Six simple steps to green your office

Making office spaces more sustainable can feel like a daunting task, especially for firms facing budgetary restrictions. But low-tech, low-cost solutions could help companies cut carbon emissions, save on energy bills and even improve staff morale

Cycle to work scheme

Sustainability has become a watchword for any modern business. As ESG credentials shoot up the priority list for consumers and prospective employees alike, a company’s carbon footprint is now a key consideration when people decide whether or not to buy a product , use a service, or to apply for a job.

Indeed, according to the latest Bupa Wellbeing Index, nearly half (48%) of generation Z workers would consider leaving their job if their employer didn’t demonstrate action on environmental issues. The same study found that 56% of this younger workforce say that suggesting sustainable and eco-friendly initiatives to leadership, and seeing these come to fruition, would motivate them to work harder.

Laetitia Carle, general manager at carbon accounting firm Greenly, notes that although sustainability initiatives can sometimes feel daunting, particularly for small firms, the upfront costs of these measures should “be better understood as a long-term investment.” A more climate-conscious office could translate to lower energy bills and even lift staff morale, she says.

And not every greening initiative is hugely expensive. Here are six easy ways for a company, regardless of size or sector, to green its workplace.

Install sensory technology and make the most of natural lighting

One of the easiest ways for a business to reduce its environmental aspect is lighting. Paul Holland, chief executive at software company Beyond Encryption, highlights that motion-activated light fittings can help energy efficiency immensely and are particularly useful in conference rooms, which tend to be separate from the main office space and used less frequently.

According to Intersafe, an electrical compliance consultancy, switching to sensory technologies can save a business up to 80% on its lighting bills, depending on the size of the business.

Natural light, adds Deloitte’s head of sustainability Gavin Harrison, is a “ready-made” solution for a more sustainable office. “In addition to LED, motion-sensitive lighting, we have opted for real estate with large windows. Access to natural light not only saves on bills, but it can also help give staff a sense of freedom. A view outside is really important,” he says.

Buy some office plants

Deloitte also tries to implement “the principle of biophilia” into its office designs, Harrison says – that is to make humans feel closer to nature. In addition to their aesthetic value, he says, plants can have a positive impact on employees’ mental health, while purifying air quality, which “in turn leads to a healthier and more productive environment.”

Although not every company has the same space or budget as Deloitte –⁠ indeed, there are 6,300 types of flora in 700 displays across its London HQ –⁠ introducing plants into an office is a fairly cheap and easy-to-maintain initiative. Peace lilies, for example, do not require a lot of room, retail for as little as £10 and require only weekly watering.

Scale back on unnecessary business travel

With the widespread availability of Google Meet, Microsoft Teams and Zoom, James Neave, the head of data science at recruitment website Adzuna, advises companies to scale back on overseas travel where possible.

While he acknowledges there might be a “balance to be struck” for international companies that may want to host occasional get-togethers for their teams based in different countries, Neave says that companies should carefully consider which interactions really demand in-person meets and whether alternatives exist.

Introduce employee transport schemes

Staff’s day-to-day commutes are also a key area where companies can cut back on their emissions. Adzuna operates a cycle-to-work scheme, which allows employees to pay for the cost of buying a bike through incremental payments taken from their paycheque.

This offers staff a long-term saving on their train or bus fares, Neave notes, while also getting some of the tax benefits of a salary sacrifice.  For Carle, even something as simple as just setting up bike racks at work can incentivise staff to cycle, which may also lead to improvements in staff’s mental and physical health by encouraging regular exercise.

At Beyond Encryption, meanwhile, there is an electric car scheme that offers employees up to 60% off the latest EVs. Again, this offers tax relief and contributes significantly to a wider societal goal.

Overhaul the office canteen

Offering more meat-free and plant-based options at the office canteen is another easy way for companies to reduce their carbon footprint. Greenly runs ‘Veggie Thursdays’, which encourage staff to choose vegetarian or vegan options once a week

Moreover, buying non-perishable or fewer perishable items in bulk can also save money and eliminate unnecessary waste. It also will discourage employees from wasting the product, Carle says.

Waste can also be avoided by investing in reusable cutlery and crockery. At Greenly, new team members are given their own cutlery, tote bag and reusable coffee products during their onboarding process. This naturally helps to cut down on plastic and paper, Carle says. These branded goods add small personal touches, which new joiners really appreciate. “It’s a great way to build team spirit and identity,” she says.

Establish recycling as default

At Deloitte, the company has tried to “embed green behaviour” by making it as simple to action as possible. Recycling bins are clearly labelled or coloured, points out Harrison, to avoid any confusion about what type of rubbish goes where.

Bupa’s head of sustainability Glyn Richards adds that using compostable or biodegradable materials in items such as bin liners, or washing cloths can also help.

Getting staff on board with going green

With both custom and talent on the line, Richards argues that “having a robust corporate strategy that is purpose-led is critical” for any business. Consumers care about where and how they spend their money, and staff will likely respond positively to a strategy that “connects the health of the planet with our own health.”

Key to avoiding any pushback against greening initiatives, Neave agrees, are clear internal and external communications strategies. “Remember that small steps are cumulative, meaning no change is too small, and finally that, with some creative thinking, making greener choices at work can be fun and help contribute positively to company culture.”