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The Workplace

How To Make Your Business Greener

In the era of global warming, is it really possible to make a profit and a difference?

Ever feel like you’ve won the recycling battle at home but are losing the long war at work? It can be frustrating to spend your evenings sifting through cereal boxes, newspaper supplements and yoghurt pots only to spot Kieran from accounts printing out a small forest of spreadsheets the next morning. The UK’s Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) estimates that the average UK worker uses about 45 sheets of paper a day, half of which are thrown away. Offices are also incredibly wasteful spaces when it comes to electricity, water and plastic, with WRAP estimating that, although 70 per cent of office refuse is recyclable, only 7.5 per cent of it reaches a treatment facility. So what are the challenges of going green at work? And how do we overcome them? Scroll down to find out.


Power down

Isn’t it lovely gazing out across the skyline of London or New York at night and seeing all those brightly lit skyscrapers twinkling away like Christmas trees? The French government doesn’t think so. It brought in strict laws in 2013 that ban offices and public buildings from keeping their lights on after the last person leaves, cutting approximately 250,000 tonnes of CO2 a year and saving enough energy to power 750,000 households (some key tourist areas are exempt, which explains why the Eiffel Tower still burns with the power of a thousand suns).

We need innovation from the private sector as well as the government if we’re to solve the issue of office waste. New developments such as The Edge in Amsterdam, built by PLP Architecture, are lighting the way. Commissioned by financial firm Deloitte, the building has received awards for being one of the most energy-efficient in the world, and uses 70 per cent less energy than offices of comparable size. The south-facing façade is designed to harvest the sun and incorporates 19,800sq m of photovoltaic panels, providing all the energy needed to power staff computers, mobile phones and electric cars. Another smart solution comes from architect Mr Carlo Ratti’s recent redesign of the Agnelli Foundation headquarters in Turin. The building is wired with sensors that create an “environmental bubble” of optimal lighting and heating around individual employees, automatically switching rooms to standby mode when people leave. Mr Ratti designed an app through which employees can set their own atmospheric preferences so that the building environment automatically shape-shifts to accommodate individual needs.

Waste not

The concept of zero waste has recently gone through a remarkable rebranding. It used to feel like a nagging conscience; now, a slew of creative industries are proving that it can be a source of some pretty sexy innovation. Food and drink, in particular, has seen an about-turn in this area, with consumers realising that anything between 30 and 50 per cent of usable food in Western countries ends up in landfill. This obscene figure is being tackled by the likes of Mr Dan Barber’s Blue Hill farm in New York and London’s Trawler Trash, which takes the less desirable seafood from the day’s catch and turns it into sophisticated – and sustainable – dishes.

Zero waste is, however, still distinctly unsexy when it comes to the office. Look on any green online forum and most of the suggestions – such as reusing paper envelopes by labelling over the old address – are completely impractical for a 21st-century business. There are some things that just cannot be scrimped on for a business that cares about its reputation. But creating a culture of luxury helps to reduce waste. Banish the free stationery cupboard, for example (it’s amazing how less frequently you misplace your own Moleskine or Smythson than you do a free wire-bound jotter). Perhaps more important, though, is making sure your team has access to the plethora of digital tools that can replace printed meeting agendas, presentations or sticky notes (for more on these paperless tools, see this previous Workplace column). By investing in both luxury stationery and digital solutions, you cut out the disposable middle ground, which is where the bulk of office waste lies.

Kill the commute

One of the biggest ecological disasters to come from the modern office doesn’t take place within its four walls, but from the commute on either side, with transport accounting for 21 per cent of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

Our obsession with office presenteeism is choking the planet. Assuming a remote workforce isn’t on the cards any time soon, there are still small changes that we can make to our daily commutes. Flexible working isn’t the same as remote working, and even the most conservative businesses are coming round to the advantages of shift-working to take the strain off the 8.00am and 5.00pm rush hours. In 2015, commuter traffic accounted for a staggering seven billion wasted man-hours in the US, so shifting your day by an hour either side could eliminate that wastage. Changing your mode of transport is also key, with the greenest, of course, being walking or cycling. In the UK, your business can shoulder some of the load by signing up to the government’s Cyclescheme, which allows employees to save up to 39 per cent on a brand new bike.

Make it pressing business

Unless you make green goals part of your organisational structure, truly transformative change will be limited. This means putting your money where your mouth is to hire roles, build business plans and structure compensation packages based on green targets. In the luxury industry, Kering has made sustainability a key pillar of its business in recent years, placing chief sustainability officer Ms Marie-Claire Daveu on the same level as traditional C-suite bosses and restructuring its brand portfolio to put sustainability at the core of decision-making, rather than just being a cherry on the cake. Group chairman Mr François-Henri Pinault has made it clear that this is a strategic decision to drive innovation and engage consumers, rather than an ethical decision.

Your business may not have the resources of an international luxury conglomerate at its disposal, but we can all apply the same mindset by ensuring that sustainability is seen as a must-have rather than a nice-to-have. If you don’t already have one, create a green team that has representatives from every department of the business. Work with them on setting concrete and measurable annual targets, and treat reviewing these with the same rigour you do any other business performance indicator. It’s only by applying the same acumen and strategy to going green as we do to making the green that we will truly transform our businesses. 

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