Climate change, plastic pollution, the extinction of species, shocking figures on rising global temperature, heartbreaking shots of Australia’s bushfires and marine life fighting for their lives trapped in plastic… these are just some of the headline topics we’ve already seen in the first two months of the new year. The current state of the environment presents a massive challenge and at this point, sustainability amounts to nothing less than saving our planet.
In today’s society, time is a limited commodity and many environmental issues are man-made; humans have made a bigger negative impact on climate change and the environment than nature ever did. In search of solutions, many of us focus on being sustainable in different areas of our lives, be it at home, in our purchasing habits and in our workplaces. Environmental consciousness has expanded to the business setting and affects how people conduct themselves at work and even influences their job search. This vibrant momentum propels not only individuals, but also businesses to reflect on their environmental responsibility and prioritize climate change mitigation in their corporate sustainability strategies.
According to a recent public opinion survey conducted by APCO Insight, 89 percent of U.S. citizens surveyed said it is important to have a green initiative as part of company policy, with 57 percent of respondents saying that it is very important. Respondents viewed recycling, reducing water use and eco-friendly lights as the most important aspects of a company’s green initiative.
With growing awareness of the challenges our planet is facing, companies are increasingly being urged by employees to act. A new kind of environmentally aware employee is emerging, with high expectations of their employer. While employees do continue to focus on their work, they also want to have a positive impact. These days, employees are eager to be strengthened in their values and to be encouraged through strong internal initiatives and distinct commitments to preserve the environment. Finding environmentally aware workplaces has become a “decision factor” for job seekers. Beyond working for prestigious organizations, employees want to work in organizations that are also admired for their sustainability efforts. Caring about the wellbeing of society shows that companies, in turn, care about their employees. More and more people want to see their employers’ values fit their own.
This movement stimulates businesses tremendously. It activates the need to identify solutions for new circumstances, leaving behind traditional paradigms of thinking and expanding one’s horizon. As a plus, innovative initiatives are brilliant ways to establish a lasting image and even create PR case studies.
What effects can sustainability initiatives in the workplace have on employers? Employers can benefit from an increase in productivity and minimization of costs (e.g., when energy, water and waste is efficiently managed to reduce overhead costs). Sustainability measures also improve employee retention and recruitment rates, as employees want to work for organizations that support and operate corporate environmental programs; thus, “being green” may give the company an edge in attracting the best talent.
Sustainability also improves brand image and helps companies gain a competitive edge. Coupled with the shift in reasons for pursuing sustainability—ranging from reputation management to operational improvements and new growth opportunities—the overall high degree of integration indicates that companies have become more businesslike about their sustainability agenda. Setting a clear agenda and demonstrating one’s climate credentials further makes a company more attractive to all stakeholders, including its commercial and non-commercial partners, as well as its clients or customers.
But where do we begin? We believe that sustainability doesn’t require a big gesture or a huge movement. Instead, a simple first step can often be the most optimal method—however, this step must occur immediately.
Here are some quick tips on how to get started right away:
- Set clear sustainability goals: this way, businesses show commitment, courage and a willingness to change.
- Integrate your teams: getting employees involved in making the business and workplace greener makes them feel like a part of a team and motivates them, which can increase productivity.
- Share responsibility: ensure that employees feel individually responsible for environmental and social performance. Create a new role dedicated to sustainability or incorporate the duties into an existing position. Allocate time and money to environmental and social initiatives.
- Build sustainability into day-to-day operations: set thermostats one degree closer to the outside temperature or reduce paper use by printing less. Be a role model. Be the first to ride a bike to work. Sort trash into garbage, compost, and recyclables in the kitchen or common spaces.
The assignment of responsibilities is a good way to create movement and enthusiasm within a corporation, encouraging employees to figure out how they can make a difference and letting them try out new ideas. The more employees are actively engaged in the development of those strategies, the more organizational environmental performance can be enhanced.
Overall, today’s environmental threats represent opportunities for corporate leaders. Sustainability isn’t just a trend, and the global community has moved beyond the “going green” mantra. Sustainability is a holistic, long-term business approach in managing not only environmental risks, but also social and financial ones. When a company’s efforts are authentically channeled in the right direction, it can be recognized country-wide—and even globally—for what it stands for.