How do office practices impact climate?
Corporate environmental responsibility (CER), also known as “green CSR”, aims to reduce the impact of business operations on the environment. Having a green office can help reduce energy consumption, waste, and CO2 emissions; improve the organisation’s supply chain to a more eco-responsible one while supporting green initiatives. Among other benefits, it raises staff awareness, inspires, and encourages other organisations to engage in environmental stewardship.
Why are organisations’ actions important?
Each organisation can take measures to reduce its offices’ carbon and environmental footprint. Computers, heating, air conditioning, commuting, office cleaning – all these aspects of office life matter.
Individual staff initiatives are essential. They should be supported, encouraged and institutionalised by their organisation. However, they are not sufficient to achieve significant and rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions across the organisation. All departments must be involved and accountable (operations, procurement, IT, HR, premises).
Why is this a key issue for the aid sector?
To better serve the world’s most vulnerable people that the aid sector is helping, there is a collective responsibility to mitigate climate change and environmental degradation. It requires the aid sector to walk the talk, to lead by example and to take the necessary steps to reduce its climate and environmental footprint, both at organisational and operational levels.
In addition, the majority of headquarters and offices are located in high-income countries, which emit much more and have done so for much longer than low-income countries, providing an even greater incentive to act.
Finally, an organisation asking its staff to green their practices or to advocate strongly for more climate action without taking action itself demonstrates a lack of coherence and integrity, which can be counterproductive for staff engagement and for the organisation’s image.
How can we act?
Green office practices are countless, easy to implement and visible to all. They start with small actions that can be replicated throughout the organisation. They extend from soft mobility commuting, reducing and recycling waste, saving water and energy, increasing lifespan of furniture and IT equipment, offering low-carbon food choices, etc.
What are the gains?
Improving offices’ practices, along with engaging and training staff in greening the organisation, can lead to a more motivated, productive and dynamic workforce that give importance and value to good ethics and corporate responsibility. Green office practices also offer opportunities to save money for the organisation, associated with energy savings or reduced travel. Committing to and encouraging a sustainable approach can also improve an organisation’s image, inspire its network and help some organisations – such as aid organisations – to secure additional funding from donors.
Paper recycling can avoid 390,000 tons of CO2 emissions/year equivalent to the annual emissions of 200,000 cars (2)
#1 Commute greener
- Allow and encourage remote work
- Promote soft mobility (walking, biking), cover part of cost of (e-) bikes
- Promote use of public transport, offer a public transport rebate (e.g. reimburse 50%)
- Promote carpooling, carsharing, develop a carpool system in your organisation, cover part of subscription for a carpooling app
#2 Eat greener & reduce food waste
- Provide reusable containers, bottles, mugs and cutlery in the kitchen or canteen
- Offer local, seasonal and organic food, less meat and diversified vegetarian options in canteen or events
- Introduce recycling and compost bins in the office
- Adopt a working policy to ban single-use plastics
- Avoid coffee machines that use capsules. Buy coffee, tea and sugar in bulk
- Offer drinking water (tap if possible) in the office
#3 Limit digital impact
- Raise staff awareness and promote best practices (number of emails, attachments, avoid the “reply all” when not essential)
- Prioritise the exchange of office documents on a shared platform, such as Clouds, One Drive, Google Drive, Teams, Slack
- Archive mails regularly (e.g. every 6 months)
- Opt for green data centres (PUE <1.5, no air conditioning)
- Preserve hardware performance – ensure good ventilation, clean regularly, keep hard drives defragmented, protect against power surges
- Optimise software usage – update software only when necessary, regularly uninstall unused software
#4 Make printing efficient
- Buy recycled paper, opt for reconditioned toner and ink cartridges
- Set all printers to eco-mode
- Introduce a maximum printing quota per employee
#5 Opt for eco-friendly furniture & equipment
- Use the logic: refuse, reduce, repair, reuse, recycle
- Avoid standardised renewal of equipment; renew only when the device becomes non-functional
- When purchasing electrical equipment (computers, coffee machines, refrigerators, printers), choose energy-efficient models
- Prioritise recycled, reconditioned, or second-hand furniture and equipment
- Repair devices
- Donate old or unused items to other organisations
#6 Save energy
- Reduce heating by 1 or 2°C, to be at 19°C on average
- Reduce air-conditioning
- Switch to LED light bulbs when old bulbs stop working
- Ban halogen lamps
- Install timer/motion light switches
- Switch to a 100% renewable energy supplier (use a price comparison website such as Big Clean Switch)
- Consider being certified as a sustainable office with the LEED-certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) (5)
#7 Save water & protect ecosystems
- Install a water-saving tap aerator
- Implement drip irrigation (which is efficient and cost-effective)
- Collect rainwater by installing water butts or rainwater recycling systems
- Provide garbage cans for cigarette butts
- Install planted structures, develop the company’s car park, de-silt pond or marsh areas, prefer dry stone walls
- Plant various, endemic and climate resilient trees and vegetation, including honey plants. Plant them wisely to make shade
- Do not mow the lawn (especially in spring), ban the use of pesticides, give dead trees a second life
- Install apiaries, insect houses, nesting boxes, perches, bat shelters, hornet traps
#8 Promote eco-responsibility with partners & engage in green initiatives
- Set ambitious but achievable targets and report against these publicly on your website. This shows dedication to the environment, responsibility for your impacts and that you are willing to be held accountable to your stakeholders
- Get certified to the international standard on Environmental Management (ISO 14001)
- Monthly eco-challenges are a fun way to combine competition with ecology. For example, you can challenge the office to go a month without plastic cutlery and reward those who comply by offering small prizes
- To take it further, set a Science-Based Target (6), a public commitment to reduce your emissions in line with a 1.5°C level of global warming
- Engage in green initiatives (No Mow May, Earth Hour, Earth Day) and share your achievements and efforts in reducing your carbon footprint
- Contribute to raising awareness and collectively scaling up the impacts
Waste separation is generally done in 3 stages: individuals, cleaning staff, municipality. It is common for staff to find out that, despite the selective sorting carried out at their level, the subsequent stages of the process are not done, either by the cleaning staff who collect all types of waste in the same bin, or by the municipal collectors. In addition to having no impact on the climate, this causes frustration among employees and hampers their commitment to act more ecologically. This may be due to sorting not being included in contracts with cleaning companies, or poor management and planning, with cleaning staff not having the time to collect the waste or not being informed. Care should be taken to include selective sorting in contracts without penalising cleaners and to ensure that sorting is actually carried out by the municipality.
The organisation’s IT department has an essential role to play in ensuring the implementation of green measures. They can be responsible for configuring all IT equipment (computers, telephones, printers) according to ecological criteria (standby mode, energy saving, both side printing, browsers).
Tools and good practices
Shift to low-carbon food options
Waste management: principles and life cycle
Energy consumption of buildings
(1) NREL, Energy Impacts of Oversized Residential Air Conditioners — Simulation Study of Retrofit Sequence Impacts, 2014. Read here.
(2) ADEME, Éco-responsable au bureau, 2020. Read here.
(3) ADEME, Éco-responsable au bureau, 2020. Read here.
(4) Stay Grounded, What is the climate impact of aviation? Read here.
(5) LEED rating system. Read here.
(6) Science-based target. Read here.
Cover photo © Ron McClenny/Unsplash.