20 Tips for Promoting Sustainability in the Workplace

Melina Theodorou
Melina Theodorou

Career and Culture Writer

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

Illustration of people working in an office decorated with plants

­­­­Environmental sustainability has been gaining more and more momentum over the years, thanks to the likes of Greta Thunberg and the army of climate activists marching on her side.

As the world is finally catching on, an increasing number of companies is taking inspiring measures to eliminate their environmental footprint and transform into ecologically conscious businesses.

Feeling inspired? There are many green practices you could also introduce to your workplace and turn it into a sustainable environment. From green spaces to composting and going paperless, this list of tips will give you some ideas on how you can make your office more sustainable.

1. Ban disposable products

According to Plastic Oceans, we produce 380 million tons of plastic every year, half of which is meant for single-use and 10 million of which end up in our oceans.

By removing disposable products from the workplace and encouraging employees to invest in reusable alternatives, not only will you reduce the number of plastic waste in the workplace, but you could also save a lot of money from your operational budget.

Instead of using disposable products in the office, provide employees with sustainable alternatives like water flasks, cloth napkins and reusable cutlery. You could also use compostable and biodegradable trash bags as well as recycled paper towels.

2. Introduce green initiatives

With carbon dioxide emissions hitting a record-breaking high, sustainability initiatives are as important as ever.

Depending on the size of your organization, there are different things you could do to tackle this. For example, you could take part in a local tree-planting project or organize your own beach clean-ups. Allocating an annual budget to donate to environmental organizations is also a good idea.

If you want to keep your employees positively engaged within the workplace, too, you could introduce a “Green Employee” award and set different challenges for them. This will definitely encourage everyone to step up their sustainability game.

Companies with larger operations can also partake in carbon offset schemes in a bid to eliminate their emissions and even attain a carbon-neutral status. This is achieved by investing in environmental initiatives such as clean energy projects. However, this is not exclusive to big companies, as SMEs and even individuals can also get involved.

3. Create a recycling program

Try as you may, eliminating office waste is quite challenging — which is why having an effective recycling scheme in place is also necessary. Start by assessing what usually gets thrown away and what can be recycled, and allocate different bins for different materials. You could start with paper, plastic and metal, before moving on to other things such as ink cartridges and electronics.

The thing about recycling is that it’s crucial that you only dispose of recyclable. So, reach out to your municipal waste management service to find out what they can and cannot recycle at their facilities. Clearly labelling each bin and the contents that can go in it will also make your office recycling program more effective.

On another note, recycling is often deemed as a last option, rather than a beaming solution for plastic waste. So, while it’s a necessary step to achieve sustainability in the workplace, eliminating plastic use altogether is the most environmentally sound route to take.

4. Go digital

The average office worker in the US goes through roughly 10,000 sheets of paper each year.

One of the biggest perks of living in a digital world is that we can divert a large sum of paper usage by keeping documents and products digitalized.

By opting to keep documents such as briefs, minutes from meetings and reports digitalized, you could significantly cut down on paper use. This switch won’t only reduce operating costs but could also make information more accessible to your team, while also keeping important data safe in your server rather than a filing cabinet.

Meanwhile, the paper that is used at the office could be easily recycled. Plus, opting for double-sided printing will cut your paper usage by half.

5. Invest in renewable energy

While going digital is a great way to reduce the use of paper at work, the fact remains that this can increase energy usage and, subsequently, carbon emissions — especially in the case of an energy-intensive office. But fear not, because investing in clean energy can resolve this conundrum.

While this might be a bigger leap, transitioning into renewable energy to power your office has multiple benefits, including lowering your energy bills significantly. And while the initial investment can be high, you’ll certainly get a good run for your money in the long run.

This could also improve your brand image and contribute to your marketing efforts, which could also lead to a bigger influx of customers. All the while, this will minimize your workplace’s carbon footprint.

6. Reduce business travel

Business travel is a fairly traditional concept that comes with running a company. However, from transatlantic flights to cross-country trips and taxi rides to meetings and conferences, business travel accounts for high amounts of CO2 emissions.

Oftentimes, there are easier and far more environmentally friendly options. Going digital doesn’t just entail eliminating printing and becoming a paperless workplace. Indeed, some business travel can be easily avoided with a simple video call.

Other ways to eliminate carbon footprint include choosing more sustainable modes of transportation, such as trains, for shorter trips. In the cases that business travel isn’t avoidable, however, your company could neutralize its carbon emissions through a carbon offsetting program.

7. Encourage green commuting

Looking past the traffic jams, road rage and stress that driving to work can cause, it also contributes significantly to carbon emissions in the atmosphere. Walking and biking to work, on the other hand, are much healthier options in every aspect.

Carpooling with coworkers could also be a feasible option and could halve your team’s carbon footprint significantly. Plus, it could make the daily drive to and from work a bit less dull. If you have the budget, you could take a page out of Google’s book and go as far as offering bus shuttle services to your employees.

8. Switch to Ecosia

By using Ecosia, your staff can plant trees through their online searches. Indeed, Ecosia uses ad revenue from its browser to aid reforestation efforts around the world. With every search, you can bring it one step — or, rather, one tree — closer to planting 1 billion trees by 2030.

All you have to do is install Ecosia’s free browser extension on Chrome and set your default search engine to Ecosia, and you’re good to go!

9. Create green spaces

Having green spaces at work has countless benefits. Not only can it increase employee wellness and productivity, but it can also improve air quality and temperature. Indeed, there are numerous plants that naturally filter the air from toxins and can lower a room’s temperature by as much as 10 degrees. This could mean using less energy to cool your office.

On another note, you could also make your workplace more sustainable by planting bee-friendly plants outside. Whether it’s the roof, a window seal, a parking spot or a proper garden, you can make the most out of the available space at your workplace. Just look at the Netherlands who turned their bus stops into green havens for bumblebees.

10. Do meat-free Mondays

Research shows that keeping meat off the menu just once a week can go a long way when it comes to the environment. In fact, a family of four going meat-free once a week has the same environmental impact as removing 16 million cars off the road.

If your office has a cafeteria or offers catered meals, then you could join the meat-free Mondays movement and offer plant-based options to your employees.

Encouraging staff to partake in meat-free Mondays (or any other day of the week) could create a team effort in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

11. Reduce food waste

It’s estimated that nearly one-third of the world’s food is wasted every year.

At the office, you can help reduce food waste by repurposing leftovers. In fact, it can be used to produce biogas, compost and even animal feed.

First things first, you need to set up a proper disposal system that will divide food waste from general waste. You could opt to send waste to commercial composting or an anerobic digestion facility, or even try on-site composting. This will require a little more commitment on your part, but it could prove to be a great initiative for your workplace!

12. Be energy efficient

Using energy-efficient alternatives is a great way to promote sustainability in the workplace.

Starting with LED lamps, you would be choosing a far more durable, ecologically conscious and cost-efficient option for your office. In fact, LEDs can last up to 25 times longer, using only a fraction of the energy that conventional incandescent lightbulbs do.

Having light timers installed in the office could also help conserve energy, especially in common areas such as break rooms and restrooms.

Meanwhile, investing in energy-efficient computers is also a great initiative, especially if your company is energy-intensive and largely depends on electronic devices.

13. Host training workshops

While implementing sustainable initiatives at work is crucial, engaging your team with these objectives can be a whole different story. Without proper awareness and positive engagement, your green goals are very likely to flunk.

This is why receiving proper training regarding sustainability and environmental initiatives is equally important. Encouraging the professional development and education of your team regarding these issues won’t only help you make sustainability at work a success, but it could also give everyone an idea on how they can integrate these practices into their day-to-day lives too.

14. Hold your partners accountable

When it comes to business, sustainability can be achieved in different ways. For instance, your partners and suppliers and their own practices and values can affect your sustainable objectives, whether in a good or bad way. This is especially true for larger businesses with wider operations that have a significantly higher impact on the environment.

Holding your key stakeholders up to certain standards regarding ethics and sustainability, then, is equally important to implement other targets within the realms of your company.

15. Establish green values

Outlining your green values could help you encapsulate all your objectives as a business and encourage your team to take sustainability seriously. If you’re set on introducing sustainable practices in the workplace, integrating them into a comprehensible list will help make your pursuit easier.

A good way to make these values even more purposeful is to align them with your company’s stated mission.

16. Encourage remote work

With the World Health Organization having declared an end to COVID-19 as a global health emergency, employers are backtracking on their flexible work policies. Despite workers’ unwavering interest in remote opportunities, remote jobs are on the decline.

Companies who care about sustainable working, however, should consider allowing their employees to work from home at least some of the time. Sticking to a home office setting means not contributing to the crazy amount of cars on the streets during rush hour.

An added bonus is that you’ll be sparing your team the stress that comes from sitting in a car or on packed public transport. This can positively impact their wellbeing!

17. Evaluate your supply chain

What good will your efforts be to reduce energy consumption in the office if your partners don’t employ the same practices? When choosing who you work with, try and select suppliers that are transparent about what energy sources they’re using and how they’re sourcing their materials.

It’s a good idea to communicate your expectations with your suppliers and even ask them to fill in relevant questionnaires and surveys for you.

18. Switch to deforestation-free paper

Going completely paperless may not be a realistic sustainability goal to set for your company. Where you do end up using paper, however, you can choose deforestation-free sheets over ones whose origins you don’t know.

Using recycled paper or hemp-based paper is also a great eco-friendly solution. Hemp-based paper specifically lasts a lot longer than wood pulp paper and doesn’t crack or turn yellow. This means it’s excellent for record keeping and putting up permanent notices around your space.

19. Give back to your community

Promoting sustainability in the workplace doesn’t have to be confined to your office space. You can set up volunteering days throughout the year and give back to both the people and the environment in your area.

For example, you could ask your employees to collect unwanted items, such as shoes and clothing, and donate them to your local charity shop. Or you could install bird boxes or plant a wildflower bed outside your space. This can benefit biodiversity in your area.

If you and your team do a brainstorming session together, you’ll realize there are many ways you can promote sustainability in and out of the office.

20. Participate in Earth Hour

Earth Hour was established in Australia in 2007 and saw some 2 million people and 2,000 companies join in on a stance against climate change. Since then, it’s grown into a global movement, taking place each year on March 23 between 8:30pm and 9:30pm.

If you’re striving to achieve a more sustainable workplace, it’s a good idea to turn off all non-essential lights during that hour. And if your business doesn’t operate during that time, it’s important to encourage your employees to do so at home.

Final thoughts

Everyone can make a positive impact with their actions, and when a business is actively pursuing sustainable practices, this can transform the workplace for the better. The going might be challenging at first, but your green initiatives could leave your team all the more inspired and engaged, if not also a little more conscious of their environmental impact.

Do you have any sustainability tips for the workplace? Share them with us in the comments section below!

Originally published on April 4, 2020. Updated by Electra Michaelidou.