The benefits of and ways to achieve a sustainable workplace

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Among the many priorities that must be taken into consideration when running a workplace, sustainability can often get pushed to the back burner. In fact, when that back burner is entrapped in a debate of whether electric burners or gas burners are better for the environment, the idea of a shift towards environmental friendliness can seem daunting or even useless even with the best of intentions. However, there is a reason sustainability’s definition reaches beyond our relationship with nature and is also used to describe an economy and society that can maintain self-sufficiency in the long-term. In its broadest sense, sustainability’s methods in the workplace are achievable by anyone and create the following abilities: 

To increase revenue and market value 

Establishing an image as a business that engages in corporate social responsibility has shown to be a significant predictor of stock performance as it signals a strive to improve best practices and proactive compliance with environmental laws.  

Ensure business continuity  

By conserving and renewing limited natural resources, businesses can maintain a more continuous provision of goods and services.

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Meet a growing customer and talent demand for responsible decisions towards the environment and society 

You’ve probably noticed a growing demand for companies to help improve the environment at least by seeing the higher availability of “eco-friendly” products on the shelves and voiced on social media as information on industries’ and services’ environmental impact increasingly penetrate the internet for today’s generations to act on with adjustments to shopping habits and shifts in consumer loyalty. Similarly, today’s generations have expressed that working for a cause they believe in is a higher priority than in past generations, thus making a sustainable work environment more important for recruitment and retention of employees who are informed on the company’s workings and missions. 

Raise employee satisfaction and efficiency 

Good causes aside, admit it, those of you employed in a workplace also consider it important to be comfortable where you work, right? Goals to increase employee satisfaction often align with sustainable workplace practices as environmental safety, good air quality, natural light, a reasonable temperature, and opportunities to work remotely are desirable workplace traits and beneficial to the environment. 

Lessen a carbon footprint on a globe that already has enough on its plate 

Why not help the planet for the sake of its well-being, considering all it gives back in return? 

If you’re convinced that a sustainable workplace is important, try and spot all the places where you can implement the following changes: 

Kitchen/Cafeteria 

Make sure any vending machines are stocked with options for foods and drinks that have been through a minimal amount of processing, as more processing means more shipping of its ingredients and more contributions to air and water pollution.  If you have a cafeteria, encourage reusables over single-use containers. See if those reusables could end up in a water-efficient dishwasher.

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Electronics  

While using energy-efficient equipment and appliances are a foundational part of sustainable progress, just cleaning and regularly repairing the equipment allows them to run more smoothly and thus consume less energy. You can also make the simple effort of placing reminders by machinery and light switches to turn them off when not in use. Finally, put those “machines” such as laptops (which are more energy-efficient than desktops) to good use while searching by using Ecosia, a search engine that puts their profits towards planting trees. 

Conference room 

The goal is to avoid the conference room, ultimately. Allow employees to work remotely whenever convenient, as it minimizes their commutes and travel that generate carbon emissions-- and gives more time to finish their undertakings. To get those real-time meetings in, substitute with conference calls and international-friendly apps like Zoom that are formulated for this very purpose. 

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The water cooler 

Water dispensers encourage the use of reusable water bottles, which eliminate the need for one of the most significant and symbolic plastic wastes in the world. But while we’re on the topic of water, low-flow toilets save at least 14% and low-flow aerators for sink faucets prevent at least 50% of water consumption, making a pretty good case for installing them in the workplace if possible. 

The light switches 

Primarily use natural lighting to not only save electricity but also improve mood, health, and productivity. However, when the natural light is lacking, occupancy sensors ensure lights are only on when they're actually in use.

The thermostat... wherever it is. 

Light switches aren’t the only ones shedding light on the situation: an energy audit will reveal all the opportunities for cuts in heating and cooling costs and consumption that could be achieved with mere sealing of leaks and cracks.  

Additionally, turning the A/C up a couple of degrees in the summer, down a couple in the Winter, and using an automatic turn-off setting on your thermostat will likely manage energy consumption with a closer fit to the actual temperature needs of your employees/coworkers who are presumably wearing weather-appropriate clothing. 

The recycling bins and trash cans 

Dispose of non-reusable and unrecyclable waste safely and make all employees aware of how to do so. Earth911 is a recycling database in North America where you can find safe disposal locations according to your material and zip code. 

Place any clearly labeled recycling bins strategically wherever the materials are most often generated, such as a paper bin by the printer and plastics bins in the kitchen. After training staff and janitorial staff on recycling’s purpose and how to clean, organize and collect the recycling, keep the workplace updated on what’s been collected for a heightened sense of accountability, encouragement, and insight on which products they could reduce for the biggest environmental impact. 

However, the best thing you could do with the paper recycling bin is to avoid it altogether: encourage employees to go paperless by switching to electronic invoicing, e-statements, and online collaborative tools such as Google Docs. If you do need to print something out, set the margins as narrow as possible and print on both sides. 

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Supply closet 

Before a supply ends up in the closet, look at what steps it takes to get there. Beyond choosing products with minimal packaging, the potential to be reused, and whether it’s made of recycled material, evaluate the supplier’s established environmental processes and policies. You might discover areas you could work on together to develop greener policy.  

We’d love to hear what you think about these practices: are they accessible in your workplace?

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