Karen Ho, Head of Corporate and Community Sustainability at WWF Hong Kong, on how companies can achieve a greener work environment
Hongkongers typically spend more time at the workplace than at home. A workplace that is green and encourages sustainability will not only reduce a company’s carbon footprint, but also lead to more productive, healthier and happier employees.
However, promoting a greener workplace in the long-run goes beyond decorating the office with more plants, recycling paper and allowing in more natural light. It requires a proactive approach – one which involves changing the mindset of employees, engaging in more dialogue, and the accurate tracking of sustainability performance. Below are a few insights from the World Wide Fund for Nature’s (WWF) business sustainability programmes to help businesses create a more sustainable workplace.
Set up a strategy
Once your organization has decided to go ahead with its green mission, it is important to put into place a strategy that aligns day-to-day work processes with your sustainability efforts.
If, for example, your aims include reducing energy usage, consider switching to energy-efficient lightbulbs, enabling power-saving features on computers and printers, using the air-conditioner responsibly and turning off lights when not in use.
If your aim is to go paperless, start by identifying how much paper is used for marketing, internal reports and mailing purposes – and how many of those can be done electronically instead. If possible, try to move all marketing and advertising campaigns online and encourage employees to cut down on printing by creating and sharing documents and admin forms electronically. While it may be impossible to stop using paper altogether, companies can take simple steps to reduce their consumption, such as by printing on both sides of paper, using scrap paper and encouraging active recycling – or improve their sustainability by ordering paper from sustainable sources, such as Forest Stewardship Council certified paper.
Form a “green team”
With your objectives and strategy in place, a green committee, consisting of a group of employees who engage in dialogue on sustainability matters, can help to promote your objectives within your organization. To promote your initiative, members of the management team and the green committee can work together to establish a green mission statement or policy for the workplace.
The team can then begin identifying the opportunities for sustainability within the business, and educate employees on sustainability by suggesting ways they can change habits both at work and at home. The team’s activities could include evaluating the company’s procurement to identify more sustainable alternatives, organizing green days, and encouraging staff members to recycle.
Nurture and train a sustainability mindset
To build a mindset of sustainability within the workplace, employees need to feel connected to the mission.
Your green committee can help to lead this. Through regular training and internal marketing, the team can create a feeling of individual responsibility for employees, and in turn, an environment that recognizes the importance of sustainability. Consider allocating a training budget for employees to attend seminars or conferences related to how they can each do their part at work. Training sessions don’t need to take up too much time at work either. Companies can host “lunch and learn” sessions and bring in a guest speaker, share a video, or hold casual discussions to encourage employees to come up with sustainability ideas. Also, by implementing their ideas, employees are able to see an impact, feel valued and will encourage others to do the same.
Track sustainability performance
After all these steps, it’s important to note that evaluating sustainability performance is no different from that of financial performance. Periodical reviews allow companies to measure effectiveness and to identify and address any gaps.
Reporting is particularly important for listed companies, as preparing an environmental, social and governance (ESG) report annually is a requirement in the listings rules of the Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing. Most of these companies are well-aware of the performance metrics and key performance indicators in the aspects of ESG, but may view the ESG reports as a regulatory requirement and outsource the process to external consultancies to conduct stakeholder engagement, data analyses and reporting. This is a missed opportunity. The ESG report should be seen as a competitive advantage, as the company needs to embrace the sustainability mindset and apply it to the daily business.
For small- to medium-sized enterprises, the WWF’s Low-carbon Office Operation Programme (LOOP) can help. LOOP is a web-based accounting tool that assists office managers in measuring and keeping track of carbon emissions generated from office activities such as electricity use (i.e. lighting and office equipment), transportation (company vehicles, how employees commute to work) and use of resources (paper and water). LOOP also helps companies reduce their overall carbon emissions through change of policy, use of innovative technology, and helping employees adapt to these changes.
Investing in a sustainable work environment comes with long-term benefits. It is important to listen to employees and stakeholders to understand how they feel about the existing activities, and engage them in brainstorming new ideas. Don’t forget to celebrate when your company hits a sustainability target or a milestone. Communicating the achievement of a sustainability milestone makes a great difference in boosting morale and reinforces the seriousness in pursuing a sustainability path.