A beginner's guide to improving environmental sustainability in your workplace

Appical Team
Jessica Heijmans
August 15, 2023
min read
Table of Contents
Sustainability has become increasingly important in recent years as concerns about climate change continue to grow. If you're a business owner, manager or HR specialist, you may wonder how to improve your organization's environmental sustainability. In this blog post, we'll explore what sustainability is, why it matters, and how you can start improving environmental sustainability in the workplace.

It's okay to admit it – when it comes to sustainability, we're not all experts (yet!). At Appical, we are taking the first steps towards a sustainable future. As we navigate this journey, we are eager to inspire and support other organizations on their own path to sustainability. And share our lessons. Because getting started is often the most challenging step.

Let’s start with the basics: what does sustainability mean?

What is sustainability?

At its core, sustainability is all about smartly using resources so that we don't run out of them over time. We want to make sure that we can keep enjoying the good stuff without leaving future generations high and dry.

The United Nations defined sustainable development as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (Brundtland Report). It assumes that resources are finite, and so should be used conservatively and carefully to ensure that there is enough for future generations, without decreasing the present quality of life.

There are three important things that we need to keep in mind when it comes to sustainability – economic prosperity, social well-being, and environmental health. Also called: people, planet, and profit: “the three Ps,”. We want happy humans, thriving communities, and a healthy planet!

The focus of this blog will be on environmental sustainability. If you want to find out more about social well-being read this blog:

[.callout-small]How to promote employee well-being in the workplace[.callout-small]

Why is (environmental) sustainability important?

Sustainability matters because it affects our quality of life and future generations. By adopting sustainable practices, companies can help prevent further environmental damage and improve the health and well-being of employees and the community at large.

And if that wasn’t enough in itself:

7 Compelling reasons for businesses to prioritize sustainability

1. Ensure long-term survival

Securing both the planet's future and your company's future is all about integrating sustainable practices into your corporate strategy. By embracing sustainable innovation, promoting inclusive growth, and focusing on social and environmental impact, you'll enhance resilience and increase your chances of long-term survival. This is how you set yourself up for success!

2. Reduced business costs

When it comes to sustainability, going green means saving green. By conserving resources, lowering energy consumption and optimizing your supply chains, you can cut down on operational costs and improve your bottom line.

3. Attract customers 

Customers are getting more conscious of ethical and environmental concerns when making purchasing decisions. In fact, 28% of consumers have stopped buying certain products due to ethical or environmental concerns (according to a survey by Deloitte). What’s more? Nearly 75% of customers want to support purpose-driven companies that are committed to making the world better (Aflac). By adopting sustainable practices, businesses can attract and retain customers.

4. Attract talent

While we are on the topic of attracting, being sustainable is also important when it comes to attracting talent. Around 40% of millennials have chosen a job because of company sustainability. And over 70% of them are more likely to work for a company with a strong environmental agenda (Fast Company). Clearly, a company's sustainability efforts have a significant impact on the decision-making process of job seekers.

5. Improve engagement and productivity

When you create a purpose-driven strategy with sustainability at the forefront, you're giving your employees a whole new sense of purpose in their work. This makes them not only engaged and motivated, but it also boosts productivity.

In fact, more than a third of employees have admitted to going the extra mile in their job because of their employer's commitment to sustainability (study by Fast Company).

6. Improve retention

Here's an eye-opening fact: employees are more likely to stick around when they see a company truly committed to sustainability. A whopping 56% of professionals are more likely to stay in a company with a sound sustainability agenda (GetSmarter). And 30% of respondents in the Fast Company study have admitted to leaving a job in the past because the company lacked a sustainability plan.  Don't let those talented individuals slip through your fingers! 

Nearly 40% of millennials have chosen a job because of company sustainability (Fast Company)

7. Cooperative action can drive change

When businesses come together to take sustainable action, they become a force to be reckoned with! By collectively working towards sustainability, you can influence industry standards, regulations, and consumer behavior. The power of collective action can drive systemic change and contribute to building a sustainable future for all. 

In summary, embracing sustainability isn't just good for the environment and future generations. It's also a smart move for your business.

7 Simple tips to kickstart environmental sustainability in the workplace

Improving environmental sustainability in the workplace can seem overwhelming, but there are several steps organizations can take to get started.

Here are 7 simple tips to kickstart environmental sustainability in the workplace

Tip 1: Decide on your organization's understanding of sustainability

First things first, let's get on the same page about what sustainability means to your organization. Take some time to define what sustainability looks like in the context of your workplace. Does it involve reducing carbon emissions, minimizing waste, or promoting energy efficiency? By clarifying your understanding of sustainability, you'll set a clear direction for your initiatives.

Tip 2: Appoint a sustainability coordinator

To ensure your sustainability initiatives don't fizzle out, it's time to bring in some reinforcements. Consider appointing a sustainability coordinator who can champion your efforts and keep the sustainability flame burning bright. Having a dedicated person in this role will ensure that sustainability becomes a top priority throughout the organization.

Tip 3. Identify areas of impact

Next up: look for areas where you can make a sustainable impact. Start by examining aspects of your organization where your influence is strongest. Are there opportunities to reduce car usage and promote eco-friendly commuting options? Can you implement waste reduction strategies or source more sustainable materials for your marketing goodies? By pinpointing specific areas where you can make changes, you'll be able to create a significant positive impact. 

Tip 4: Develop sustainability goals

Establishing attainable goals is crucial for success. By setting realistic targets, both you and your team will have a clear focus and a greater chance of accomplishing them. Added bonus: If you successfully achieve your goal, you will experience an overwhelming sense of triumph that will fuel your motivation to overcome the next obstacle.

Tip 5: Create awareness

Now, let’s spread the word! Raising awareness among employees about sustainability is another important step. It's important to raise awareness among your colleagues about the importance of sustainability. Educate them on how their actions can make a real difference and contribute to a more environmentally friendly workplace. Whether it's through fun workshops, informative emails, or thought-provoking posters, let's inspire a culture of sustainability.

A small interactive tip: why not create a questionnaire to see where your organization currently stands in terms of sustainability? It'll give you a clear picture of where you're starting from and identify areas that need improvement. 

Tip 6. Ask your employees for ideas

You're not in this sustainability journey alone – your colleagues are valuable sources of creative and innovative ideas. Tap into their brilliance by asking for their input and suggestions. Host brainstorming sessions, set up suggestion boxes, or create an online platform or Slack channel for idea sharing. You'll be amazed at the imaginative ideas that emerge when you empower your team to be part of the solution.

Tip 7. Start small

Remember, Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither will your sustainable workplace. Start with small, achievable steps and build momentum from there. It could be as simple as setting up recycling stations, giving small tips in your monthly office gathering, switching to eco-friendly office supplies, or introducing Meatless Mondays. 

Starting small allows for easier implementation and avoids overwhelming your team or creating resistance. Plus, it's an opportunity to celebrate those small wins along the way!

[.callout-small] Here you will find 25 Simple ways to improve sustainability in your workplace[.callout-small]

Keep in mind that sustainability strategies may vary for each business. For example, a business that serves customers in person cannot always offer remote work. Meanwhile, a company with an entirely remote workforce may face challenges in enforcing recycling practices. In the end, make sure to prioritize the strategies that best fit the unique needs and capabilities of your organization.

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