If you’re a business owner, a management team leader, or a rank-and-file worker at a local business, you have the power to create more sustainable workplace practices.
But what does that look like, and how easy is it to create a greener working environment?
In this guide, we’ll explore how and why you should consider implementing sustainability in the workplace. We’ll break down the current state of sustainability in business, explore the importance of sustainability, and discuss eight ways to green-ify your workplace.
Whether you’re new to the sustainability conversation or you’ve been waiting to introduce your individual green choices to your company leadership for a long time, this guide can help you build sustainable living practices at work.
The State of Sustainability in the Business Sector
To understand the importance of sustainability in the workplace, it helps to take a look at the efforts of other businesses—as well as the need for greater change. The New Climate Institute’s 2022 Corporate Climate Responsibility Monitor critically analyzes how companies who tout sustainability actually fulfill their green promises.
Their report monitors just 25 companies, but they’re major players, including:
The 25 international brands on the full list self-report their greenhouse gas emissions—and, in 2019, these 25 companies alone emitted roughly 5% of global greenhouse gasses.
But, arguably more importantly, the business sector is making big promises to go green. While all 25 companies on their list have made a net-zero pledge of some kind, only three of the brands are clearly committed to decarbonizing over 90% of their full emissions by their self-established target year (and none of these brands are on the brief list above).
The current sustainability landscape in the business sector indicates that:
- Businesses are still emitting greenhouse gasses on a massive scale.
- Brands are likely to publish ambitious intentions to decarbonize.
- Despite these promises, the world’s mega-brands simply aren’t cutting the mustard.
So, what can your business—large or small—learn from this?
Laying out a sustainability strategy is commendable, but actually living up to your promises is crucial—and, your sustainability efforts may ultimately set you apart from the Fortune 500.
Why Workplace Sustainability is Critical
Why is sustainability important? It’s crucial because everything we need to survive depends (in some way) on the health of our natural environment.2 In order to secure a future for generations to come, we need to create and bolster harmony between humans and the biosphere.
Workplaces have a critical position in this equation for several key reasons:
- Businesses have power—more power than individuals have on their own. Even companies with just a few team members represent a collective effort to accomplish a goal (in most cases, to provide a product or service). Brands can leverage their power and resources to create positive change, too.
- Since they have power—specifically manpower—businesses can serve as test cases for sustainability improvements at scale. Companies can serve as positive examples for other power players in the international economy, implementing solutions at multiple levels.
- Companies creating sustainable initiatives in the private sector could inspire their teams to live environmentally responsible lifestyles even after they clock out. With proof that sustainability is possible, individuals might have more faith in their abilities to go green.
8 Ways to Build a More Sustainable Workplace
Sustainability in the workplace is arguably more important than ever before—but how do you create an environmentally responsible company, or reform an existing brand? Let’s explore eight tactics on how to be more sustainable to support your business’s green efforts.
#1 Tackle Energy Use
Energy use is a major consideration for businesses trying to create a more sustainable workplace. If you’re looking to inject some sustainability into your energy profile, consider the following steps:
#2 Implement Recycling
If your business isn’t already recycling, this is an excellent place to gain some ground on sustainability. Here’s why:
- Recycling is a well-established sustainability program, and countless educational resources are available to inform your staff and leadership about its importance.
- Recycling supplies like bins and printed literature can help you easily jump-start a program—and municipalities usually provide these resources for free.
- Recycling is relatively simple—instead of diverting recyclable waste to your trash receptacles, simply direct them toward recycling bins and other collection solutions.
For newcomers to the sustainability movement, or who need some initial momentum to build stakeholder buy-in, recycling is an excellent place to start. Learning how to recycle paper and other paper products is much simpler than people realize, and is easy to adopt in the workplace.
#3 Examine Your Paper Products
Once your recycling program is off the ground, look at the supplies you use to keep your facility moving every day—paper products like toilet paper and paper towels are one example.
Traditional toilet paper production alone has a larger environmental impact than you might expect. Each year, the toilet paper industry harvests nearly 10,000,000 trees.3 Healthy forests typically hold around 50 trees per acre, and at the above harvest rate, toilet paper alone requires 200,000 acres (the size of every New York City borough combined) of forest each year.
Luckily, there are alternatives on the market, like bamboo toilet paper and recycled paper towels. Consider greener replacements like these as you assess the environmental impact of your paper products and the other materials crucial for everyday operations.
#4 Create Commuting Incentives
Your team likely burns a lot of fuel to travel to work—especially if everyone is taking their own commuter vehicle.
To promote sustainability, offer incentives (like bonuses, stipends, or other rewards) for greener commuting options, like:
- Biking or walking
- Using alternative fuel vehicles like electric cars, hybrids, or hydrogen-powered FCEVs
If you have the budget, manpower, and scale, you may also consider offer commuting opportunities for your team, like:
- A managed carpooling program
- Passenger vans for pickups and dropoffs
- Paid public transit cards (which your municipality may offer at a discount for businesses)
These efforts could reduce the carbon footprint your employees make just to commute to work and return home.
#5 Embrace the Water Cooler
If you offer single-use plastic water bottles to teammates or clients, this is an opportunity to implement a more sustainable alternative, like a water cooler. Consider the sustainable benefits of switching from single-use plastics:
- As of 2022, Americans without reusable bottles use about 13 single-use plastic water bottles each month.4
- By switching to a reusable container and filling up from a water fountain or water cooler, an individual could save an average of 156 plastic bottles each year.
- Even if you supply water to a team of just 10 employees, you could reduce your office’s water bottle use by over 1,500 bottles each year.
Consider installing a water fountain and supplying your team and clients with a branded reusable bottle. You’ll reduce your business’s plastic use and promote your brand name simultaneously—a win for the planet and your marketing department.
#6 Green-ify Your Product
Everyday needs like office supplies, refreshments, and energy are ripe for sustainability improvements. But so is your product or the service you offer.
You generally have two routes to explore to make your offer more environmentally friendly:
Making the product itself more sustainable by:
- Using more eco-friendly materials and packaging
- Ensuring that your product is recyclable
- Creating a product that provides green benefits, like reusable water bottles
- Fueling your operations with renewable energy
- Significantly reducing your waste
- Improving efficiency or output
These two avenues deserve articles of their own, but they’re an excellent place to explore and implement sustainable solutions.
#7 Educate Your Office
Your team needs to buy into the sustainability initiatives you want to pursue. But employees may be unlikely to become invested in the process if they don’t understand why they should participate.
Before implementing any solutions, educate your team on two topics:
- The importance of sustainability for the planet’s health
- The potential positive impact of your upcoming workplace initiatives
Most importantly, provide an incentive for employees to participate—offer a bonus for attending provided informational sessions or some other reward for becoming involved.
#8 Use Your Power for Good
In general, businesses have more power than individuals—that includes economic power, community influence, and a pull in local politics. Use that power for good to spread sustainable initiatives throughout your community and beyond by:
- Endorsing local, state, and federal representatives fighting for sustainability improvements in the business sector
- Attending or sponsoring sustainability education or activism initiatives in your area
- Pressuring your local chamber of commerce or local government authorities to make irreversible, climate-friendly changes to business regulations
Your brand has a voice—use it to promote sustainability outside of your facility’s four walls.
Introduce Sustainable Paper Products in the Workplace with Reel
Creating a sustainable workplace takes time, investment, and stakeholder buy-in. But the business sector is a crucial voice in the climate change conversation, and you have the power to make change within your brand, in the lives of your teammates, and in your community.
When you’re considering sustainable alternatives to office products, Reel is here to help. We offer tree-free, bamboo paper products that can take you one step closer to crushing your brand’s sustainability goals.
Instead of contributing to deforestation, invest in tangible change—try Reel’s bamboo-based paper products in your workplace.
- New Climate Institute. Corporate Climate Responsibility Monitor 2022. https://newclimate.org/sites/default/files/2022-06/CorporateClimateResponsibilityMonitor2022.pdf
- US Environmental Protection Agency. Learn About Sustainability. https://www.epa.gov/sustainability/learn-about-sustainability
- World Atlas. How Many Trees Does It Take to Make 1 Roll of Toilet Paper?. https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/how-many-trees-does-it-take-to-make-1-roll-of-toilet-paper.html
- Grand View Research. Reusable Water Bottle Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report. https://www.grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/reusable-water-bottle-market