In recognition of the 53rd Earth Day, which occurs every April 22nd, let’s take a moment to reflect on how sustainability and work cross paths.
Inherently, most workplaces negatively impact the environment. Places of business use energy – i.e. they create emissions. Places of business create waste – sometimes it's as simple as food and paper, and other times the waste is toxic. Manufacturing and processing companies can use a lot of water, requiring additional energy to convey and chemicals to clean. Each place of business has an environmental footprint and with sustainability-conscious initiatives, they can manage it and reduce it. To help with that, sustainable building certifications like LEED and WELL provide a framework for how businesses can shape their office spaces and operations to incorporate sustainability into the workplace.
We’ve cliff-noted the rating systems to provide a simple 10-step framework for how to get started – or if you've already begun, how to expand your workplace's sustainability.
1. Operate Sustainably
Since buildings account for 76% of total emissions, finding ways to reduce energy consumption is the first step to improving sustainable performance. In addition to reducing energy use, sustainable operations also include:
- Reducing water consumption with low-flow toilets and fixtures
- Reducing waste by recycling, composting, and finding re-use options for production waste
- Reducing transportation from shipping, business travel, and commuting
Businesses that focus on sustainable operations are likely to see a boost in employee productivity. A recent study found that companies that voluntarily adopted sustainable principles saw a 16% boost in employee productivity. Similarly, companies with sustainable operations have an easier time recruiting.
Since we are in the business of sustainable building certifications, we can’t help but mention the framework and tools that can help get you started on this path. The LEED O+M program can help your office design and implement systems that improve operational sustainability. Core components of LEED O+M include energy and water efficiency, waste reduction, and indoor environmental quality.
2. Align External Suppliers with Internal Initiatives
Adopting a holistic sustainability program extends beyond your office walls. If you are working hard at reducing your environmental footprint, your suppliers can help. Looking upstream and downstream to ensure that suppliers and vendors also strive to achieve green targets ensures sustainable circularity. Ethical sourcing programs and Scope 3 emissions targets both fall into this category.
Start by researching vendors' ethics and environmental practices. Inform suppliers that metric-based sustainability matters to your business. Develop a sustainable purchasing policy. Look for supplier certifications such as the one we have – Carbon Neutral Verified.
3. Choose Sustainable Supplies
For our technology, purchasing Energy Star-labeled products ensures the energy consumption of office tech is minimized. But while technology has replaced most pen-and-paper work, you also need to consider other office supplies. We can mitigate the reams of paper, single-use pens, and even printer ink by sourcing carefully.
For example, look for 100% recycled or FSC-certified paper, plant or non-petroleum-based printer inks, and writing utensils that incorporate post-consumer recycled content.
4. Let it Flow — More Sustainably
Using guidance from WELL Certification can help workplaces ensure quality and access to drinking water. Not only does drinking water keep employees happier, but it also promotes good health and improves productivity.
Solutions include filtered drinking water dispensers, free-standing water coolers, and regular water quality testing.
5. Assess Air Quality and Flow
A healthy and happy team is imperative to a holistic and sustainable office space. Poor air quality is linked to acute and chronic health issues like asthma, respiratory diseases, and cancer.
According to the EPA, indoor air quality can be 2 to 5 times more polluted than outdoor air. Poor Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) can cause dizziness, fatigue, headaches, and trigger allergies and asthma. Otherwise said, poor IAQ leads to decreased productivity. Change your filters, add CO2 and VOC monitors to conference rooms, add additional filtration on HVAC, and reduce harmful chemicals in your cleaning supplies.
6. Harness Renewable Energy
Energy contributes to a significant portion of a building's operational emissions and is the central focus of several leading global climate change initiatives. Furthermore, the International Energy Association (IEA) notes that the world will have to cut building sector emissions by 50% by 2030 to align with the Paris Climate Agreement.
While improving energy efficiency will make a significant dent in overall emissions, buildings will always require some level of energy to run. Using renewables is one of the only ways to completely offset a building's operational emissions. Whether through onsite solar generation or buying power from a utility-scale wind farm, renewable energy will become a critical component for building owners.
For onsite renewable energy installations, there are available tax incentives and special financing. If you are not in a position to have onsite renewables, the REC market can help to lead you to LEED Zero or Carbon Neutral status.
7. Let There Be (LED) Light
Another way to reduce energy consumption is to swap lighting to LED options. This will not only help with energy reduction targets, as LED lights use at least 75% less energy and last up to 25 times longer than incandescent lighting, but it's also great for the bottom line.
For example, Bloomberg powers its offices with LED lighting, reducing their lighting footprint by 25% and saving an estimated 12 million kWh to date. This is equivalent to the annual electricity use of 1,545 homes. There are also tax breaks for lighting retrofits.
8. Reduce Single-Use Products
Plastics can be helpful if they are reusable. However, if disposed of carelessly, single-use products can become an environmental cost.
Take an inventory of disposables you offer in your workplace, from breakroom cutlery to disposable coffee cups, tape, bubble wrap, and plastic packaging, and then decide if you can swap them for reusable options.
For example, the average office worker uses up to 500 coffee cups annually, most of which will end up in landfills due to their wax lining. Set up a reusable coffee cup station to give landfills a break.
9. Make a Healthy Work Environment
A healthy, supportive workplace improves employee productivity, happiness, and overall well-being. Not only does this increase a company's bottom line, but it also bolsters public image and provides several long-term benefits.
WELL certification is an excellent way to develop a healthy workplace and prioritize employee well-being. It enables you to measure a building's impact on occupants, make beneficial improvements, and develop data for wellness components in ESG targets. You don’t have to get certified to be WELL – the rating system provides concepts that are easy to incorporate into your existing way of working.
For example, spacious indoor collaboration zones and outdoor courtyards allow employees better light, airflow, comfort, and mental health break opportunities. Simple ideas such as scheduling meditation sessions, providing healthy catered meals, and crafting outdoor work and relaxation spaces help create a healthy work environment.
10. Set Goals and Create Teams
Deloitte reports that 57% of companies surveyed provide employee training on climate change and sustainability action. Once a company has assessed the scale of its impacts, they have to implement action to reduce them. Creating a sustainability roadmap and smaller teams to tackle target areas can help take a plan from paper to action.
However, it's not only about setting targets. It also requires changing workplace culture by educating and making sustainability actions accessible. Talk to and collaborate with your team members on how your organization can go green and be more environmentally conscious in the workplace.
Make Earth Day Count
By striving for LEED or WELL certification, or simply by taking the first steps towards sustainability in the workplace, businesses are making meaningful investments in their team's well-being, their building's carbon footprint, and the future of our planet.
Look to Emerald Built Environments to achieve and surpass your Earth Day goals by improving your sustainability. Whether you need a roadmap to begin your sustainability journey or you're developing an ESG reporting strategy, we are ready to help.
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