Working practices in a green economy – achieving green credentials 

March, 2022 - Shoosmiths LLP

As the world becomes ever more focussed on environmental and climate change issues, so businesses are increasingly concentrating on whether their people are working in ways that best achieve the green credentials many organisations now aspire to.


Employment practices and policies can be adjusted or altered in ways that will help organisations positively contribute towards lessening their environmental impact. Benefits of doing so go beyond just helping the planet; increasingly, prospective employees or customers will make choices that consider how well organisations they are engaging with are tackling environmental and climate change issues. Organisations that can demonstrate an environmentally responsible approach to the way their people work might find that doing so is also good for business!


In this article we consider some of the areas where organisations might consider making changes to their employment policies and practices in ways that could help to reduce their environmental impact.


Encouraging employees to use less (or use it better!)

Many employers are increasingly well placed to reduce their reliance on paper and other consumables such as stationary, printer ink and so on. Businesses should consider where they can reduce or eliminate their physical paper processes by moving document creation, management, and storage to digital processes instead.


Where better to start than at the beginning of an individual’s employment? Many employers recognise they can avoid printing physical contracts of employment and lengthy policy documents with the wider and more accepted usage of electronic signatures allowing the same process to be carried out by signing contracts digitally rather than “in ink”, and by presenting staff policies and procedures online.


As well as cutting down on raw material usage, employers who engage these practices will find they may have a reduced need for physical storage space but also, searching for and sharing documents may be easier in the future. Whilst the initial investment in establishing and maintaining digital systems and backups may put some organisations off, considering the cost savings on physical space and printing it becomes a lot more cost effective in the longer term. Organisations could also go a step further by putting in place policies on the use of paper in their working environments for members of staff and only sanctioning the use of paper where the same effect could not be achieved digitally.


Recycling

Businesses will still have a need to consume items and implementing a recycling plan with visible recycling points and encouraging staff to be mindful of what they can and cannot recycle can making it easier for employees to consume items in ways that have less of an environmental impact.


As office equipment is updated or replaced, businesses should also consider donating surplus items to charities so that it can be reused in a sustainable way.


Work patterns and travel

One of the benefits the pandemic has bought is to allow many businesses to realise that they can operate without employees always travelling to and from, and attending, a place of work when they can in many cases work effectively fully or partially from home. This has presented organisations with opportunities to create new ways of working and has led to widespread implementation of hybrid working policies offering a mix of remote working and attendance at the workplace.


Cutting down on travel time and costs, with the ability to operate smaller or more flexible workplaces (with less space to heat and supply with electricity, water etc) has allowed businesses the opportunity to show positive contributions towards cutting their carbon emissions. However, it has also presented new challenges to businesses, with the importance of clear planning and communication with staff being more important than ever. Whilst increased flexibility presents related benefits for employees (lower commuting costs, better work life balance etc), employers need to be alive to the potential risks too, such as reduced team morale or potential stress and anxiety arising from more isolated working conditions. It is important that employers take steps to manage and support employees wherever they work.


Embracing ESG

Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) is becoming a common topic amongst business leaders and many businesses have been keen to find ways in which they can create environmentally friendly policies and opportunities for their staff members, which in turn can support ESG goals.


Employee travel schemes are proving popular. With more vehicle manufacturers increasing their range of electric vehicles, employees are increasingly encouraged to take advantage of running electric vehicles through an employer’s e-vehicle scheme and organisations are now installing vehicle charging points at the place of work. Cycle to work schemes, offering employees a tax efficient way of acquiring a bike to cycle in and out of work, can further contribute towards offsetting carbon footprints and schemes like this are often supplemented by businesses partnering up with cycle manufactures and/or offering cycle racks for employees to bring their own bikes into work. Some employers have also introduced a formal scheme or mechanism to enable employees to share a lift to work with colleagues thereby reducing the number of employees who are driving for work purposes.


Another aspect of ESG is to focus on the community in which an organisation operates and to support initiatives within that community. Allowing employees to volunteer on community projects or contribute to local sustainability initiatives will also be an important element in a business achieving green credentials.


Embedding new working practices

Organisations who aspire to create more green ways of working have many ways in which their working practices can make a positive contribution to their environmental goals. Employers should consider how best to communicate their environmental aims and strategies and will need to ensure they communicate clearly to employees in a way that encourages them to get behind the initiatives. Having senior leaders living the values and upholding the organisation’s sustainability goals is a must, as is creating managerial positions to support those goals, such as a sustainability manager.


There is much that HR teams can do to achieve this; for example, reviewing and updating contractual terms and policies, devising and delivering training about sustainability practices, and offering employees choices and opportunities that help them to contribute to their employer’s efforts. Building sustainability objectives and targets into annual performance reviews, promotion criteria or bonus awards will also help to embed the message across the organisation. Key to making a greener organisation is its people and every job will ultimately need to become ‘green’ in the sense that it contributes however indirectly to the fight against climate change. The more that businesses can take staff on that journey with them, the more likely businesses are to succeed in achieving green credentials.


 



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