How to make your workplace more sustainable

With awareness of climate change and environmental pollution higher than ever, here are some simple steps you can take towards a greener working life


Businesses are responsible for 18% of the UK’s total carbon emissions, according to a 2019 report by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. While some workplaces are taking active steps towards sustainability, some may be unconvinced by the business case for reducing their carbon footprint, or believe that doing so would be too costly, time-consuming or inconvenient. But there are simple steps that companies and individuals can take to make the workplace more sustainable – and many of them will even have a positive impact on the bottom line.

Go paperless

It’s estimated that the average office worker in the UK uses 10,000 sheets of paper per year, according to records management company Restore. This represents not only a significant cost to the environment – a single sheet of paper can use up to 20 litres of water to produce – but to businesses, too. By making use of cloud-based collaboration apps such as Basecamp and Slack, making meetings paperless, and simply changing the default setting of printer drivers to double-sided, this cost can be reduced significantly, And, of course, providing ample, convenient paper recycling stations in the office is a must.

Power down

Some initiatives to reduce energy consumption at work, such as installing low-energy LED lighting and making use of solar power, entail significant capital outlay. But there are many simpler ways to save on energy use – and electricity bills. British Gas recommends installing sensors to turn off lights when a room is empty, improving insulation, switching off appliances such as computers and printers rather than leaving them in standby mode, and using energy-efficient lightbulbs.

Get flexible

By embracing flexible and home-working, businesses can cut their energy costs, reduce the carbon footprint from their employees’ commute, and potentially even reduce the physical footprint of their office space. Many managers are wedded to a culture of presenteeism, believing that employees are less productive working from home, but flexible working can deliver real benefits in terms of employees’ productivity and wellbeing. (Read more about the benefits of flexible working.)

Green your travel

Convenience, comfort and privacy are some of the reasons many people still prefer to use their cars to commute. But there are ways in which businesses can encourage lower-carbon journeys, particularly by supporting employees who would like to consider cycling to work. Writing for HR Review, Rebecca Clarke explains how a business can show its support: “While adequate access to washing, changing and storage facilities is important when encouraging staff to reduce their carbon emissions, the key to achieving effective take-up is company-wide employee engagement. By developing an internal communications strategy, which clearly explains the advantages of reducing carbon emissions as well as emphasising the important role each employee plays, businesses can have a positive influence on staff participation while starting to instil green commuting choices within company culture.”

Public transport can be promoted through season ticket loan schemes, and, if driving to work is necessary, corporate carpools and lift-sharing can be promoted, says a post by job advice company Work Smart.

Make your supply chain sustainable

Whether it’s switching to a local caterer for office events, sourcing stationery from a nearby stockist or putting in place a supplier policy weighted in favour of socially and environmentally responsible partners, there are many ways in which small changes to a company’s supply chain can make a big difference to the planet. The United Nations Global Compact has a dedicated website for businesses looking for ways in which they can improve supply chain sustainability, which provides inspiration for initiatives and programmes, has resources and tools to help businesses push for sustainability, and case studies of company practices.

Engage hearts, change minds

Finally and most fundamentally, no workplace sustainability initiative will succeed without buy-in from employees at all levels. A written sustainability policy, a corporate mission statement setting out environmental responsibilities, a green team to lead on sustainability, and a budget for staff to attend seminars can all help achieve this.  

Cultivating Capital, a sustainability consultancy, says that a green team will facilitate a "greater diversity of ideas and support for sustainability initiatives [and] will help to embed sustainability" within an organisation.

Are you making any changes to your working life in a bid to be more sustainable? If so, let us know how in the comment box below.

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Published: 06 Sep 2019
  • Career Development
  • The Review
  • carbon footprint
  • Sustainable
  • flexible working
  • climate change
  • Career advice

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