Future proofing and the role of environmental sustainability in the workplace

As companies become increasingly aware of the number and nature of risks and opportunities presented by a greener future, the ways in which sustainability influences their decision-making and directs their operations is shifting from sporadic and sometimes token to strategic and fundamental.

white office space

As we enter the 2020’s many businesses are making positive changes to make sustainability a core pillar of their strategy. By implementing a more sustainable-minded growth plan, businesses are helping to future-proof their brand relevance, business viability, and company culture.

After all is said and done, the numbers suggest a recent swing in investor sentiment towards organisations placing sustainable measures front and centre – there is no doubt we’re now talking about business building 101 and performance resilience rather than a passing phase or niche.

However, many organisations are still hamstrung by a lack of direction around the what, when and why of sustainable initiative integration, and how they can most successfully guarantee tangible outcomes and quantifiable insights for their efforts. Without either piece of the puzzle, positive stakeholder and workforce buy-in can be difficult to achieve and possibly worse still, a sense of going through the motions can take hold.

There are no quick fixes on the road to successful adoption of a sustainability strategy, but there are tactics each and every business can introduce relatively painlessly to ensure their longer term journey has the best chance of proving meaningful and manageable. Associate Professor Robert Crawford from the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning at University of Melbourne, has outlined some carbon-reducing and community-supporting examples:

Procurement policy

“Sustainable procurement aims to reduce the adverse environmental effects of purchased products, goods and services within a business, including during usage/operation, disposal and maintenance. In practice, this comes down to ensuring external inputs via organisations’ extended supply chains, infrastructure and processes are scrutinised and selected with environmental performance in mind.

Identifying and working with suppliers that are actively reducing their own environmental footprint is a good place to start, as is implementing a sustainable supplier roadmap which highlights opportunities, threats and areas for learning. Integration of a review process to monitor and measure supplier performance against agreed commitments then aids refinement and promotes transparency throughout collaborative efforts ongoing.”

Reducing resource use

“Another key avenue is to reduce the resource demands of typical operations, but not just those related to the core business, but anything that the business has control over, including that which its people contribute to knowingly or otherwise (e.g. disposal of packaging or food waste). Purchase of green power, installation of energy efficient equipment for facilities and work spaces, limiting electricity and water wastage, switching to cloud computing and opting for green web hosting, recycling of e-waste, being smart with paper usage and buying eco-friendly office supplies are just a few of the many highly achievable practices that should be investigated.”

Churn minimisation

“Churn in a sustainability context relates to how quickly material assets are turned over, replaced or made redundant. Minimising this by investing in better quality products, considering deployment and ramping up reuse or upgrade capacities can have a noticeable impact on physical, as well as financial, wastage in the medium term. This could apply to office essentials such as furniture and computers, retail staples like display units or production technologies and, when looking at the bigger picture, the B2C and B2B end offerings of many industries and companies.”

Travel and space management

“Proactively keeping a handle on essential corporate travel is something all businesses can and should engage in. Weighing up which trips we need to make – versus those we merely want to – may come under greater scrutiny in future with digital conferencing and work management tools having now fully entered the public consciousness. Installation of workplace bike and car-pooling facilities is another relatively low outlay option that can lead to significant transport-related environmental improvements for many businesses.

When it comes to the physical footprints involved in doing business, detailed assessment of what is really required for operations, in tandem with associated costs to lease, fit-out, run and maintain upkeep of those spaces, can help highlight areas where impact and investment savings can be made. Remote working isn’t necessarily a silver bullet, involving its own energy and asset usage removed from some co-working economies, but it can no doubt be beneficial in certain businesses or scenarios and part of a balanced approach to reductions and refinements in resourcing needs.”

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Corporate leadership and workforce initiatives

“Putting in place a handful of disconnected actions or chasing certification for standards sit at separate ends of the sustainability spectrum, but both run the risk of failing to focus on the heart of the matter – educating and engaging employees to make sustainable choices the norm. Having your brand or business lead by example and invest time, money and care into impactful initiatives which incentivise employees to do the right thing at work and outside, whilst being transparent about this journey, is fundamental to stakeholder buy-in at all levels.

Clear policies, protocols and targets are important for communications and measurability, but culturally relevant and community based initiatives are also valuable ways to foster a team mentality which can itself endure sustainably. For example, creation of communal facilities, insistence on workplace diversity and equality, facilitation of working groups and activities, and development of sustainable partnerships and alignments relevant to company values or competencies, can all help engender an alluring, inclusive commitment to sustainable best practice.”

Businesses need to look beyond their own immediate issues and challenges to review and prepare for the broader forces that are altering the way the world works. These include the growing demands of demonstrating ethical activity from a regulatory perspective, defining an organisation’s mission in line with community expectations, mindful brand maintenance, and interest in connections between what we consume and how it impacts the natural world.

By investing in corporate sustainability from the ground up, a mindset can be woven into the fabric of an organisation that places value on adaptability and rewards achievement in the space. Fast-forward a decade or two and increased potency of ideas and initiatives based on these early efforts – accelerated by technology, data and innovation – will see the very same players blessed with real competitive advantage in our increasingly sustainable industries and economies.



With special thanks to

Associate Professor Robert Crawford, Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning at The University of Melbourne.

References

Moslener, Ulf & McCrone, Angus & d’Estais, Francoise & GrĂ¼ning, Christine & Louw, Abraham & Boyle, Rohan & Strahan, David & Collins, Bryony & Stopforth, Kieron (2017). Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2017.

Deloitte Development LLC (Firm) (2020). The Deloitte 2020 Industry 4.0 Readiness Report.