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.

Why employers need to widen their environmental engagement to include working from home

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.

Comments (2)

  1. Neil Fairless says:

    It would be great if there were some standards to provide a methodology for calculating some initial estimates on these measures. As a company we are preforming some initial calculations on employee commuting, part of our Scope 3 and also a requirement for NHS Net Zero Carbon Reduction Plans which all of their suppliers will need to publish. That in itself is difficult to calculate with any degree of accuracy. Performing a similar calculation for Working from Home is a step further on the difficulty scale. Without asking employees to complete endless surveys, including calculating changes on their utilities consumptions pre and post flexible working, factoring in if they moved house, implemented new efficient devices, installed a power hungry home cinema for personal use etc. etc. Is the employee the only person in the house benefitting from WFH, or is the change in utilities consumption split between multiple members of the household? And not all employees may be willing to share their personal data.
    Don’t get me wrong, I fully agree that we should do this and encourage our employees to reduce their carbon footprints at work and at home, I’m just not sure I know how we do that yet. Any suggestions welcome?

    1. Philip Jordan says:

      My comment concerns the wider community & social importance of more people being in their homes & the surrounding localities* – including supply & other businesses – during the week:

      all of which must surely have a boosting effect on the *neighbourhoods/suburbs/localities where they live

      i.e. albeit we seem to have heard more about the opposite impact on inner city areas where some workers have reduced their work attendances to work at home

      Perhaps what’s needed is some overall careful audit & related review of the situation & related things like density, rush hours, stress & personal wellbeing as well as economic health + the range of things that Brundtland’s Our Common Future + others have looked at i.e. to give us a thoroughly balanced & realistic picture of the situations disadvantages & advantages

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