Being a “sustainable workplace”, once just sounded like a feel-good brand slogan. The main goal for most businesses, after all, is to grow and be profitable (not to reduce their carbon footprint). But today, sustainability is mainstream. Businesses are realising that being environmentally conscious supports the growth and profit of their organisation.

A sustainable business is a competitive business.

As a sustainable business, you can gain several advantages over your less sustainable competition:

  • You’re more attractive to changing consumer demands: Millennials are the rising generation of consumer and they care a lot about the environment. Your millennial consumer is more likely to choose and remain loyal to your company when you’re committed to a social or environmental purpose.
  • Reduced risk of losing suppliers and resources to environmental impact: By choosing more sustainable suppliers and materials, you’re building your resilience in an environment facing an uncertain future. If (when) all fossil fuels or single-use materials are banned, you can continue with business as usual, because you gave them up ages ago!
  • Happier, more productive employees: Companies who embed sustainability into their business strategy have employees who are happier at work because they feel empowered to be a part of a bigger effort and a greater impact. This sense of purpose inspires motivation and engagement which overflows into their workday.
  • Long-term cost savings: Firstly because increased employee engagement means reduced absenteeism and greater productivity. Secondly, because the sustainable management of resources, from water and energy to paper, means you’re spending less money on removing waste and constantly replacing disposable resources.

Sustainability really can sharpen your competitive edge as a business! The bad news is, the planet is still on track to warm more than three degrees Celsius by century’s end. This tells me that the status-quo of workplace sustainability is not enough. We all know to switch the lights off, print less, and use less fuel. As a business, what else can you do to help nature out?

True workplace sustainability requires the engagement of your entire workforce, and I think the best way to engage people is through acts that are slightly different (to get their attention) and fun (to inspire involvement). Below are four new (and fun!) ways to boost your workplace sustainability efforts

1. Team bonding with a conservation twist

If you’re looking for a meaningful team-building experience that will have an impact on your local sustainability, look no further than the conservation groups in your area. Environmentally friendly projects such as the Department of Conservation, Auckland City Million Trees Program and Keep New Zealand Beautiful are always looking for volunteers to pitch in to make New Zealand a little greener every weekend.

2. Make it easy to REUSE AND REDUCE

Bringing lunch to work in reusable containers reduces waste and saves money. But humans are forgetful. You could take encouraging staff to remember their containers and keep cups a step further and establish an emergency container cupboard. I know that Tupperware containers (namely, the lids) can be a pain to keep tidy and keep track of, but this is a really effective way to cut down single-use packaging and encourage the two most important ‘R’s: Reduce and Reuse!

3. Run a monthly competition to reduce fuel emissions

Competition can be a catalyst for change because it motivates people to try to win. A bit of friendly competition between staff with the objective to reduce fuel emissions on their daily commute can motivate everyone to be more fuel-conscious. The rules are simple: taking transport that uses less fuel will result in the accumulation of fewer points per team or team member. For example:

  • Cycling, walking or using electric transport : 0 points
  • Public transport: 1 point
  • Carpooling: 2 point
  • Personal car: 3 points

Now it’s over to your staff to get creative about their commute. The loser(s) at the end of the month (those with the highest score) must sort out the Tupperware cupboard!

4. Fill the office with NZ Native Ferns

NASA research reveals that indoor plants reduce 87% of indoor air pollutants within 24 hours. Besides being a natural air cleaner, plants are also revered for their ability to inspire creativity (something to do with feeling like you’re not trapped in an office all day).

My office plant of choice is the humble fern, which once made the number one spot on Stuff’s  “Top 3 trends for indoor plants” list. While the idea of office plants isn’t new, sticking to a native fern theme gives a uniquely Kiwiana flair to the usual office décor. If ferns don’t do it for you, I invite you to pick your own theme of office flora.

There’s no better time to ramp up your workplace sustainability

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! The more sustainable you can make your workplace, the more leverage you’ll gain in an environmentally conscious and changing market (especially against less environmentally friendly competitors). Your workforce will be happier, more loyal and you’ll also experience potential long-term cost-savings. By always choosing a sustainable option, you’re choosing to help build a safer, cleaner environment for our older selves and for future generations.

By Mandy Hale