3 Ways Sustainability Affects Workforce and Workspace Management
Sustainability is an increasingly critical topic for stakeholders at all levels of business organizations—employees, executives, and even investors. However, the idea of sustainable business means something different to everyone, incorporating a wide range of issues, from the amount of nature in the workplace to the impact of business operations of the global environment.
An insightful blog by the chairman of Gallup emphasized how people’s conception of work is changing. “Everyone in the world wants a good job.” But today, workers’ expectations of their employers extend beyond salary and narrow concepts of “work-life balance.” Careers are seen as increasingly personal journeys—and more closely tied to ethics, values, and feelings of purpose.
Nature and Technology Are Combining in the Workspace
Within the workplace itself, there is a growing focus on supporting employee health and wellness, reducing waste, and incorporating more natural spaces. The CDC offers five helpful tips for building a sustainable workplace, including how to host a green meeting.
Sustainability is often paired with strategies to add value to the business by improving efficiency, resiliency, or long-term planning. Soft initiatives such as adding natural scenery to the workplace have also been shown to deliver value by empowering workers.
A survey of 1,000 Americans employed in traditional office environments found that natural light and plants have a significant impact on workers. Light was identified as the most important factor in the work environment by 40% of employees—more than any other feature.
People who said their office gets a lot of light were more likely to say their environment:
- Is uplifting: 48%
- Helps productivity: 35%
- Feels comfortable: 28%
Although natural light tops the employee preference list, plants may actually have a greater impact on productivity. Workers who said their office contains a lot of plants were more likely to say their environment:
- Helps productivity: 85%
- Feels comfortable: 41%
- Is uplifting: 36%
A separate study by Exeter University found that adding houseplants to a sparsely decorated workplace made people 15% more productive.
Examples of companies incorporating natural spaces for work are proliferating. Following a trend that is already popular in the tech industry, Google’s planned campus in Mountain View, CA will include large outdoor spaces with lots of plants and natural light. Even indoors, the company will use sustainable engineering practices to reduce energy use and regulate air quality. Google—perennially cited as one of the most desirable employers—has also pledged to use 100% renewable energy starting in 2017.
Personal Ethics and Purpose Are Guiding Employees’ Careers
In addition to affecting workplace performance, sustainability issues also influence people’s decisions about where to work. A series of workforce surveys conducted by LifeCourse Associates explored how employees of different generations expect their personal values to be reflected by their employers.
Among all generations in the workforce, at least half of employees strongly agree that “I like my employer to contribute to social or ethical causes that I think are important”—although the younger generations tended to agree more strongly. The breakdown across generations was:
- Older Boomer 50%
- Younger Boomer 46%
- Older Gen X 50%
- Younger Gen X 63%
- Millennial 63%
However, younger employees are less likely to expect total alignment between their personal values and their work. Millennials were least likely to agree that “I like to be 100 percent dedicated to my organization’s mission.”
- Older Boomer 56%
- Younger Boomer 50%
- Older Gen X 43%
- Younger Gen X 41%
- Millennial 37%
Intangible Assets and Responsible Investing Are Driving Value
At the shareholder level, concern about environmental, social, governance (ESG) issues has grown considerably. KPMG reports annually on trends in “corporate responsibility” reporting, and the firm’s analysis shows that, among the world’s largest companies, publishing detailed ESG reports has become the norm.
Smaller organizations have lagged behind in expanding their reporting, but as institutional investors drive demand for sustainable investment opportunities, companies of all types and sizes increasingly realize that ESG factors can be valuable differentiators. Today, trillions of dollars in assets are managed under some type of responsible investing criteria.
As these related trends continue to shape business strategy, organizations will need to find innovative ways to incorporate green meetings, natural space, and other sustainable practices into their daily operations.