sustainable workplaces

Year on year, expectations that organisations will contribute to reducing environmental harm are growing. For example, the UK Government has set ambitious targets for cutting CO2 emissions for new housing and non-domestic buildings.

The combination of government targets, social pressures, employee and investor expectations continues to intensify and drive the need to create healthy and sustainable workplaces.

Society and individuals have a growing awareness of how the physical workplace and working conditions affects their health and wellbeing. According to HR Magazine, consumers, investors and employees will increasingly use an organisation’s green credentials as to determine which organisations they remain loyal to.

To be successful and to be perceived so, environmental concerns will need to be an integral part of any organisation’s sense of being. For the employee, the place they come to work is the clearest expression of the organisation’s commitment to environmental and therefore employee welfare.

To remain competitive, organisations will need the workplace to also stand as a testament to organisational integrity, by reinforcing organisational values and the chosen direction of travel.

How organisations design and build sustainable workplaces is of increasing significance. The use of new fuels will change the way we provide electricity as the use of bioenergy, fossil energy, and energy storage becomes more mainstream. This will re-define how we heat our buildings, drive to work and transport our goods.

What questions does this trend provoke for wellbeing and engagement?

  1. 1
    As social sciences advance, are organisations using the new insights and information this provides to support investment decisions that will shape the design, build and operation of the workspace?
  2. 2
    How can we adopt a creative approach to improving how people access, interact and work in buildings and spaces that organisations provide?
  3. 3
    Are organisations constrained by what the workplace used to traditionally look like, and what some employees have come to expect e.g. closed offices for senior people, a desk for each member of staff? Who is breaking this mould and has it resulted in them attracting and retaining the ‘right’ types of employees?
  4. 4
    Are organisations currently going far enough and moving fast enough to adapt existing buildings, not only to become more energy efficient, but to create a improved environment that will help manage or mitigated predicted problems (e.g. government targets, energy usage and supply, material substitutions, technological advancement)?
  5. 5
    Population/workforce demographics – do organisations understand the changing expectations and demands of their local communities, customers and workforce regarding the workplace and how this will affect their ability to recruit and retain talent over time?

How are organisations responding?

Many organisations are taking significant steps towards achieving national and international environmental standards.

Investment is being made in research and development of new technologies, often in collaboration with leading universities. For example, an exemplar low carbon building on the University of Nottingham’s Jubilee Campus has been built to showcase sustainable energy technologies. The building incorporates energy efficient materials and is designed to minimise demands for heating, cooling, lighting and ventilation. Its design delivers a number of benefits linked to well-being:

  • Exposed concrete thermal mass to moderate temperature fluctuations
  • Maximisation of natural daylight internally
  • External shading to control solar gain
  • Enhanced site ecology and landscaping
  • ‘Green’ and ‘Brown’ roof areas provide valuable ecological habitats
  • A hydrogen production and filling station plus electric car charging points

Nottingham University is also one of a number of organisations that provide support for SMEs and are actively engaged with a number of organisations, helping them to develop materials; prototyping products identifying new ways to improve production processes; and improving ways of working within a business to lower carbon impacts.

What can you do?

  • Explore and take advantage of current research and thinking, nationally and in your local area, about sustainability.
  • Reconsider current levels of investment and action devoted to improving and maintaining a sustainable workplace.
  • Develop a culture throughout the organisation, where the concern for the environment and local community is considered as important as concern for the wellbeing of colleagues and customers. Remember to work to ensure business leaders also have an environmentally responsible mind-set and actively promote a responsible culture.
  • Seek new and innovative ways to engage staff and stakeholders in the challenges and opportunities around environmental concerns and long term sustainability. Enlist their support to review what you can do to reduce consumption, waste and emissions and improve the health of the environment and ultimately that of employees.
  • Ensure that HR policies are aligned with environmental issues – e.g. travel to work plans, workplace protocols, training, organisational behavioural values and rewards.
  • Benchmark and set targets. Check to make sure that you know how your buildings currently perform along with where there is scope and potential to improve.
“Environmental sustainability is about making responsible decisions that will reduce negative impacts on the environment. It is not simply about reducing the amount of waste produced or using less energy, but is concerned with using building materials and developing processes that will lead to businesses becoming completely sustainable in the future.”

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