Reaching sustainability goals within the workplace

Linda Hausmanis, CEO of the IWFM, discusses the opportunity to put sustainability at the centre of the ‘Build Back better’ agenda

The Covid-19 pandemic has turned the global perception of the workplace on its head. The mass transition of huge swathes of the workforce to a home working set up has raised much debate as to the value of a physical office space – and caused employees and employers alike to embrace an evolving concept of the workplace as more than a simple 9-5 destination.

As we settle into the ‘new normal’ and look ahead to the future, much has been made of the need to ‘build back better’: taking action towards more ethical businesses and a fairer, equitable, more inclusive and sustainable society. Even before the crisis hit, the sustainability agenda had begun to move on considerably. Increased media and public attention on environmental challenges led many councils to declare a climate emergency, millions of people to take part in global climate strikes, and the government to pass legislation committing the country to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Businesses swiftly followed, with many setting their own science-based targets to achieve net zero emissions, and putting in place new, long-term sustainability strategies.

The crisis has only acted to accelerate these trends. The unprecedented economic shutdown presented a silver lining in the form of a positive effect on environmental conditions and pollution levels – and the experience firmly proved that dramatic behavioural changes can be achieved at scale. The monumental shift in attitudes, approaches and expectations mean sustainability in the workplace is set to remain firmly on the agenda, even as the crisis passes. In laying plans for future workplaces, organisations must therefore consider sustainability of utmost importance.

With buildings accounting for approximately 40 per cent of global energy demand, it is not surprising that most workplace and facilities managers in the UK already take responsibility for sustainability within their organisations and have done so for many years. The recently launched IWFM Sustainability Survey 2020 in partnership with Inenco found that an increased number of FM professionals see sustainability as ‘extremely important’ to the organisation compared to 2018. These professionals are uniquely placed to make a difference to the sustainability agenda because they are the glue in organisations, marrying the needs of owners, occupiers and the supply chain to create energy efficient, productive and pleasant workplaces.

Workplace and facilities managers are already on the frontline of reducing carbon emissions from the built environment. This includes making more effective decisions regarding heating and air conditioning, lighting and building insulation. With more than a third of CO2 emissions linked to our homes and workplaces, simple actions such as turning off lights when you leave a room and recycling where possible are as of much importance at work as they are at home.

However, as increased demand for flexible working begins to shift the role of the traditional office space, it’s important that organisations recognise sustainable and ethically run workplaces extend far beyond just the built environment. Employees increasingly expect their employers to set an example in sustainable living, embedding sustainability goals into the heart of any organisation. Workplace and facilities managers play a critical role in establishing these strategies and creating positive environments that will attract and retain the strongest talent.

Encouraging behaviour change
It’s also important to note that the sustainability agenda goes beyond just environmental challenges to include economic and social impact. Applying the full sustainability agenda ensures a full, holistic impact of the workplace. The IWFM Sustainability Survey 2020 revealed there has been a huge rise in the perceived importance of social value (articulating the value of sustainability impacts in economic, social and environmental areas, particularly locally) and wellbeing in recent years, with areas such as equality and diversity and training forming a key part of organisations’ sustainability strategies. We’ve already begun to see more businesses establish initiatives that encourage behaviour change; from food and nutrition advice to mindfulness and volunteering. The rising number of employees working remotely has arguably accelerated the importance of such activities as organisations realise responsibility for employee well-being does not stop at the office door. Indeed, our recent survey revealed that over two-thirds of respondents believe their sustainability policies and targets will change as a result of the pandemic – with increased emphasis placed on areas such as remote working, travel, wellbeing and video conferencing facilities.

As we move towards the future and begin to lay plans for the future structure of our workplaces, it is critical that organisations take sustainability and social values seriously, if they are to attract and retain the best talent. Workplace and facilities managers are representatives for change and hold the key to driving forward ways in which office spaces can continue to adapt, with the aim of becoming more productive and sustainable in a post-Covid world. Organisations that fail to recognise the role sustainability plays in the workplace, risk long-term reputational damage – and decision makers must consider it as a core working practice and policy if they are to thrive in a post-pandemic world.

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