sustainable workplace

Boost Employee Happiness with a Sustainable Workplace

Creating a sustainable workplace is a win-win-win. You, your employees, and the community at large all benefit. You will all be happier, more productive, and more competitive in attracting job seekers!

Happier, More Productive, More Competitive


John Boitnott, writing in Entrepreneur says, “It can be unfortunate just how little certain startup founders and other business owners properly address employee happiness.” He notes that employee happiness can stem from the feeling that their company is doing good in the world. He continues, “If you make your company a positive force in the community it can improve employees’ regard for their corporate leaders, which can only help you.”

More Productive

A 2012 UCLA study found that “companies that voluntarily adopt international ‘green’ practices and standards have employees who are 16 percent more productive than the average.” Professor Magali Delmas, one of the study’s authors, elaborated:

“Adopting green practices isn’t just good for the environment,” Delmas said. “It’s good for your employees and it’s good for your bottom line. Employees in such green firms are more motivated, receive more training, and benefit from better interpersonal relationships. The employees at green companies are therefore more productive than employees in more conventional firms.”

More Competitive in Attracting Job Seekers

The Network for Business Sustainability lists three main reasons job seekers prefer sustainable companies:

  1. It’s a source of employee pride
  2. It implies the company cares about its employees.
  3. It connects organizational values to job seekers’ personal values.

Convinced? Here are some options for how to start creating a sustainable workplace that benefits you and your team.

Curb Your Electricity Use

This effort just makes sense, as it directly impacts your bottom line. Choose Energy Star-rated products. Encourage, and even incentivize employees to turn off electronics when they’re not using them. Install motion-sensitive lights and compact fluorescent bulbs. Arrange your office floor plan so that windows provide adequate natural light. Use a programmable thermostat so that you don’t waste heat and air-conditioning when no one is there.

Curb Your Water Use

As with electricity, saving water saves money. Use water-efficient faucet heads and toilets. If your office kitchen includes a dishwasher, choose and Energy Star-rated one and only run it when full. Fix leaks promptly. If you want to go further, explore “greywater” options and rain barrels.

Offer Sustainable Food Choices

According to the CDC, “The production, processing, packaging, and transportation of the majority of our food are highly dependent on the use of fossil fuels and chemical fertilizers. These can greatly harm our health and the health of the environment.”

When choosing food to offer in your cafeteria, or hiring a caterer for your company meeting, consider sustainability. Choose locally grown foods to limit fuel emissions and support your local growers. Include vegetarian and vegan options; animal-based foods exert more strain on land and water resources. Opt for items with minimal and recyclable packaging. Give staff a way to take home leftovers. Or donate your leftovers to a local shelter.

Encourage Public Transportation Use and Telecommuting

First, if you have the choice, locate your business with access to public transportation. Then make sure employees know about it. Keep bus schedules on hand, or include helpful links on your company intranet. Come up with fun ways to encourage use. For example, ask employees to take selfies on the bus. Next, choose the best selfie or pick one at random in exchange for a prize. If you currently pay for employee parking, public transportation reimbursement may cost less. And importantly, if possible, lead by example and take the bus or train yourself.

You won’t have to twist many arms to get employees to telecommute. Just set clear expectations for how and when you off-site employees should keep in touch, and let them work in their PJs. As a result, you will keep cars off the road, probably during the busiest traffic times.

Dispose of Electronics Responsibly

Virtually all electronics and batteries can be recycled. Search the internet for reputable options in your community. You can sometimes return them to the retailer. Or, many nonprofits now collect old electronics, which they then recycle to earn a small amount of money. That means you can support a local charity at the same time. When it comes to company phones and computers, you’ll enjoy the added benefit of knowing that all of your information is being destroyed properly.

Dispose of Other Waste Responsibly

One might think that recycling is second nature for companies now. What is more, the list of items that can be recycled keeps growing. However, some communities charge for recycle bins and/or pick-up. In addition, some allow mixing of all recyclables into one bin while others require paper, plastics, and metals be separated. Recycling can start to sound like an unnecessary business expense.

Actually, the cost pales in comparison with the result. Add up the amount of office paper your staff consumes in a year. Your power to lessen impact on landfills may stagger you.

Alternatives to Recycle Bins

If recycling just isn’t available or affordable for you, explore these options:

  • Ask if any employees would be willing to take on the responsibility. Some people care passionately about the environment and would gladly drive a trunk load of shredded or discarded paper to a nearby recycling facility once a week. For some items, like aluminum or glass, they may even earn money for it depending on your community’s resources.
  • Donate what you can. Some nonprofits, like AMVETS, will recycle old clothes and fabric. Let’s say you’re a restaurant and you go through a lot of uniforms and bar towels. Even if they’re stained and full of holes, AMVETS will pick them up and recycle them. And you benefit veterans. Your employees will be doubly impressed. Other old equipment may be accepted by second-hand stores like Goodwill.
  • Reuse what you can. Cut up used office paper–without any sensitive information on it, of course–into half- or quarter-sheet scratch paper. Similarly, use shredded documents as packing material or give it to employees who need small pet bedding at home.

Your business is unique, and so are your options for creating a more sustainable work environment. Whether you’re just starting your business, or you’ve been around for a century, you have the ability to make a difference in the quality and beauty of the community around you. Your employees will thank you for it.


IMAGE: US Department of Agriculture / CC 2.0

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