Five ways to make the workplace more eco-friendly
By Kinga Polewka-Włoch, attorney-at-law, lawyer; and Karolina Karpińska, lawyer, PCS Paruch Chruściel Schiffter Stępień Kanclerz | Littler
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) together with Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) have been the hottest topics in HR and business world in the recent years. The idea behind them is that companies should consider the social and environmental implications as well as the economic aspects of running a business. Companies wanting to make a positive impact put this idea into action, including investments in human resources, employee and customer relations and environmental protection.
Employer’s CSR and ESG profiles are an important aspect considered by job-seekers, especially in those fields of business where the labour market remains tilted in employees’ favour. According to the 2020 report by Unily, a corporate intranet provider, 83% of employees claim that their employer isn’t doing enough for the environment. That number clearly shows how important those matters have become lately, not only from the employer branding perspective, but also for the company PR in general. There are, of course, many more reasons to take the pro-social and pro-environmental approach, but the most significant yet simple one is that the environment and the society can directly benefit from it.
Therefore, becoming a ‘green employer’ is now a goal that many companies strive to achieve. But how to achieve it, exactly? There are ever so many options available, including numerous NGOs and companies dedicated specially to helping businesses become more eco-friendly. Here are five ideas for employers wondering where to begin their journey towards sustainability and social consciousness.
1. Supporting eco-friendly transport
An employer can encourage their employees to use sustainable forms of transport and support them in doing so.
Depending on the workplace location and available means of transport, there are many options to choose from. One of them is encouraging employees to use public transport, cycle or even walk to work instead of driving by car. This is especially popular in big cities, where sustainable means of transport are more accessible. The motivation is usually financial, for example, an employer might fund the preferred means of transport or reward employees who use them most frequently by cinema tickets, gift cards, etc. The latter solution, if implemented thoughtfully, can yield even better results, as adding a bit of competitive spirit to the mix can work wonders. The employer can also contribute by making it easier for employees to use green transport by adjusting working time schedules or introducing more flexibility. This way, employees who commute to work by other means than the car can start their work exactly when they arrive instead of having to start early because of inconvenient commute schedules or being late in case of public transport delays.
Employees might also show their own initiative concerning more eco-friendly commuting. A good example of such initiative is carpooling, when a group of people is riding in one car instead of everyone driving their own vehicles. Carpooling has already been popular in the past, when considerably fewer people had their own cars, and is now making a big comeback. An employer can support this initiative by helping employees to find carpooling buddies and/or financing carpooling costs.
Applying this solution not only has a positive impact on the environment by lowering gas emission, but also on the employees’ health, both physical and mental, by keeping them more active and encouraging their social interactions. Not to mention a practical side effect: they save money! Both the employer and the employees can make considerable savings on fuel costs, parking space rental costs, etc.
2. Green company fleet
Another option for championing more sustainable means of transport by businesses is having a green company fleet. Converting to electric or hybrid vehicles is currently one of the hottest business trends. According to 2020 survey by an online fleet-management platform Vimcar, 34% of Europe-based respondents have already upgraded their fleet with some form of alternative fuel technology, while 62% consider introducing them by 2023.
3. Flexible working
The next step to becoming a green employer is to implement remote or hybrid working.
The pandemic resulted in the biggest-ever expansion of flexible working arrangements. For some employers, implementing remote or hybrid work has been a challenge. Also, not all jobs can be carried out remotely. Nonetheless, the number of employees working remotely has increased significantly since the pandemic began. And now, employees don’t want to give up the flexibility.
An employer who wants to introduce flexible working arrangement must keep in mind the requirements of the domestic law and analyse both the benefits and risks of the planned solutions. It is also a good idea to listen to what employees have to say about it and, for example, carry out an employee survey. Those employers who do not want to implement full-scale remote working can still choose from a variety of in-between solutions, such as hybrid work or remote working on selected days only.
Flexible solutions can help reduce electricity, water and heating consumption in large offices and cut the commute down. This, in turn, results in burning less fossil fuel responsible for smog and air pollution.
4. Eco-friendly benefits system
Having an eco-friendly benefit system is a popular indicator of how ‘green’ an employer is. The system rewards employees who take part in eco-conscious volunteer activities with benefits.
Many employees would like to engage in some form of volunteering but a full-time work can prevent it, as volunteering activities often take place during the workday. A socially conscious employer can help with this.
One option is to grant employees Volunteer Time Off (VTO), which is a paid day off for volunteering. This would allow employees to fully engage for good causes without having to give up a full day’s remuneration. The employer can introduce VTO into the paid leave plan to keep track of employees’ volunteering days off. Taking part in such activities can also be rewarded by an employer, for example, by giving additional days off to employees who decide to take part in rubbish collection on their free days, or offering financial bonus for adopting an animal.
Offering benefits to employees for eco-friendly behaviour will motivate them to do more good for our planet. It can also be a great boost for employee soft skills, especially by encouraging personal growth and connectedness to other people and nature.
5. Ecological education
Some employees may not be aware that they can make a difference. The employer’s role here could be to educate employees, helping them discover what they can do to protect the environment. An employer can organise training for employees. It may be carried out by an outside expert on environmental education, who will show employees practical ways to help environment both at home and at work. The market for such services is growing and it it’s becoming easier to find the right specialist.
A good way to spread eco-awareness can be sending e-mails with eco tips to employees. An employer may organise some sort of newsletter so that employees will regularly receive ecology news and tips to protect and care for the environment. At the office, green lifestyle can be promoted by putting eco-conscious posters or quotes in visible places, which can also be a nice way to perk up the workplace.
Those solutions can make employees more aware of environmental problems and mobilise their support in this area. And this can reassure employees that their employer is not ignorant about the world around and give them a common sense of purpose.
An employer who wants to create an eco-friendly workplace has plenty options to choose from (and the list above is just the tip of the iceberg). When doing so, however, they should take a careful approach to legal and tax issues, because introducing the above measures require proper organisation. This may look different in every jurisdiction as domestic legislation does not always provide clear and straightforward regulations on this matter, but in most cases proposing appropriate procedures or changes to the company’s existing regulation will be required to introduce the preferred initiatives successfully, compliantly and transparently.
The effect will be worth the effort put into choosing the right options and working on implementing them. It can positively affect the atmosphere at work and will be positively viewed by employees, candidates, clients and contractors.