Environmental sustainability can be defined as responsible interactions with the environment to secure and promote long-term environmental quality. 

But too often, when environmental sustainability is discussed, there is usually the unconscious misconception that it concerns big multinationals and conglomerates. We quickly forget that the famous quote “leave no one behind”, doesn’t only concern rescue or reparatory measures but also transitioning and active responsibility. 

At the crux of what it means to be sustainable, is right living for all and by all. Sustainability is a cycle that is only complete when everyone is held accountable and they all carry out desired actions. 

There are already existing environmental calamities and challenges that pose a threat to lifestyles and it’s only right that as we are adapting to these new changes in the environment, we should be ready to mitigate these challenges. And in stemming these challenges, we should understand that it takes the actions of responsible stakeholders, not just nations but both big and small businesses, and individuals as well. 

However, businesses, especially the biggest organisations in the world, are in a unique position to effect large-scale changes through their operations and policies, mostly because of their huge pollution footprints.

Workplace Environmental Sustainability Strategies

The phrase ‘environmentally sustainable workplaces’ projects an organisation or office that takes into account its interactions with the environment and solely aims at reducing any risks to environmental integrity.

Internal strategies

As a workplace this could be carried out internally through:

  1. Purchasing recycled office supplies such as paper.
  2. Establishing a system of recycling, liaising with recycling companies and putting recycle bins in the dining areas and next to the copiers and printers. When printing or creating copies, turn the paper over and use the other side.
  3. Opting for electronic documents instead of hard copies and online collaboration tools like Google Drive.
  4. Instead of providing disposable items for use at work, provide staff with reusable water bottles, plates, and cutlery.
  5. Provide rewards to workers who commute sustainably by bike, carpooling, or public transportation.
  6. Allowing flexibility by working from home.
  7. Switching to clean energy to power office appliances.

Corporate Social Responsibilities (CSR)

This refers to behaviours and a plan for a company to actualise its sustainability initiatives. This includes lowering its carbon footprint and having a beneficial effect on the public. However, in CSR there are many other ways businesses can act in a socially and environmentally responsible manner in addition to cutting down on energy use and encouraging green habits at work, but for this article, environmental sustainability is our focus.

Volunteer Initiatives

When thinking of environmentally sustainable practices externally there are a couple of ways it can be exemplified some of which are via volunteer initiatives and championing environmentally impacting projects. Both actively engage employees in community service projects while fostering a sense of trust within the business, investors and the public. Examples of projects that could be carried out include street clean-ups, installation of trash bins, rural electrifications, provision of clean cooking stoves, etc.

SME Models

When it comes to Small-to-Medium Enterprises (SMEs), the capital to carry robust environmentally sustainable practices might not be easily accessible, and this incapacity will require the skill of a Human Resource professional to promote sustainable practices since he/she frequently interacts with employees more frequently than top executives. With the environmental sustainability skill of the HR, he/she can introduce sustainability plans into the company’s models.

Sustainability Reporting

Also, in becoming a sustainable workplace, certain habits have to be inculcated for it to be referred to as a sustainable and accountable workplace. One of the most important habits is to develop ESG reporting or sustainability reporting. What this does is that it presents information about the environmental, social, and economic performance of a company. While this is enhancing the reputation of the company, it also shows how environmentally responsible the company is to not only benefactors but also to all concerned. 

More and more businesses are starting to implement more environmentally friendly workplace policies every day, not just to fulfil their corporate social responsibility obligations but also because sustainability makes financial sense due to lower operating costs and enhanced employee health and wellbeing. Also, from a company perspective, customers are indeed more likely to support and patronise businesses that have a track record of social responsibility in terms of minimising their environmental impacts. 

Hence, creating an eco-conscious workplace starts with your staff since they need to share your vision and adopt eco-friendly practices at work for your sustainability goals to be effectively communicated. And eventually, just as stated earlier, a green workplace will be able to increase its revenues while still meeting its demands without endangering the ability of future generations to do the same, which will help to promote sustainable development. 

Author: Hope Lekwa Anya

Photo: Waste Wise Products Inc

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