Innovation That Matters

A Green Comeback: Implementing a Sustainable Back-to-Office Plan

Better Business

How companies can ensure a smooth and sustainable return — or at least partial return — to physical working environments.

Throughout March 2021, Springwise will be exploring the five themes of B Corp Month. This week, the focus is on how to be a better steward of the environment. Springwise, and our partners at Re_Setare both proud Certified B Corporations.

With the end of the national lockdowns now in sight for many across the globe, there is a growing sense of excitement amongst friends and colleagues about the prospect of returning to the workplace. I, myself, am chomping at the bit to escape the confines of my kitchen, and be once again immersed in a world of drumming keyboards and friendly banter.

That said, as eager as we may be to make a physical return to the office, it is worth considering the collective environmental impact all of this will have. 

Indeed, in the last year, worldwide governmental pleas to “stay home” and the subsequent closure of industries and transportation have led to periods of greatly reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

However, many assume that these consequences of the lockdown are short-term, with Professor Le Quéré from the University of East Anglia warning that “Governments now have to be really cautious on how they re-stimulate their economies, mindful of not locking in fossil fuels again.”

Therefore, in the lead-up to an inevitable return (or at least partial return) to the office, it is vital that every business reassesses its own environmental impact: What was your company doing before the lockdown, what should it be doing and where can improvements be made? And how will you incorporate sustainable internal initiatives into a back-to-office plan? 

At Springwise, we have thought long and hard about our impact. As a Certified B Corp, we know that in order to become a better steward of the planet, a company must factor sustainability into every aspect of its business plan. 

“I think we learnt that as a business you can have the best intentions but you need to make sure you are backing them up with robust processes, policies and consistent training to ensure it’s followed through within the organisation,” says Re_Set’s operations manager, Steph Feltham, who led our companies’ B Corp Certification efforts. 

With this in mind, we would like to share some clear, actionable insights that can be implemented toute suite to ensure a smooth and sustainable return to the office.

Commuting and Travel

Has your company put in place programs or policies to reduce the environmental footprint caused by travel and commuting? If the answer is no, consider the following:

Incentivize your employees to use public transportation, carpooling, or biking to work. This can be achieved through reward-systems such as subsidized cycle to work schemes, eScooter sharing, and cycle memberships such as Santander. Try to make it easier by ensuring there are facilities near the office which can facilitate responsible commuting habits, such as bike racks, and electric chargers for cleaner-burning vehicles. Some cities are taking steps to become more bike-friendly, with innovations like Bike2Box making it easier to install modular parking units. 

Reduce travel by utilising virtual technology. Zoom fatigue is real, but consider the positive environmental impact that cutting down on in-person meetings can have — especially ones that would typically require travelling long distances. There are options beyond video conferencing. According to the Springwise-spotted Blue Ocean Robotics: “A company in Europe with 20 employees travelling to Asia four times a year saves 500,000 kilos of CO2 by replacing air travel with the telepresence robot.”

When it’s necessary, travel responsibly. It’s essential to reiterate the business travel policy to employees and emphasize only travelling when necessary, avoiding air and car travel wherever possible. When booking travel, seek out agencies that are doing their part as well. Fellow B Corp GoodWings is a booking platform that doesn’t spend on advertising and instead uses the money to offset carbon from hotel stays at no extra cost to its users. You can also track travel and purchasing offsets using platforms like Capture, which allows companies to collate, calculate and offset their own total commuting and travel emissions.

Office and Suppliers

There are many practical measures that your company can take with regards to its office supplies. 

Purchasing from environmentally-conscious office suppliers, such as The Green Office which only selects stationery and recycled paper products that are environmentally benign or have clear environmental advantages over standard stationery items. You should also consider replacing conventional household cleaners, such as air fresheners and anti-bacterial surface spray, with non-toxic janitorial products, such as Method

Instigate a company-wide recovery and recycling program, which at the very least should involve the responsible disposal of paper, cardboard, plastic, glass & metal and compost. But there are other, innovative ways to encourage these kinds of sustainable habits with your employees beyond the office as well. Springwise spotted the Litterati app, which gamifies litter collection. Users take photos of litter they’ve spotted and thrown away and allows for the creation of groups and challenges, which makes for a great team-building exercise. 

Recycle your “e-waste” as well. Electronic waste, or “e-waste”, is one of the world’s fastest-growing environmental challenges. In 2019, just 20 per cent of the 54 million tonnes of e-waste generated globally was recycled. Consider tech suppliers that refurbish electronic devices and offers part exchange services. Springwise has also spotted innovative e-waste solutions, such as this Indian startup that brings together manufacturers, distributors, and recyclers to coordinate their recycling efforts.

Energy Consumption

It is important to educate and engage with employees on how to take a more proactive role in understanding your company’s energy consumption. 

Set up working groups to discuss energy conservation and efficiency measures that could be made. This might include HVAC installations such as a programmable thermostat, timers, occupancy sensors, shade sun-exposed walls, double-paned windows. You may also wish to invest in energy-saving equipment such as Energy Star appliances, automatic sleep modes, after-hour timers, natural light, CF bulbs, daylight dimmers, and task lighting.

Reduce the carbon footprint of emails, video chat and internet usage.  On average, every email sent produces 0.3g CO2. Consider communicating with your colleagues via phone or other means. Video meetings can be conducted using eco-friendly alternatives to Zoom. Springwise recently spotted Whereby, a Norweigen video conferencing app that is offsetting carbon emissions by planting trees. You can also encourage your company to commit to using the search engine Ecosia, which uses the ad revenue from your searches to plant trees where they are needed the most. Lastly, don’t forget your company website. Consider switching to a green hosting provider, such as Green Geeks, and do an audit of your website design and usage. Springwise recently spotted an Italian design studio that redesigned its website to only use small images, basic typefaces and a logo created from standard Unicode symbols, all of which require less energy to load on computers and smartphones.

Make green energy a company perk. With more people working from home, people’s energy bills have increased. In response to this, the Springwise-spotted green energy company Arcadia helps businesses offer sustainable energy as a benefit for those working remotely. Arcadia helps companies subsidise all or part of their employees’ energy bills. Employers can also access sustainability reports on their workers’ energy use, allowing the businesses to report lowered carbon emissions for their business under the Greenhouse Gas Protocol.

Keep Your Next Goal in Mind

Despite the many measures we and other B Corps have already taken to monitor and reduce our environmental footprint, there’s never room for complacency. 

“In 2020, we became a carbon neutral agency, but we know that this doesn’t go nearly far enough, which is why we are now focusing our efforts around becoming climate positive,” Fiona Gildea, Partner, Strategy and Purpose for Milk & Honey PR, tells Springwise. 

Springwise and Re_Set are proud of our own small carbon footprint, but we want to go beyond that to become net-zero in 2021 and ultimately carbon positive. We know there is still more to be done.

To assist us with this, we are utilizing the online pledge-platform, DoNation, which emphasizes that “small sustainable lifestyle changes don’t just cut carbon, they lead to happier, healthier, more productive lives – at home, at work and everywhere in between.” We share this mission: we want our employees to feel empowered to implement changes not just within the office but in every aspect of their lives and inspire others in the process.

As Hannah Williams, business manager for the B Corp-certified Good-Loop tells us: “We’re not perfect…but we’re conscious of it, and try to continually do a little better than the day before, and help others do the same – including our competition.” We invite you to do the same.

Written by: Tabitha Bardsley

Our Better Business series aims to provide actionable takeaways for companies and entrepreneurs looking to bring more purpose to their work and create positive change within and beyond their sectors.