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Sustainability in the Workplace

Going home has us going green. What lockdown has taught us about sustainability in the workplace

Going home has us going green. What lockdown has taught us about sustainability in the workplace.

Before Covid-19 turned the world upside down, it seemed near impossible for businesses to make big sacrifices for sustainability. That’s not to say that there weren’t many companies that were doing their bit, or were at least willing. Some of the largest global brands have been leading the charge in the area of going green for years now. But before 2020 and the pandemic that devastated the globe, businesses as a whole didn’t focus enough on making sure they weren’t negatively impacting the earth.

Unfortunately, the catalysts for positive change can often come from extreme struggles or catastrophic events.

One of the things this global pandemic has taught us is that it is possible for people to change the way they work, the way they consume products, and how they treat others.

Imagine you told your boss at the end of 2019 that you were going to be working remotely for the majority of 2020 and even into the beginning of 2021. They would probably have laughed your proposal off. Fast-forward to today; working remotely is becoming the norm and people are seeing that it’s possible to work from home and still be part of a team. Yes it has its quirks, like barking dogs, crying babies and embarrassing camera malfunctions. But as a whole, it seems to be a viable solution for many.

Now you may ask what has that got to do with sustainability in the workplace? Glad you asked. No marketing campaign, inspirational talk or even a documentary featuring Leonardo DiCaprio could have ever motivated as many people to work from home as the current pandemic has. Yes, it’s out of necessity. But the positive, and potentially sustainable impact, that the lockdown restrictions, working remotely and the downscaling of consumerism have made on the environment is quite remarkable. Pollution levels dropped, animals returned to places they haven’t occupied in years and people became far more concerned with the mental health of others during the most extreme lockdowns.

Nature has a way of repairing itself, and the evidence we’ve seen of this during lockdown makes it seem possible to reverse some of the negative impacts we’ve had on the earth. If we can implement some of the lessons we’ve learnt during this pandemic, we could make a real difference to our environment.

8 suggestions to improve sustainability in the workplace

  1. Ditch toxic cleaning products and switch to greener ones
    Lockdown had a lot of us spending more time indoors. This had people reassessing their choice of cleaning products now that they were exposed to these for longer periods of time, on a daily basis.Whether you are washing the windows, dishes or cleaning the floor at the office, the detergents you use should not be harming you or the environment. People are nervous about how effective “bio-friendly” cleaning detergents are, but if you look into the “Ditch and Switch” movement (a drive to ditch toxic cleaning products and switch to using non-toxic ones) you’ll find that there is a vast array of non-toxic cleaning products that are super effective.
  2. Cleaning your hands shouldn’t harm sea life
    Washing and sanitizing our hands is at an all-time high. But at what cost to the environment?Soaps and sanitizers shouldn’t be doing more harm than good. The ethanol used in many sanitizers and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (also known as SLS and SLES), a foaming agent found in soaps and shampoos, are both known to be toxic to aquatic life, even in small quantities. Luckily there are many eco-friendly brands that are free from ethanol and SLS. By choosing these brands to use at your workplace, you’re doing your bit to keep your fishy friends safe.
  3. Working from home reduces your carbon footprint
    For nearly a year, you may have had to turn your kitchen counter, laundry room or even the backseat of your car into your office. At least you can take comfort in the fact that you’ve probably reduced your work commute CO2 emissions to nearly nothing.If your company can’t operate with its employees working remotely on a full-time basis, one of the options it could look into is working remotely on a partial basis. This could involve the most vulnerable not coming into work, having a skeleton staff and/or coming into the office only a few days a week.
  4. Walk, run, ride or roll to work
    Besides being a great way to de-stress in these very stressful times, being a self-propelled commuter has a hugely positive impact on the environment. If work is close enough it’s time to tie those running shoe laces, pump up your bicycle tyres or dust off those rollerblades and do your bit for the earth, and for yourself.
  5. More home cooked meals make for less waste
    For a lot of people, takeaways and eating out have been a rarity over the last year. And, with all that spare time at home, people have also been trying new things to cook, bake and create in the kitchen. How many of your friends and family went on a banana bread baking mission?Not only is this a way to look after your budget, but it also means you’ll leave less waste entering the environment from takeaway cups and containers.
  6. There’s wisdom in conserving water
    This pandemic put people into survival mode and it seems at some stage during the initial period and “first wave” that everyone learned the art of rationing. Whether it was their finances, alcohol stocks or tinned food, it seemed everything was carefully conserved and only what was necessary was used.We can take this practice of conserving our precious resources to the way we consume and use water. Small changes can go a long way. Like turning the tap off while soaping your hands, washing all the dishes in a sink of water and buying water-wise desk plants instead of water-greedy plants for the office (desk plants also happen to improve the indoor air quality of the work environment).
  7. Be switched on by switching off
    If you were living in South Africa before the pandemic hit, you’ll already know about the importance of conserving energy. “Loadshedding” may have taken the power (excuse the pun) out of your hands when it comes to choosing to turn your appliances, lights and electrical devices off. But it does highlight how energy is a precious resource that needs to be managed.So when you leave the office, switch off your lights, computer, printer, coffee mug warmer, robotic strobe and anything else that doesn’t need to be left on.
  8. Take notes on your device and not on paper
    Thanks to technology, many have been able to carry on working as normal during these abnormal times. Emails, texts and webcams have kept us connected without us having to print a single document.There is a huge amount of paper wasted in the unnecessary printing of emails and documents that could easily have been sent digitally via safe and secure APPS or websites. It’s time to go as paperless as possible at the office.

“The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.”
– Robert Swan