Consumers are increasingly conscious of how their shopping decisions affect the environment, and this knowledge is driving a major shift in public opinion and purchasing habits. As a result, more and more companies are embracing sustainable business practices.
Regardless of their size, all companies have large carbon footprints. It is, therefore, every business's responsibility to make sure they are doing their best to preserve the world’s resources.
There are plenty of small actions that can be taken in an office to improve its sustainability profile. Little and seemingly insignificant efforts can have a massive impact long-term and bring additional benefits to the organization beyond better CSR performance - such as cost reduction and improved brand reputation.
Have a look at our tips to help move toward a more sustainable business model and attract a growing audience of green customers and employees.
1. Foster a remote work environment
The most eco-friendly office you can have is no office at all.
Yes, switching to telecommuting or even a partly remote setup would massively reduce your business's energy consumption, pollution, and overall carbon footprint.
If the office space is a can’t-do-without for your company’s functioning, or your job requires by nature your physical presence at least occasionally, a rotating schedule might be a good solution. You can reserve the workplace for a few employees or teams each day based on needs while the others telework. Fewer people in the office result in significant energy savings even in the short run.
2. Encourage alternative mobility options
Replacing cars and similar single-occupancy vehicles with one of the many available workarounds can massively reduce CO2 emissions. The global transition to work from home in the past year is proof of that: a US study calculated that 4 million people working remotely half-time have a potential impact on air quality equivalent to planting over 91 million trees due to billions of commuting miles (and fuel emission) reduction.
Supporting soft mobility alternatives like carpooling, biking, electric scooters, or even walking can substantially decrease your workforce’s polluting potential.
3. Consider anti-waste eco-gestures
The following small changes can make a big difference.
If bidding farewell to the office does not seem a suitable option, dozens of little actions can be taken every day to make your brick-and-mortar space more sustainable.
The lighting of business premises is a major source of energy waste. Encourage your team to turn off the lights when leaving a room or avoid turning them on if the natural light seems bright enough.
Heating is the first item of energy expenditure in the private sector. Make sure to adjust the thermostat when possible to adapt the cooling and heating units to the outside temperature.
Turn off your computer when you leave for lunch or have a break and, in general, unplug electronics when not using them to avoid wearing out the battery (this would not only prevent energy waste but also improve the longevity of your devices).
The potential of such small steps in the broader picture is quite amazing. You could also equip your office with (frankly not costly) automatic switch systems for lightning and heaters and set up your devices to decrease their energy consumption (with lower brightness, energy-saving mode, or standby after a certain period of inactivity).
4. Be mindful about your supply chain
A valuable activity to support your CSR efforts is green procurement – i.e., purchasing products and services that cause minimal adverse environmental impact.
First and foremost, local suppliers are to be preferred to avoid the ecological costs of deliveries from afar (besides supporting your closer community).
Equally important is to select products produced in a sustainable fashion, recyclable, and repairable. Switching to energy-efficient bulbs (like LED lamps) and electronics with A+ energy certificates will let you consume less energy and, consequently, reduce your costs in the long term.
If you are conducting a renovation or opening a new office space, you have a chance to pick beneficial options such as embracing renewable energy methods and implementing eco-designed insulation and appliances. Incentive programs and deductions might also make such initiative highly convenient expenses-wise.
Moreover, make sure to investigate whether you can avoid your waste by salvaging, recycling, or making a charitable (and tax-deductible) donation.
Consumers and businesses closely scrutinize the brands they entrust, and they will likely hold your company accountable even for the brands you choose to do business with. It follows that finding the right partners that share your eco-commitment is just as crucial as reviewing your supply chain to demonstrate your pledge to making environmentally sound choices.
5. Adopt a solid stance on your usage and disposal of paper and plastic
Switching from paper tissues to washable towels or hand dryers would be a great step towards a paperless office and improved waste management.
Single-use items are the main cause of plastic pollution, one of the most pressing environmental issues of our time - predicted to get worse in the coming decades.
Take into account the impact of your coffee breaks and encourage your employees to bring their mugs from home or provide reusable cups, glasses, cutlery, and dinnerware. The investment will pay off quickly, and you’ll have given a significant contribution to break daily habits revolving around disposable products.
Moreover, you could invest in promotional items that do some good for the environment besides advertising your brand. For instance, distributing reusable water bottles to your employees is undoubtedly a winning choice compared to gifting them with a branded ink pen - which amounts to a huge volume of trash per year considering that in the US alone, more than four million pens are thrown away every day.
Finally, ensure that the workplace is equipped with enough recycling bins, and the staff knows how to correctly sort their waste. For instance, did you know that when you have to throw away an item consisting of two materials that are difficult to separate (like the milk carton with the plastic spout on it), the rule of the prevailing material applies? Make sure there are no doubts and all the employees are on the same page.
6. Ensure responsible disposal of worn-out electronics and consider donating surplus equipment
Wiseness when getting rid of old laptops, smartphones, and similar gear is another essential way to make sure that you are doing your part in the circular economy.
The environmental impact of an old mobile phone thrown in the garbage might seem minimal at a glance, as it’s something that we rarely happen to throw away compared to clearing out cardboard cups, for instance. Still, our electronics contain toxic chemicals that, if not properly disposed of, would end up in landfills and harm the surrounding environment. Mishandled electronics (e-waste) equal to 70% of overall toxic waste and are the fastest-growing waste stream in the world, with 20 to 50 million tons tossed away every year. These numbers should be a wake-up call compensating for any laziness or reluctance when it comes to recycling or repurposing our aged devices.
The first recommendation here is to make sure you change a device when it is absolutely necessary - not anytime a new version comes out. Regular maintenance checks can go a long way in extending their lifespans, cutting down both your expenses and your environmental impact.
Once you’re certain that nothing else could be done to lengthen their life cycles, make sure to check out the policies of your electronics supplier. Did you know that many tech companies (like Apple, Dell, HP, etc.) offer buy-back or trade-in programs for your used hardware? Your vendor might give you the option of returning your old device by selling it back or exchanging it for a new version that you can get at a lower price - or similar promotional programs involving donations to nonprofit or charitable organizations or appropriate recycling procedures.
If you need to replace your office’s equipment, you could also consider charitable options: your computers, monitors, printers, and accessories might still be usable for other purposes and people. You could gift charities or schools in your area and do a good deed that’d help both you and your community.
7. Assess your team’s behavior during lunch
Reviewing your lunchtime habits could reveal to be an effective way to reduce your office’s environmental footprint. Have you ever stopped to think about how much food is thrown away because it is more than required? Or how many leftovers might be saved for dinner instead of adding to your garbage?
If you order food delivery, try to do one collective order or at least a few group orders instead of having 25 people ordering from different places (multiplying the number of meal containers, packaging bags, delivery journeys, etc.).
The type of meal you order – and, more broadly, your diet - matters a lot too: a study found that veganism is the single biggest way to reduce our environmental impact, while the average vegetarian diet has a carbon footprint that’s 60% lighter than meat-heavy diets. Reserving even just one day a week for the vegetarian lunch at the office might seem like a small gesture, but altogether, it would have a significant environmental impact.
8. Be mindful of your paper consumption
The “myth” of the paperless office has been promoted for decades, and it was expected to become a reality by 2020. But that didn’t happen. Truth be told, the volume of paper being used has actually expanded along with an outstanding abuse of printing, packaging, and postage.
If saying goodbye to paper isn’t feasible, and you must use it to some extent in your workplace, you can still transit to lighter sheets that use fewer fibers and recycled paper (and make sure to recycle it again afterward). To rest assured that you’ve chosen sustainably sourced products, look for paper labeled with FSC or PEFC acronyms, whose presence certifies that harvesting and production had been done in a responsible manner and with no harm for forests, wildlife, and local communities in the process.
Meanwhile, develop more environmentally conscious printing habits and rely on eco-friendly or reusable envelopes to send out letters via postage.
Finally, don’t stop striving to do better. More than 15 billion trees are cut down each year in the world and paper is the 3rd largest industrial polluter of air, water, and soil - amounting to 25% of landfill waste. Therefore, diminishing its global demand from offices is key in attenuating deforestation and reducing businesses’ environmental impact. If they collectively pursue the goal of becoming as paperless as possible, organizations have considerable potential.
So here comes the million-dollar question: do we really need to use so much paper today?
I need a physical version of contracts, agreements, reports, and other documents to get them signed. The traditional methods we are familiar with are hard to forsake - even more so if you are uncertain about the validity of digital alternatives and their legal standing in court. However, have you ever heard about digital signatures – and how they’re just as legal and enforceable as manuscript ones? It’s never too late to learn what you’re missing out on!
I print all my business documentation for storage purposes. That’s not unusual, as it’s been estimated that 50%-70% of office space is used for storing paper. Impressive, isn’t it? And impressively expensive too, considering the costs of storage premises, filing cabinets, and employees labor as well (as they have to spend long hours filing, locating, and retrieving documents). Nor does it seem reasonable considering the digital alternatives available. Cloud storage solutions, for example, let you cut down on paper consumption (and storage space) dramatically without compromising the security of your documents. Investing in virtual filing systems, by the way, reveals to be not only cheaper and eco-friendly but also more efficient for your document processes as your data is easily accessible and secured.
I’ve always used the paper format for my billing and to send out communications and documents via mail. Receipts, invoices, pay-slips, messages, attachments, and whatever operation you’re accustomed to in the offline, paper-reliant world can today be performed online in a much easier, safer, and efficient way. Even if you work in a highly regulated environment, your industry is no exception because service providers usually take care of compliance needs too. A digital transaction management software might suit all your needs.
9. Review your Internet habits
Did you know that sending one email can emit up to 50g of CO2? It means that 50 emails with large attachments cause the same amount of pollution as a 10km drive by car. Unfortunately, there’s low awareness of the impact of our online activities on the environment. Still, anything we do, from navigating web pages to browsing on our social media, comes at a few grams of CO2 price (that multiplied for the 4.66 billion active internet users worldwide becomes relevant enough to be taken into account).
Despite that, going digital is still much eco-friendlier than using paper processes and communication methods. Therefore, one thing you could do is influence your staff’s behavior to put best practices in place in your company - like responsible email etiquette and healthy Internet usage - that can notably decrease your carbon footprint.
10. Embed sustainability in your corporate DNA
Regardless of all the measures that the upper management can put in place, any effort is vain if not supported by a greener mindset of each employee. It’s no secret that sometimes when we are at the office, we forget the good recycling habits we have at home - as if doing our part in our own four walls justified overlooking the impact we have on our second one, the office.
Your team has a major role in pursuing the business sustainability goals. Besides providing the necessary means to implement eco-friendly practices, educating employees, seeking accountability, and showing appreciation for efforts can go a long way in forging a better culture in your organization.
A sustainability policy that outlines where your business stands in terms of CSR practices is a good start to ensure environmental awareness. Such workplace guidelines usually contain provisions on the company’s approach to energy consumption, waste and recycling, food, transport, etc. – and could be posted in various places around the office as an ongoing reminder of this collective dedication.
Some companies even put together a sustainable leadership team tasked with providing inputs on how to make positive changes in the workplace, planning events, holding periodical meetings to report on progress, and celebrate achievements.
Playful initiatives can also prove to be successful – such as organizing waste-reduction challenges and rewarding the colleague or team who bikes to work the most or prints the least in a month; you name it.
What are the benefits of sustainability in business?
Three main reasons are driving organizations in rethinking their environmentalist efforts:
Making their brand more attractive for customers, investors, and employees
Recent surveys show that consumers are paying ever more attention to how organizations position themselves regarding environmental issues. 4 in 5 people strongly feel that companies can play a decisive role in improving our society and should contribute to creating value to the broader community they serve by taking a stand against the most prominent problems affecting people and the planet. The younger generations show the strongest sentiments in this direction. According to Deloitte’s study, millennials believe companies (second only to the government) are the institutions most responsible for improving society’s sustainability.
Brands that want to thrive in the future need to adjust to their stakeholders’ expectations. After putting effort into adopting more sustainable business practices, make sure to show it off! Positive public relations and brand reputation will translate into a tremendous potential of attracting and retaining employees, customers, partners, and investors.
Reducing costs and pursuing sustainable profitability
Saving energy and extraneous costs inside the office premises obviously means reducing the company's monthly expenses. But there’s more. Econometric studies proved groundlessness the misconception for which green initiatives are profits are mutually exclusive. Research showed an evident correlation between social-environmental performance and financial outcomes. Corporations that operate with climate change in mind secure an 18% higher return on investment (ROI) than companies that aren’t.
As it highly contributes to long-term profits, CSR is taking on a strategic role and businesses are discovering that focusing on sustainability helps them maintain a competitive advantage, while also achieving organizational eco-friendliness goals.
Future-proofing the company for compliance requirements
By making CSR a core part of your business management and plans, you will be prepared for any regulation changes in the future.
What’s more, high ethical standards also reduce business and legal risk and, if coherently aligned with the business model, play a big part on the road to success.
Bonus tip: Conduct a waste audit to start off with specific data and measure the impact of your efforts.
Map out your monthly waste production as well as your expenditures in terms of energy and supplies so that you can see how such rates are affected by your actions. With a clear starting position, you can set goals and easily notice savings and achievements. This will help you gain more clarity and motivation for yourself and your team.
Doing our part in shaping a sustainable future is a core tenet of Penneo’s mission
Since 2014, we've helped over 2000 companies across a range of industries and departments digitize their paper-based processes, thus saving around 2 million sheets of paper.
Besides letting firms replace paper with technology, we’re always looking for new ways to reduce our environmental impact and help more businesses do the same.
We hope these ideas will help you find inspiration for initiatives to take in your business. If you’d like to find out how Penneo could further assist you in the process, please don’t hesitate to reach out!