Four corporate sustainability typologies: which are you?
New ways of working can impact and improve sustainability initiatives in four key ways: by helping people to work more flexibly, addressing employee demands around climate action, affecting commuting patterns and encouraging the adoption of new behaviours, finds research by customer contact solutions company Moneypenny and knowledge network WORKTECH Academy.
According to the research, the new hybrid landscape of work means an organisation’s sustainability effort cannot only be centered around optimising offices to be more energy efficient. There must be greater focus on empowering and educating people to drive sustainable, long-term change in whatever location they are working. Sustainable practices must adapt and evolve.
Many employers are now considering making flexible working a permanent solution as part of forging a more sustainable future following their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. They are encouraging their employees to ask themselves if they need to travel to work, and if so, how they can do it most effectively and sustainably, according to the research.
Meanwhile employees are not only concerned about issues such as climate change on a personal level but they also want to feel that their employers are aligned with their values and actively taking action. In 2020 a Disrupt Design survey of 2,000 UK workers found 72% of multigenerational respondents concerned about environmental ethics. Yet 83% of workers said their workplaces were not doing enough to address climate change, while almost two-thirds (65%) said that they were more likely to work for a company with strong environmental policies. Climate change, human rights and social equity are all issues of growing importance, especially for millennial employees, who now make up the majority of the workforce, found the survey.
Organisations can also encourage employees to transition from private vehicles to more sustainable modes of transport through subsidy and monetary incentives, says the Moneypenny research. Mobility budgets are increasing in popularity, with some countries such as Belgium introducing them into law.
Perhaps most importantly, however, is employee ownership of sustainability. A study by Harvard Business Review found that companies winning the sustainability campaign have created the conditions for their employees to own sustainability. Allowing employees a sense of ownership of sustainability initiatives can lead to greater job satisfaction, engagement and productivity. However, only 35% of people agree that managers understand that operating in an environmentally friendly way is part of their job.
“Business leaders and senior executives play a critical role in enabling employees to own sustainability practices within an organisation,” says the Moneypenny research. “Research has identified the top five practices considered most effective to encourage employees to be pro-environmental: internal awareness campaigns, senior management actions, the use of green champions, educational programs and informal encouragement by line managers.”
The company has identified four corporate sustainability typologies:
Placemakers firmly place the responsibility to lead sustainability initiatives with the organisation’s leadership and use the office building as their canvas to display their green credentials. They’re more likely to occupy green buildings, adopt smart technology, install recycling facilities, employ energy-efficient design and introduce sustainable transport provisions to improve their environmental impact on the world.
Example: Companies adopting this approach frequently build new buildings, such as Google’s campus in London’s King’s Cross, which has provision for more than 600 bicycles compared to four car parking spaces, solar panels on the roof, motorised timber blinds on the outside of the building to keep direct sunlight out and is designed with renewable materials.
Changemakers believe in the power of peer influence to activate change within the office. While still largely office-based change-makers will use the ‘return to office’ window of opportunity to encourage employees to modify behaviours in the workplace.
Example: Pharmaceutical company Genentech has named its green team the ‘Green Genes’. In its goal to educate and empower employees to be more sustainable, the company sponsors monthly guest speakers, holds movie nights focusing on sustainability issues and hosts an annual eco-party. It also introduced composting to its cafeteria and saved $200,000 a year by replacing plastic water bottles with filtered water machines.
Choicegivers are organisations that use new ways of working and flexible work policies to promote more sustainable choices by employees beyond the office walls, rather than company-mandated policies. This typology is driven by recent research which found that following the pandemic people increasingly want to move to greener areas which encourage environmentally responsible behaviour. Employees have autonomy to work anywhere and make green choices for themselves, including outside the office – such as working from home to reduce their carbon footprint through reduced travel.
Example: Printing firm Xerox Design allowed 8,000 of its 27,000 employees to work remotely full-time, resulting in its employees driving 92 million fewer miles and saving 4.6 million gallons of fuel, cutting CO₂ emissions by almost 41,000 metric tons annually.
Arbitrators are organisations that extend sustainability beyond the office building but step in to make more sustainable decisions in the home and community on behalf of their workforce – in effect, arbitrating for their own employees when it comes to green issues. These organisations understand that, even if fewer people work from the office every day, they still have a degree of corporate responsibility for their employees – and they are likely to offer subsidised transport and smart home energy solutions for employees as well as to run community-minded green initiatives.
Example: Sustainable clothing company Patagonia recognises the importance of political action on the environment. It has made voting for eco-friendly political leaders a cornerstone of its sustainability message. Patagonia has a self-imposed Earth tax of 1% for the planet which provides support to environmental non-profits working to defend the air, land and water around the globe.
“What is important to recognise is that the four typologies of a sustainable organisation are not mutually exclusive,” says Moneypenny CEO Joanna Swash. “For example Moneypenny has traits in all four. A placemaker because our HQ was built with environmental goals in mind, a changemaker because of our eco-pennies employee-led sustainable living group, which shaped our HQ and so much more since then. We are also classed as a choice-giver as we invested in technology to make hybrid working a viable and successful option, and also an arbitrator, as we are engaging with the wider community and choosing to offset our UK carbon emissions.”