco-friendly. If paper and wood are not made from recycled products instead ensure they come from sustainably sourced suppliers such as FSC (Forest Stewardship Council, which certifies well managed forests)

    • Check suppliers’ environmental policies. ISO certification is a good sign

This list will hopefully serve to prove there are things we can all do to minimise our impact on the planet – the extent of the problem in hand may make this seem like an impossible task for some, especially larger corporations. If you don’t know where to start, consider employing the skills of an environmental management consultancy, and offsetting your carbon emissions. Efforts invested in this area will be repaid in terms of finances, public opinion, productivity and most importantly, environmentally. After all, there is no Planet B.

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Further reading

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