Five Ways to Address Climate Change at Work

Five Ways to Address Climate Change at Work

By Adam White

Becoming a sustainable business and dealing with the challenges presented by climate change has never been more important for companies. Customers want it. Government regulators demand it. And investors are increasingly valuing it. 

Recent research conducted by Positive Planet found that 74% of employees consider environmentally sustainable companies to be “more attractive employers”. In fact, nearly half of those surveyed said they would accept a lower salary to work for an organisation with a genuine commitment to the planet. Clearly, employees are becoming increasingly motivated by green issues. With the average UK employee having a work related carbon footprint of approximately 3 tonnes per annum which could reduce your workforce footprint by as much as 30%.

1. Sustainable commuting

Globally, transport accounts for about 16 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. Commuter journeys contribute a remarkable proportion of these emissions, especially in countries with large, urbanised populations. In the UK, for example, commuting accounts for 15 percent of all journeys and 20 percent of the total distance traveled each year. So, if companies are serious about helping their employees reduce their carbon footprint, the best place to start is with their daily commute. There are a number of ways to do this:

Electric cars – EVs emit around a third of the CO2 of petrol vehicles, depending on the amount of fossil fuels used to generate the electricity. In the UK sales of EV’s exceeded those of diesel vehicles in August 2021 for the first time. By installing EV charge points at the office or by switching corporate fleets to go electric, companies can help accelerate this positive green trend.

Carpooling – car sharing initiatives have a three-fold benefit because they reduce emissions, decrease environmental air pollution and diminish traffic congestion simultaneously; an urgent priority in heavily congested cities such as New York, London, Seoul, and Shanghai. Positive Planet client USystems is one of a growing number of companies urging their employees to use carpooling services for their daily commute.

Public transport
 – another greener alternative to single occupancy car journeys is public transport. According to the UK government, travelling on a light railway or the London Underground metro system emits around a sixth of the emissions of the equivalent car journey. Companies can play an active role in prompting staff to take the train or bus.

Cycling – the most sustainable (and healthiest) way to get to work. Governments are encouraging commuters to cycle by introducing segregated cycle lanes, but companies can do their bit by providing secure bike storage, offering cycle to work schemes, and installing charge points for e-bikes. E-bikes have the potential to revolutionise the daily commute. In one of Copenhagen’s new ‘cycling superhighways’, for example, the average cyclist’s commute is now 15 kilometers, largely thanks to e-bikes. E-bikes’ environmental credentials are excellent: after factoring in the CO2 emissions produced to generate the electricity, an e-bike’s carbon footprint is 2.6 grams of CO2 per mile. This compares to 150 grams for most electric cars and 136 grams for scooters.

2. Working from home

The best way to reduce emissions generated by your daily commute is, of course, not to travel in the first place. Analysis by the International Energy Agency (IEA) found that for people who commute by car, working from home is likely to reduce their carbon footprint if their journey to the office is longer than 6 kilometers. The IEA also found that if everybody who is able to work from home globally did so just one day a week, it would save around 1 percent of global oil consumption for road passenger transport each year.

Even taking into account the increased use of household electricity, the overall impact would be an annual decline of 24 million tonnes of CO2 – equivalent to the annual emissions of Greater London. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced millions of people to work from home. A simple but highly effective way for companies to help the environment is to allow the flexible working trend to continue.

3. Reduce workplace energy wastage

If companies are going to trumpet their green credentials to their customers, they must ensure their own offices are managed in an environmentally responsible way. The most effective way is to ensure all buildings are properly insulated to the highest standards, and built from sustainable materials that are low carbon, or recycled and recyclable. Well-designed new buildings can be zero-carbon, requiring no heating or cooling, dramatically reducing emissions and operating costs.

Further energy and emissions reductions can come from installing motion-sensitive light switches to posting notices encouraging staff to take the stairs instead of the elevator, small things can make a tangible difference. IBM, for instance, has managed to save more than 5 percent of the company’s total energy use by working with its staff on a decades-long energy conservation program. Other companies, such as IKEA, have gone a step further by installing solar panels to power their stores with the aim of becoming a net energy exporter. By introducing measures to conserve electricity and water, and encouraging reuse and recycling, Accenture has more than halved its CO2 emissions per employee.

By raising awareness and setting high standards in the workplace, companies can encourage staff to transfer their eco habits from work into the home and make a positive difference to their personal carbon footprint.

4. Hero projects that make a difference

Reducing day-to-day energy consumption and increasing reuse and recycling encourages employees to think small. But supporting major green initiatives can inspire them to think big; firing their imaginations and helping them feel part of the global solution. BASF, for example, invited its staff to nominate corporate volunteering projects in one of the company’s three core areas of food, smart energy, and urban living. After employees voted for their favorites, 150 were selected, ranging from projects providing clean drinking water in Africa to supporting beekeeping in North America.

5. Build sustainability into the brand

We have looked at specific actions that companies can take to incorporate sustainability into what they do. But perhaps the most profound impact can be achieved when companies incorporate sustainability into who they are. To do this, a company’s stance on green issues must become synonymous with their brand. The clothing company Patagonia, for example, has created a series of brand adverts encouraging people not to buy new things and to repair old ones, including their own products. Unilever has made sustainability part of its corporate identity, even including it within the company’s updated logo. Encouragingly, Unilever found that its Sustainable Living Brands, which are the parts of the company “taking action to support positive change for people and the planet”, grew 69 percent faster than the rest of the business and delivered three quarters of Unilever’s overall growth. This in turn has led to a widespread adoption of sustainability among the company’s employees, with 76 percent saying their role at work enables them to contribute to delivering on the sustainability agenda, with around half of all new employees citing Unilever’s ethical and sustainability policies as the primary reason for joining the company.

Businesses of all sizes and sectors trust Positive Planet to develop sustainability strategies, which will help them achieve their Net Zero goals. See how our specialists can help reduce your business’ carbon footprint today.

*Adam White is a founding partner at Positive Planet

*This article first appeared on the Positive Planet website

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