Protecting the planet is an issue that’s now on everyone’s lips, and in 2019 and beyond, every business should be taking steps to make their office more environmentally-friendly and become as sustainable as possible. This is something that directly benefits humans and the other species that live on the earth as actions like recycling waste and preventing deforestation reduces the amount of greenhouse gases polluting the air, raising the Earth’s temperature and causing droughts, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. However, what you may not know is that many of the steps your business can take to reduce its carbon footprint can also boost your workers’ happiness and sense of achievement. In some cases, it can also improve their general health and well-being.
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that people are happier and more productive if they work for a ‘green’ company. One study from the Charlton College of Business at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth found that there was a “significant positive relationship between perceived environmental performance and employee satisfaction” after analysing 113 organisations from the S&P 250. Another study published in the Journal of Organisational Behaviour shows that eco-friendly businesses benefit from 16% higher productivity levels, while Harvard research into high-performing buildings in the U.S. discovered that those that had certified ‘green’ credentials benefited from a 26% increase in cognition. (source: RecruitLoop)
Perceptions have changed over the last 20 years. The millennial generation (those born between 1981 and 1996) will make up 35% of the global workforce by 2020. This generation has grown up with much more understanding about the impact humans are having on our planet. This is because this age group have directly experienced the effects of new environmental legislation and initiatives coming into play. This ranges from the US’s banning of CFCs (which damages the ozone layer) in 1978, and the European Communities’ work to remove CFCs from all production process in 1987, through to the Euro Emission Standards in 1993 and updated clean air and water acts.
According to a Nielson report from 2015, those aged between 15 and 20 were willing to pay more for products from businesses and organisations that are “committed to positive social and environmental impact.” As a matter of fact, this rose to 72% that year, up from 55% in 2014. With such a large group of employees and consumers being concerned about the environment, companies are shifting focus onto how they can be (and appear!) greener.
Nonetheless, updates to EU legislation regarding the environment has also caused businesses to make changes to their processes. As an example, the EU’s Landfill Directive sets targets for UK to reduce the amount of ‘biodegradable municipal waste sent to landfill’. Originally, it was also brought in to ensure that hazardous and non-hazardous waste was segregated to prevent contamination. This has affected businesses as they now need to ensure that they segregate this waste themselves or enlist the help of an external waste contractor. Failure to do so with result in a fine.
The top environmental threats in 2019 and beyond
Environmental friendliness has evolved beyond a trend to a way of life, and our strive for sustainability is only going to grow. This is only heightened by the fact that that the WEF’s Global Risks Report 2019 ranks predominantly environmental issues as the top risks impacting the world. The report (which has been based on the results of risk perception studies and the help of experts and decision makers), lists the following ‘top risks by impact’:
- Weapons of mass destruction
- Failure of climate change mitigation
- Extreme weather events
- Water crises
- Earthquakes, tsunamis and other natural disasters
A recent report published by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is also warning that we now have just 12 years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C. Put simply, if the Earth’s temperature rises by just half a degree, devastating natural disasters (such as those mentioned above) will become increasingly frequent.
As The Guardian explains, the report also states that the global population’s exposure to ‘water stress’ could be 50% lower if the Earth’s temperature stays at 1.5C compared to if it rose to 2C.
Extreme weather events, water crises and natural disasters are all a result of global warming, and this is caused by damaging activities such as sending waste to landfill instead of recycling it, using too much electricity, and burning fossil fuels. Fortunately, there are some easy steps we can take to significantly reduce these actions. Even better is the fact that many of these can be done by your office.
Things your business can do to reduce these threats
Reduce electricity use and switch to green suppliers
The more electricity we use, the more fossil fuels that are burnt, and the more combustion gases that are emitted into the air. These produce harmful substances (such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides) which damage the environment and human health by raising the temperature of the Earth and causing acid rain. As well as increasing the risk of natural disasters, other adverse effects these substances cause are headaches, dizziness, nausea, an irritated throat, and sore dry eyes. In more serious causes, they can even cause lung damage and make heart conditions worse.
A simple way to reduce energy consumption in your office is to hang up signs to encourage employees to turn off lights and electronic equipment when they’re no longer being used. However, your business can go one step further by investing in automatic lighting systems that turn the lights off automatically when rooms are empty. Replacing regular halogen bulbs with LED ones also uses 90% less energy, and they last longer too. This means you can cost business costs while also helping the planet!
Another thing your business can do to become more eco-friendly is switch to a green supplier such as ecotricity. They provide 100% green electricity to organisations of all sizes, as well as business gas that is derived from biodegradable material (rather than fossil fuels). Additionally, all businesses should be disposing of their unwanted computer equipment. WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) can be returned to the manufacturer to be reused and recycled; as recycling guide explains, materials like steel and aluminium can be used to make new products.
Move files and processes online
Frequently printing documents doesn’t just contribute to your energy usage levels; it also causes your business to use more paper. If this isn’t properly recycled, it will end up in landfill where it can damage the environment for a number of months or years. Additionally, to produce this paper, we have to cut down trees, which are vital for absorbing CO2 from the air. By storing your files and documents online in a Cloud-based system, they can be assessed and edited by your workers no matter where they are, and without the need for printing.
Encourage staff to cycle to work
Other activities that contribute to the burning of fossil fuels are travelling by car, train, bus and plane, and multiple employees commuting to and from work every day in their own car is a major contributor to the damage this is causing to the environment. As well as setting up a programme that encourages carpooling (or lift sharing), you should consider getting involved in the ‘cycle to work’ scheme. It works by allowing employees to obtain cycling equipment through their employer. Business recoup the costs through monthly salary repayments, as well as a tax break.
Additionally, if your office building has on-site shower facilities, then staff will be more willing to cycle to work, or even run or walk. Alternatively, if a large portion of your workforce lives too far away from the office to do this, then giving them the option to work from home a few days a week will also reduce emissions. A further benefit of this is the fact that remote working is becoming one of the most desired employee benefits, so it can also boost staff morale.
Invest in office plants
Office plants do a lot more than just look pretty and add colour and interest to a room; they also purify the air we breathe, reducing levels of dust, mould, bacteria and everyday toxins (found in the likes of resin, paint, paper bags and tissues). Continued exposure to these can lead to Sick Building Syndrome (SBS), which causes unpleasant symptoms such as headaches, dizziness and nausea. In terms of human health, studies have found that introducing plants to workplaces and schools lowers stress and anxiety and improves concentration levels, directly affecting people’s happiness and productivity.
In terms of the health of our environment, indoor plants are also very effective at absorbing the Earth- damaging greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide (CO2) and carbon monoxide (CO) from the air. However, NASA’s Clean Air Study discovered that although all plants remove CO2 from the air, certain ones are better at filtering out everyday toxins and CO. These include the Boston Fern, Peace Lily and Dracaena.
Protect local wildlife
Becoming more eco-friendly doesn’t just extend to your actual office. When it comes to your building’s exterior spaces, you should be aiming to protect local wildlife while ensuring they look welcoming and provide a relaxing space for employees and customers to enjoy. Plant flowers that attract birds, bees, and butterflies to your grounds, and use natural methods to control weeds. As The Guardian explains, a recent study has found that weedkillers can damage honeybees’ beneficial gut bacteria. This makes them more prone to deadly infections.