How sustainability enhances employee wellbeing

Imagine walking into an office, your office, where the air feels and smells fresh, natural light floods the space, and plants bloom in your communal areas.

That sounds like a pretty awesome workplace to me.

Various studies have shown that improved air quality and natural elements in the office can boost cognitive function and productivity.

As organisations increasingly focus on their efforts on more sustainable practices, they are not only helping the planet, but also creating happier, healthier, and more joyful workplaces. 

Together, let’s explore how these greener practices can make a significant difference in workplace wellbeing and global environmental health.

Importance of environmental sustainability in the workplace

Environmental sustainability at work isn’t just about saving energy or reducing waste, although these are incredibly important; it’s about creating spaces that feel good to work in, too.

I was fortunate enough to get a tour around Kirkstall Forge (pictured) a short-while ago and it instantly became office goals for me.

The building’s cafe is full of real plants, all the offices have living walls, the windows are floor-to-ceiling so it’s flooded with light even on the dullest of days, and the roof has an abundance of open social space as well as its own solar panel farm.

Not only does this kind of design make you feel fresh, it has shown to improve air quality, enhance cognitive function, and ultimately, boost employee productivity.

Impact on employee wellbeing

The benefits of working in a sustainable environment are vast.

Recent studies have found that poor air quality and low ventilation rates in offices can significantly impact cognitive function, affecting employees' response times and their ability to focus. It might be a placebo but I think we all know how much less enjoyable and motivating it is in a space that feels ‘tired’. 

In addition, according to LabGov, incorporating natural elements in the workplace has been linked to a 15% increase in self-reported wellness and creativity, along with a 10% decrease in absenteeism.

Broadening the impact on climate change

I’m like a broken record when it comes to the “Me, We, and Us” model, but it's such a powerful way of framing the conversation about impact and who can make it.

Being more sustainable doesn’t have to be rocket science. It’s often the smallest of changes, when done by a lot of people, that can make the biggest difference. 

Me - Individual actions

We all have the power to leave the world better place than we found it through small changes. Employees can make a significant environmental impact through personal actions:

  • Energy efficiency: Switch off electronics and lights when not in use
  • Waste reduction: Use reusable containers and utensils, and participate actively in recycling programmes
  • Sustainable commuting: Utilise public transport, car sharing, cycling, running, or walking to work when possible.

An initiative that I recall hearing about a few years ago involved a firefighter who needed a way to quickly recycle batteries, so he started a collection at his station. Others began to use it, and before they knew it, it had progressed to glass, plastics, electronics, and the list just kept on growing.

It had become very much a team effort. 

We - Team and department initiatives

Speaking of team efforts, teams and departments can foster a culture of sustainability through a number of collective actions:

  • Green projects: Undertake departmental challenges like zero-waste weeks or energy-saving contests
  • Educational workshops: Organise training sessions to raise awareness about sustainability issues and how to mitigate them
  • Indoor environmental quality: Advocate for the use of non-toxic cleaning products and the maintenance of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems within departmental areas.

Team work makes the dream work, and when word gets around the rest of the organisation that you’re doing great things, others will quickly follow, turning it into an organisational effort.

Us - Organisational strategies

That was a cool segway.

Whilst often a slower ship to turn than individuals and teams, organisations can implement broader strategies to enhance sustainability:

  • Corporate advocacy: Influence environmental policies by supporting sustainability-focused legislation and initiatives like the B Corp Climate Collective or the UN Sustainable Development Goals
  • Green procurement: Commit to purchasing environmentally friendly products and services from providers who can prove their credentials
  • Employee engagement: Create incentives for employees to participate in sustainability programmes and provide feedback on policies
  • Continuous improvement: Regularly review and refine sustainability practices and identify certifications that are important to your sector, employees, customers, and of course, the planet.

Organisations really do have the power to facilitate change at scale. The old saying “when you want to go fast, go alone, but when you want to go far, go together” rings true here (I have no idea who to credit).

Starting with small but meaningful actions, like reviewing your supply chain, can make waves in sustainability.

Conclusion

By integrating these green strategies at various levels, businesses not only enhance their internal operations but also contribute significantly to global environmental goals. Plus, let’s face it, there are clear financial incentives for turning your lights and equipment off when possible, too. 

The collaborative effort from individuals to the organisation as a whole can lead to substantial improvements in workplace wellbeing, climate change mitigation, and positioning the organisation as an employer of choice.

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