Sustainability in the workplace keeps popping up in business conversations. Consumers are seeking it out. Investors are making it a necessity. Employees, prospective and current, are classing it as a deal breaker. So, having ascertained that sustainability in the workplace is a must-have, what can be done to achieve it, and just why is it so important?
What does sustainability in the workplace mean?
Workplace sustainability is concerned with the environmental and societal impact of a business and how its practices, processes and systems can be altered so that they have a reduced negative impact on the environment and communities.
According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), businesses should start embedding sustainability into their structure as a matter of course. In their view, a sustainable business will consider the likes of:
- Energy consumption and switching to green energy
- The ‘ethiscore’ of suppliers
- Sustainable procurement
- Use of deforestation-free paper and printing less
- Carbon footprint
- Managing waste
- Reducing disposable plastics
- Planet friendly travel
- Giving back to the local community
- Adding plants to the workplace
Following the ratification of the Paris Agreement in 2016, it has become clear that things need to change, because reliance on carbon intensive energy sources and processes, and lack of consideration of our impact upon the environment and the future of society, cannot be sustained going forward.
What are the benefits of sustainability in the workplace?
The more sustainable a workplace, the better the outcome for our environment and communities. But the benefits of sustainability in the workplace extend way beyond this.
Staff loyalty and talent acquisition
According to Business Leader, almost 75% of office workers want their workplace to improve its sustainability policy. And an article for Forbes Magazine states that 64% of millennials said they wouldn’t take on a job unless the company had strong corporate social responsibility, and that 80% said they’d be more loyal to companies contributing to social and environmental issues.
Investors also consider the environmental and societal impact of an organisation before making any important decisions.
There are also important well-being factors in play when it comes to sustainability in the workplace. According to Forum for the Future, sustainability addresses the need to enable ‘all people to realise their potential and to improve their quality of life.’
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has produced a set of well-being indicators used to measure the progress of society beyond Gross Domestic Product (GDP), one of which is the natural environment.
What’s more, the United Nations (UN) has identified good health and well-being as important Sustainable Development Goals, alongside conserving the oceans and environment and combatting climate change.
Encouraging sustainable behaviour at work can indirectly impact upon well-being. For example, promoting sustainable travel, such as walking and cycling, can help to reduce stress and improve health and fitness.
A 2018 Gallup study highlighted that 85% of employees do not feel as though they reach their potential at work and, as a result, do not feel engaged. As purpose is one of the biggest drivers of engagement, employees need to feel as though they are contributing towards something that matters to them.
When the ONS posed the question as to what that might be, one popular response was the ‘present and future conditions of the environment’.
Employees in sustainable workplaces tend to be more productive and engaged with their roles.
A study entitled, ‘The Impact of Working in a Green Certified Building on Cognitive Function and Health’, published in Science Direct, found that employees working in green-certified buildings had a 26% increase in cognition, and that sick days were reduced by 30%. Some employees reported that they were sleeping better after their workplaces had been transformed into green buildings.
Further studies found that the use of non-toxic and eco-friendly cleaning products, improved light and ventilation, and the inclusion of indoor plants, cut the number of employee sick days and reduced employee turnover.
Whilst embedding sustainability in the workplace can initially cost money, there are clear savings to be had.
Think about sustainability in terms of reducing waste. Energy waste. Water waste. Paper waste. Food waste. As you switch your focus to only using what you need, so your bills will fall. LED lighting for example may cost more to install, but LED bulbs can last up to twenty-five times longer than traditional bulbs. So that’s massive savings in the long term.
Installing smart-controlled HVAC of course comes with a sizeable outlay, but as it automatically controls heating and ventilation in line with changing climatic conditions, and with workplace occupancy, again, it will present considerable long term savings.
The position of an organisation in terms of its sustainability also plays a vital role in consumer confidence.
It has long been common knowledge that consumers consider a brand’s social and environmental stand when making purchasing decisions, and that they may go as far as boycotting certain products or brands if they do not agree with their environmental and social values.
How to achieve, manage and measure sustainability in the workplace?
Working towards sustainability in the workplace is one thing, but it needs to be measured.
If you can see where you are achieving your sustainability KPIs, and it is clear that your efforts and investment are paying off, then you’ll have good accountability. On the other hand, being able to identify any failings will show you where improvements can be made. This is where data is crucial.
The good news is that there is a way to not just achieve and manage workplace sustainability, but also to measure it. And it’s all made possible courtesy of a smart building management system.
A smart building management system, also known as ‘green technology’, has the power to collate powerful intelligence from every corner of a workplace.
- Promote sustainability
- Create a healthier workspace
- Improve workplace comfort
- Lower operating costs
- Reduce energy wastage
Green technology incorporates the likes of Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), analytics, blockchain, digital twin, cyber security and cloud technology. Working in collaboration, these elements will collect, integrate and analyse data from a raft of real-time sources, such as cameras, sensors and GPS.
Sustainability and cost-saving goals are usually set around energy usage, water, and air quality.
Energy usage is a major element of sustainability, as it directly contributes to carbon dioxide emissions.
Water consumption is another important factor; reducing it cuts the energy consumption required to deliver it to the workplace.
Indoor air quality is a key indicator of occupational safety and health.
All of this consumption can be monitored and controlled by IoT sensors, with data fed back to the facilities or building manager, placing them in the powerful position of being able to evaluate energy performance and consumption and, where necessary, make improvements.
Improving sustainability in the workplace with Internet of Things technology
Traditionally, workspaces are heated and ventilated during working hours based on the maximum number of likely occupants. This can mean that air conditioning, heating and lighting can be left on, even when there is no one in a room.
IoT sensors make it possible to monitor things like motion, noise, temperature and humidity, as well as collect human activity information, such as occupancy and heat maps. This information is sent to the smart building dashboard, allowing the facilities manager to take steps to conserve energy, or trigger an automated action, based on Artificial Intelligence, to control thermostats, lighting and machinery functions.
Smart electricity and water flow meters are also integrated into the smart building management system, so the facilities manager benefits from a holistic view over energy usage.
What’s more, in a smart building, users are encouraged to take control of their own individual workspace conditions using their smartphones. So they get to set their own preferences for lighting, heating and air conditioning, which can change in line with the time of day, external climatic conditions, and the task in hand. User feedback is relayed to the central dashboard, providing useful data for managers, and fuelling AI-controlled automated actions.
And there’s even more. The Carbon Trust says that around 20% of an organisation’s annual energy costs are wasted because of equipment that isn’t energy efficient. But IoT sensors come to the rescue again, detecting energy-draining appliances through unusual sounds and vibrations, flagging them up to facilities managers so they can arrange service or maintenance visits, or replacements.
Office sustainability challenge – will green technology deliver a good return on investment?
Naturally, there will always be concern for the business looking to reduce its environmental impact and improve sustainability in the workplace in terms of whether the return on investment will be worthwhile. However, in many cases, green building technology can actually be very affordable, and more to the point, the savings can be substantial.
Setting KPIs is important. These could be anything from energy consumption, indoor air quality and water usage, to levels of employee engagement and well-being.
It is important to bear in mind that with any sustainability strategy, there will be an upfront investment required, and that benefits and savings will happen over the long term.
How can Smart Spaces help promote sustainability in the workplace?
Smart Spaces is an IoT-powered building management platform. It collates vital data from around a building and all its subsystems, funnelling it into a unified, simplistic set of intelligence and using Artificial Intelligence and machine learning to trigger energy-saving and workplace well-being actions that can be used to achieve sustainability in the workplace goals.
To discover how Smart Spaces could help you enjoy the many benefits of sustainability in the workplace, you are welcome to get in touch or request a demo.