Future of Work: Green offices

April 8, 2021
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Listen to the podcast discussion on this article: https://pod.fo/e/c5495

Industry expert Chris Merriman explores sustainable solutions any company can adopt

As we all start to think about life beyond the pandemic, we’re facing some pretty tough decisions. Do we follow the example of companies like Nationwide and Reach Media, and continue the home-work revolution? Or do we bring people back into the office? And what does that look like?

Part of making that decision means facing up to some ugly truths that we’ve had a bit of a break from and one of those is the reality that the Earth needs us to change. The post-COVID world is going to have to be a lot more aware of how it is affecting its surroundings.

The mass lockdowns of 2020 have given the Earth something of a breather, with CO2 emissions dropping as much as 17% at the peak of the pandemic, but scientists say that the effects have been negligible with global warming only expected to be 0.01c lower than expected.

The reality is, if we go back to our pre-COVID ways, there’s very little chance of keeping to the Paris Climate Accord target of restricting global warming to below 1 degree. Indeed, we’re still heading towards that 1.5c cliff-edge by 2050, which would mean catastrophic changes to our planet.

The good news is that there are practical things that you can do, as a business that can help. Sure, you may be just one small office or factory, but if everyone does their bit, they combine into something genuinely meaningful.

We have deleted emails and unsubscribed from newsletters we do not wish to receive. All these emails need to be stored. Data centres currently consume 1% of global electricity demand, amounting to more than some countries' consumption! Stats show even if we do not open it, any email we receive releases an estimated 0.3 grams of CO2 into the atmosphere. Our searches are run on Ecosia, the search engine that plants trees. We are turning off our router at night. An average router consumes 6 watts per hour. A router can generate 24 kilograms of carbon dioxide every year. If you switch your router off for an average of 8 hours a day, that's one tree planted.

Buttercup Learning - Green Learning Resourcess

It doesn’t all have to be big corporate policy decisions either. Something as simple as just switching to compostable or reusable coffee cups will impact businesses’ contribution to landfill significantly. As for carbon emissions (and without a hint of clickbait), you won’t believe what simple things can cause a big impact.

Earlier this year we put out a clarion call to businesses who are doing their bit: What have you done in your workplace that others can learn from? We had a great range of responses from a variety of sectors - if everyone acted on them collectively, it could make a huge difference. We’ve peppered our favourite ideas throughout this article - there’s bound to be some practical ideas that your company can try right now.

The first thing to do is educate your team. Cultural changes take time to bed in, but they’ll get nowhere without clear instructions. Work with your team. Listen to their suggestions, and come up with a change manifesto together - better engagement means better buy-in. You could consider an incentive scheme for people who are actively doing the right thing - an ‘eco-warrior of the month’ for example. 

“To reduce your company’s carbon footprint, think about what carbon-emitting activities could be avoided. For example, do your employees really need to fly around the world for meetings or could they be done over video call? Could you instate a work-from-home policy so that people aren’t commuting as much and using their car, alternatively could you create a cycle to work scheme? Small changes like this will significantly reduce your company’s impact on the environment.”

Treepoints - Green Rewards Scheme

One practical way we ensure we are green is in our packaging, we work with local businesses to recycle all boxes and packaging that receive from suppliers. That way they save money on recycling fees and we don’t have to pay for expensive packaging. It means our parcels may look odd sometimes but our customers see if it as a huge selling point and don’t mind at all!

Pets Against Plastics - Green Pet Foods

I tried to ban Secret Santa because it just results in cheap plastic being bought for a frivolous wine-fuelled laugh at the Christmas party before being discarded. It was a very unpopular move and resulted in an underground secret Santa movement! Secret Santa must be consumables and not packaged in plastic

Topline Film & Comms - Agency

To keep our office green we use Bulb Energy, they offset all energy we use with sustainable energy. We also offer all waste packing product (boxes, coffee sacks) to people moving house or allotments. The business itself is an online coffee business to which we send in plain unstamped boxes and we allow all coffee bags to be returned to us using a recycling system we operate.

Dog & Hat - Coffee Subscription Service

Start with the easy wins - is your energy supplier offering sustainable tariffs? With a raft of new providers like Octopus and Bulb offering supplies generated from 100% renewable sources like wind and solar. The days when green energy came at a premium are long gone, so you could be saving the planet, and saving money at the same time. If you’re in a position to, you could even consider some solar panels of your own, and you may even end up with your energy provider paying you for any surplus you generate!

We’re an eco companion (PWA) app that empowers everyone to measure, understand and reduce their carbon footprints. The consumer app is free to use and we also have a business offering used by the likes of BrewDog, Standard Life Aberdeen to enable their employees to reduce their carbon footprints at home, at work and beyond.

Pawprint - Carbon Footprint Monitoring Tool

Then there’s the loos - better water efficiency doesn’t have to mean expensive replacement bathroom equipment. Your local water supplier has a range of products that can reduce your water usage, at little or no cost, as they simply get added to the existing taps, or inside the cisterns.

“All of the cleaning products we use in the office are refillable. Using refillable sprays and refillable washing up liquid helps reduce plastic in our bins. They are also vegan-friendly, septic tank safe and not tested on animals. ”

Splosh - Manufacturer of refillable cleaning products

If you’re feeling a little more ambitious, then let’s talk about sensors and the “Internet of Things” which can take over management of functions such as light switches, so there’s no question of them being left on all night. If that sounds a bit overwhelming, don’t worry -  it’s actually no different to the smart revolution we’re already seeing in the home, thanks in part to the likes of Amazon Alexa.

All of our company cars when the leases come up for renewal have been changed for electric vehicles. - We have had 100% buy-in from staff as there are substantial tax advantages and we have allowed an extra £100 per month allowance which enables cars of greater value so it is a win-win.

As a publishing company that sends out over 200,000 printed magazines to subscribers of our magazines each month, we have switched from fully recyclable plastic polybags to printed paper sleeves. We also require our supply chain - printers etc to follow the highest environmental standards.

Capital Business Media - B2B Media

Presence sensors linked to a central controller can do more than alert you to intruders. They can alert the system if a room has been unoccupied for some time, triggering the lights to go out and the heating to be turned down. By only heating and lighting parts of the building that are occupied, you can save on energy bills, and nobody has to remember to do it manually. Alternatively, there are ways to link your heating up to a calendar app. A well-configured system can then be set to only power up the room when it's due for use.

OpenSensors is a UK IoT startup helping large organisations monitor the workplace environment to make data-driven decisions that create safe, productive and efficient workplaces. OpenSensors measures the air quality, temperature, humidity noise, space utilisation and more, helping companies create more flexible productive workplaces and reduce their environmental footprints.

Opensensors - Office Automation Specialist

If you’ve got a factory floor, this type of sensor used to control the production process is known as “Industrie 4.0” or the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”. Although some see it as a means to automate and eliminate human workers, the real benefits come from being able to control the environment and equipment to maximum efficiency - and that can be great for the planet. Consider your packaging too - if your products are green, and your office is green, but the packaging is going to sit in landfill for 300 years, that’s not really ideal!

“A year ago, we decided to create ‘grab and go’ pouches for our sweets. Our initial order was for 250,000 and that would amount to a lot of waste, so we decided to invest in finding a biodegradable alternative to plastic. It took time and investment, but we did come up with a 100% biodegradable package, that breaks down within three months in landfill, as opposed to the many years it takes plastic to break down. We also actively encourage our customers to reuse our jars, which are ideal for storing anything, not just sweets. I think every business has a duty to look for greener alternatives to packaging now and in fact, it is what customers want.”

Ask Mummy & Daddy - Gourmet Candy

We never use single-use plastic in our events or delivery. We always source local suppliers for our events in order to reduce our carbon footprint and support local communities and economies. All our merchandise and equipment is sustainably sourced. Eg. We have branded pencils made from recycled CD cases. We ALWAYS recycle! We advertise leftover food, drinks and unused napkins etc on Olio so that others can make use of them rather than it going to waste

Goho PR - Boutique PR Agency

Here in the UK, the advice to work from home extends to June 21st - but if you’re looking to go green, ask yourself - do I really need my entire team on-site? Working from home saves carbon emissions in all sorts of ways - from the fuel used on the commute, to the need to resource the building itself.

We’ve already heard of several companies who have decided to go virtual altogether.

One we spoke to has given up their building entirely and replaced it with a narrowboat that can be used as a meeting room, a staff bar, a breakout room and the whole thing can be moved to where it’s needed (assuming it’s near a canal of course).

Nobody is entirely sure what the post-pandemic world will look like, particularly for the future of work. You may feel that this isn’t the right time to invest in renovations or relocation. That’s fine, we get that. But doing nothing isn’t an option.

A recent map created by scientists from Climate Central, shows some horrifying predictions, with large parts of the City of London likely to be flooded annually by 2050 if we don’t do something. It may feel like there’s only a little you can do right now.

That’s fine - but we all need to start doing our part. Your clients will love your green credentials. Your staff will love being a part of a new, greener, normal which they helped to create. Your bank will love you for the money you save.  And of course, Planet Earth will love you, most of all.

You can take it even further - we’ve barely scratched the surface here, but we hope it has fired up your imagination.

You might not want to spring for ‘jungle meeting rooms’ such as these fabulous examples at ed-tech firm Epignosis  - but as we prepare for the post-COVID world, now is the time to talk about how we can make work greener, for all our sakes.  


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