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Business for Good: How Organisations Can Be More Sustainable

As Sitback progresses on our path to becoming a BCORP, we’re continually exploring different ways that we, as an organisation, can be more sustainable.

Decisions we make about our office are a big part of the conversation — and they may be for you as well, especially if you’ll be planning a return to office-based work in a new location after letting an old lease expire. Even if you aren’t changing facilities — or if you don’t have much control over your existing space — there are still steps you can take to be more green at work. 

Beyond office sustainability, opportunities exist to lessen the environmental impact of business travel and remote work. The following guide includes some of the steps we’ve been taking and the things we’ve been learning as an organisation. We hope you find them helpful, no matter where you are in your sustainability journey.

 - Carl Brown, Interactive Experience Director at Sitback

Sustainability in the Office

A truly comprehensive guide to sustainability in the office is out of scope for an article like this. So instead of thinking of this as the ‘be-all, end-all’ guide to office sustainability, think of it more as some relatively easy, ‘quick wins’ any organisation can implement — along with a few suggested resources, if you’d like to deepen your sustainability practice.

Tip #1: Designate in-office sustainability leads, empower them to make changes, and support their efforts. 

If a company’s leadership is dismissive of the leads’ work, buy-in to any of the sustainability programs they devise will be diminished. Instead, leadership should openly promote their efforts and, if possible, incentivise sustainable behaviours observed among staff with rewards or recognition.

Tip #2: Investigate your energy options. 

If you have control over your energy provider, try to identify options like Nectr, Simply Energy, or Energy Locals that support green power, or investigate installing solar panels on your building’s roof. If you don’t, see if you can at least get your lighting and air conditioner systems on sensors or timers to minimise off-hours usage. In either case, educate staff members on energy-saving behaviours, such as powering down devices that aren’t in use.

Tip #3: Add recycling bins (including green waste bins, where available), and educate staff on how to use them properly. 

According to Stephen Gouldsbury, a Sitback employee profiled in a recent Business for Good article, “Everyone assumes coffee cups are recyclable. In an office that's a pretty sizable amount of refuse that was going into the recycling bin, and it can ruin a recycling load.” You can also encourage staff to bring and use reusable options, such as reusable coffee cups, as much as possible.

Tip #4: Eliminate office waste as much as possible, and source more environmentally-friendly options where waste can’t be eliminated. 

  • Paper accounts for about 76 per cent of office waste, according to HRM. Minimise waste by encouraging digital communications, and buy recycled paper for when printing can’t be avoided. You can also create a company-wide default email signature encouraging environmentally-friendly printing practices, such as one that reads: “Consider the environment before printing this email."
  • Take away waste can be minimised during team lunches and events by choosing low-waste vendors or hosting ‘bring your own food’ events.
  • Sitback switched to recycled pens made out of old water bottles that can also be refilled, and they’ve done quite a good job so far.

Tip #5: Create a carbon-neutral office (or use carbon offsets)

A carbon offset calculator can help you establish a baseline understanding of your office’s environmental impact:

Then, use the resources shared below — as well as the tips above — to take concrete steps toward reducing your office’s carbon footprint:

If going fully carbon-neutral isn’t a practical option, carbon offsets can be purchased to minimise your overall impact.

Sustainable Business Travel

As business travel picks back up, opportunities exist to make sustainability-oriented choices when planning travel. That’s important, as the World Economic Forum notes that, “While six out of 10 companies have a sustainability policy, only three out of 10 have a policy that includes business travel.”

Of course, the greenest alternative of all is skipping travel that isn’t really necessary. If COVID has proven anything, it’s that video conferencing and other remote technologies make it possible to achieve many of the same outcomes without meeting face-to-face.

If travel really is necessary, consider the following tips:

    • Discourage short trips. Generally speaking, the daily environmental impact of multiple short, 1-2 day trips is higher than a single, longer trip.
    • Encourage ground-based public transit. If at all possible, consider traveling by bus or train, rather than by private vehicle or air.
    • Discourage flying on private jets. Private jets produce a disproportionate amount of carbon emissions. According to Transport & Environment, “private jets are 5 to 14 times more polluting than commercial planes (per passenger), and 50 times more polluting than trains.”
    • Fly direct or opt for flights on newer aircraft. If ground-based public transit isn’t an option, aim to fly direct to reduce the total number of carbon-emitting flights taken, or try to book onto newer, more energy-efficient aircraft.
    • Fly coach. Interestingly, where you sit on a plane matters from an environmental perspective. First-class seats have 4X the carbon footprint compared to coach, according to data compiled by the BBC.
Use public transit while on location. Or, if you need to rent a private car for local travel in your destination, look specifically for options to rent electric vehicles. 
    • Look for green accommodations on location. Some accommodation websites offer  'green' options in their search criteria. There are also dedicated options, like https://ecobnb.com/, you can consider.
  • Purchase carbon offsets for carbon emissions that can’t be avoided. After taking all of the above steps to reduce your environmental impact, consider offsetting the emissions you can’t avoid. You may also be able to purchase offsets directly through your hotel or airline.

Sustainability for Remote Teams

By some estimates, “98% of an employee's carbon footprint comes from commuting.” With that in mind, you’d think that the rapid shift to remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic would be a win overall for sustainability.

But remote work isn’t necessarily more sustainable than in-office work. As The Guardian’s Amanda Schupak explains, “When workers’ homes become their offices, commutes may fall out of the carbon equation, but what’s happening inside those homes must be added in. How much energy is being used to run the air conditioner or heater? Is that energy coming from clean sources?”

There are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind when it comes to sustainability for remote teams:

  • Consider the environmental impact of closing spaces. What waste will be generated by an office closure? Can any of it be diverted from the landfill, perhaps through a discounted sale program for employees?
  • Consider the environmental impact of hybrid work arrangements. Are you essentially creating a situation in which employees run two carbon footprints concurrently (one at home and one at the office)?
  • Encourage remote workers to model sustainability behaviours at home. To minimise the risk of doubling your employees’ environmental impact, support their sustainability efforts at home, using the same tips listed above or additional suggestions from Stephen.
  • Minimise travel for remote and hybrid teams. Another way to lessen the carbon impact of remote work is to discourage excess travel. Although many organisations try to get their remote and hybrid teams together on a regular basis, doing so creates an undeniable environmental burden. Instead, look for opportunities to collaborate without travel. As an example, our recent series of MIRO templates demonstrate that workshops can easily be carried out remotely, instead of in person.

For more on remote work sustainability, take a look at the following articles:

Or, if you have other sustainability tips that you’d like to share with the Sitback team, drop us a message. We’d love to hear your suggestions!