It was World Earth Day on Monday 22nd April 2019. Most of us were enjoying a long Easter weekend and may have missed this important day, dedicated to celebrating Nature and raising awareness about environmental issues.
This year, World Earth Day coincided with the release of the government report: Environment Aotearoa 2019. The report, produced by the Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New Zealand, presents a damning look at how the way we live and work is seriously damaging our environment. If the way we live and work is damaging New Zealand’s environment, it follows that the resulting impacts will be detrimental to our quality of life and our work. Time seems to be running out for the environment.
So, what can we do about it?
A cleaner environment equals a better future and a stronger business…
World Earth Day creates a space for people around the world to take collective action on environmental issues and, through such collective action, have more of an impact than they might otherwise. A business can take from this example, and also have a greater impact, by building spaces where employees can collectively act more sustainably.
Why though, should your business invest time and money in strategies and processes that enable your people to contribute to saving the planet?
Because, from a purely business standpoint, a sustainable business is a more competitive business.
As environmental issues begin to affect our livelihoods, the market has become ever more interested in eco-friendly and ethical businesses. When customers and investors choose where to spend their money, it’s no longer simply the bottom line that matters to them. If it’s a choice between business X and socially-responsible/ethical business Y, the money these days is going to go to business Y. For example, in October 2018, Larry Fink, of the world’s largest investment company, Blackrock, announced that “Sustainable investing will be a core component for how everyone invests in the future”. Fink also told his company that they would no longer invest in companies that weren’t also having a positive impact on the world.
Society’s expectations of businesses in the private sector is shifting. Businesses are now expected to not only contribute to improving the economy, but also to have a social conscience and contribute to improving our environment and communities. Adopting cleaner business practices to meet these expectations will strengthen the brand image and reputation of your business. A positive reputation attracts customers and investment, leading to increased market share and opportunities to break into new markets (besides giving you a warm and fuzzy feeling inside). If that’s not enough to get the buy-in you need, check out this comprehensive business case for sustainability published by the Harvard Business Review. You can shift reluctance to make sustainability a core business focus through highlighting examples where sustainability has benefited organisations by improving: risk management, innovation, employee engagement and financial performance through operational efficiencies.
How can you champion your business to become a cost-saving, efficient, environment-saving machine?
The task of saving the world can feel exhausting before you even start. Where do you even start?! We’re talking about sustainability beyond the faded posters in the staff break room telling you to switch off the lights. We all know we should recycle, that we should choose energy efficient appliances and eco-friendly cleaning products. But as in the saying, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results”, you’re never going to save the world with the same old ideas. If you really want to build a truly sustainable workplace, you need to start thinking outside the box.
Everything, even your eco-friendly office makeover, starts with an idea. If you are thinking about how you can build a more sustainable workplace, here are 7 of my favourite ideas to help you make an impact:
- Eco-friendly team bonding: encourage team working days where you can leave the office to plant trees or clean a local beach. Better yet, compete in a corporate clean up challenge!
- Provide reusable containers and plastic bags: It sounds basic, but people love sushi as much as they love a good Tupperware container. The problem is, sushi is easier to get in one of those horrific single use plastic containers then it is to find a Tupperware container at home, remembering to bring it to work AND remembering to take it with you to collect your sushi. Our Solution: Keep a supply of office Tupperware available at work to make it at least one step easier to get a takeaway lunch sans plastic.
- Incentivise active or passive transport options to and from work: If you have a workforce that likes to drive to work every day, you have an opportunity to break that habit and cut carbon emissions in one fell swoop. Try providing incentives for employees to make use of public transport, car-pooling or electric rideshares like Mevo to get to and from work. Some companies are using a points and rewards system to track every time an employee chooses to leave a car at home (the more sustainable your alternative option, the more points you get). Other companies are just making it easier for employees to bike to work by providing ample, safe, bike parks. Have you considered keeping a collection of bikes for loan at the office? Another idea is to give your employees permission to leave early if it means getting a more convenient bus or train home.
- Make recycling and waste management…pretty: Everybody knows that we need to reduce the amount of rubbish we send to landfills by recycling. As well as paper, you can recycle plastics, tins, glass, and your food scraps can go into composting. Let’s be honest though, rubbish is gross, and people are in a hurry to get rid of it without noticing where they are chucking the offensive materials. Check out Method Recycling who provide colour coded waste management bins that make it so easy to toss your waste into the right receptacle. Improve recycling, while perking up an office space with your bins.
- Office plants: When it comes to office plants, more is more. Not only do they clean the air, but they inspire creativity (something to do with feeling like you are not actually trapped in an office!)
- Go paperless: This one’s a big challenge, especially for paper-heavy businesses (I’m looking at you, law firms – but I can say that as we’re part of one!). We’ve found that the offices where we use hot desking use far less paper. Sure, mostly because we have nowhere to put it, but this certainly breaks the habit of printing absolutely everything. You can also change printer settings to “secure print” which gives people a ‘cooling off’ period before printing the offending document! Check out Microsoft Edge’s ‘decluttered printing’ feature which helps to reduce printing by cutting out all of the advertisements when you print from the web!
- Start a sustainability team: If you’re really struggling to gain momentum, why not try starting a sustainability team. A sustainability team can be effective in mobilising office action, because employees engaging employees is more effective than instructions from the top. The first project for your team of eco-warriors could be implementing this list!
While World Earth Day is just one day, the need to act and help reverse environmental issues is ever-present. In always choosing a sustainable option, we’re choosing to help build a safer, cleaner environment for our older selves and for future generations. As a team of people, or even an entire business, we’re even more powerful.
Re-examining and re-focusing business operations and our day-to-day work habits on sustainability creates an even bigger ripple in the ocean of environmental action. Always be reminding yourself that sustainable businesses are also more competitive businesses! A truly eco-friendly and ethical organisation can make considerable savings in operating costs and gain leverage in an environmentally conscious market, especially against its non-sustainable competitors. If you care for the environment, you’re safeguarding a future in which your businesses can continue to grow.