Why employers need to widen their environmental engagement to include working from home
Millions of people in the UK look set to have a greater say over flexible working as part of new plans published recently by the government, so do corporates need to include this as part of environmental monitoring? Epson Europe’s head of sustainability and government affairs Boris Manev explains why they should.
The proposals issued in the new government flexible working plan — which would give employees the right to ask to work from home on the first day of starting a new job — are seen by ministers as a way to improve work-life balance and provide greater flexibility in the workplace.
Announcing the plans, the government said that “alongside the clear benefits to employees, there is also a strong business case for flexible working.”
“By removing some of the invisible restrictions to jobs, flexible working creates a more diverse working environment and workforce, which studies have shown leads to improved financial returns,” it said in a statement.
Flexible working is becoming the norm
It’s now two years since working from home (WFH) turned the world of work upside down, as organisations responded to the new reality of the pandemic-induced lockdown.
If flexible working is to continue to contribute to the workplace, employers need to think beyond issues such as company culture, team cohesiveness and productivity.
Organisations also need to spend time assessing the environmental impact of WFH compared to a permanent return to the office. And when it comes to matters such as the overall sustainability and environmental footprint of a business, there is no bigger question: “Which is better — home or office?”
Like any good conundrum, the answer is, “it depends”.
Environmental monitoring needs to extend beyond the office and into homes
On the one hand, working from home eliminates the need for the daily commute leading to fewer vehicles on roads and less crowded public transport. For many people, this is often cited as the single biggest environmental benefit of WFH as people seek to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
But any benefit here in terms of reduced transport emissions needs to be balanced against the likelihood that employees will use more energy at home for heating, lighting, and running their home offices. This becomes especially acute when firms also spend precious resources heating, lighting, and servicing under-used corporate office spaces.
For those organisations concerned about their green credentials, it means that corporate responsibility has to extend beyond the office and into the home if that’s where employees choose to work. To think otherwise would allow organisations to abdicate their environmental responsibility when employees work away from the office.
That’s why data gathering will continue to be of vital importance to understanding your corporate footprint, including how this is impacted by home/office working.
Employers have a role to promote sustainability for those WFH
For organisations that continue to use the office as a working hub, they can control their environmental impact by ensuring that the energy they use for their commercial premises is sustainable, renewable, and carbon neutral.
Of course, it goes without saying that firms cannot exert the same control over employees and how they chose to source their energy. But they can educate them to make more informed choices as part of an ongoing programme of employee engagement.
By engaging with and educating employees about energy, water and waste reduction, employers can do much to extend their environmental reach. For instance, employers can set greenhouse gas targets by working with external bodies, such as the Science Based Targets initiative, which provides a clearly defined path to reduce emissions in line with the Paris Agreement goals.
Such schemes not only help staff to be more sustainable, but they also provide practical hints and tips for a greener lifestyle.
That could mean encouragement to turn off office equipment — including PCs and printers — when you’re not using them. If you’re buying new office technology such as printers, employers need to be sure they are as energy efficient as possible and have high ink yields which can lead to an overall reduction in consumables.
Small changes here multiplied across entire workforces can make a sizeable impact on reducing emissions and meeting sustainability goals.
After all, it doesn’t matter where you work, we’re all responsible now for taking sustainability seriously. It’s up to employers to educate employees about how to reduce their energy costs while they WFH as part of their overall carbon footprint reduction programme. And they can only do that by including flexible workers in their own corporate carbon footprints and helping them to meet sustainability goals.
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