WHAT CAN I DO at work?
Making changes in your business or workplace
- Sixty-nine percent of consumers are concerned about their carbon footprint, according to a recent survey of 36,000 Australians. Gen Ys (born 1981-1996) and Gen Zs (born 1997-2012) were most concerned, at 78% and 79%, respectively. Companies that don’t respond to increasing demand for sustainable practices, products and services will lose market share.
- Personal ethics also influenced the career choices of 44% of millennials (Gen Y) and 49% of Gen Zs, including the organisations for which they were prepared to work, in a recent global survey. As these generations increasingly dominate the workforce, there is a clear need for a major shift in the environmental policies and practices of Australian businesses and brands.
- Failing to tackle climate change could cost the world $1.7 trillion a year by 2050 and $30 trillion a year by 2075, according to the World Economic Forum.
- As well as creating a safer future, many emission-cutting actions will also reduce operating costs, boost productivity and increase staff retention.
Whether you’re an employer or employee, in a large or small organisation, reducing carbon emissions is within your power. The basic steps to follow are:
1. Collect trustworthy information
2. Identify opportunities for emissions reduction
3. Get the board & management on side
4. Define specific, attainable goals
5. Assign resources: people, time, tools & money
6. Apply for any external funding: govt grants, loans & rebates
7. Implement changes
8. Evaluate results
9. Showcase your successes to customers, staff & stakeholders
10. Keep improving
The 5 areas to focus on
No matter what business you’re in, here are the five main areas on which to focus your efforts:
An energy assessment will help you find opportunities for your business or workplace to increase efficiency, boost productivity and cut emissions. The list below summarises the most common opportunities. A range of federal and state government programs can help you access finance and grants for energy efficiency projects.
Certified GreenPower is offered by most Australian electricity retailers. GreenPower costs around 10% more than dirty power, on average. But as well as driving investment in Australia’s renewable energy sector, by purchasing 100% GreenPower, you produce zero net carbon emissions. According to the independent Green Electricity Guide, Australia’s greenest electricity retailer is Powershop. See why, and discover how other retailers rate, here.
Generate your own
In addition to, or instead of, buying GreenPower, you can generate your own clean energy by installing solar panels (or a wind or hydro turbine, if you’re in an appropriate location), with or without battery storage. When choosing an installer, check company reviews and ratings on an independent comparison website, such as Solar Quotes or Solar Choice
Lighten up, shut down
Increase natural lighting by rearranging workspaces to make better use of windows, or by installing skylights or lightwells. Replace inefficient incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs or LED bulbs. Install timers or motion sensors so lights come on only when needed. Turn lights, computers and other electrical equipment off when not in use.
When purchasing equipment, prioritise energy efficiency and enjoy long-term savings on your power bills. Laptops use less energy than desktop computers, for example. Depending on your business type, installing an efficient hot water service can drastically reduce your energy consumption, costs and emissions.
Maintain your advantage
To keep your equipment performing efficiently, look after it. For example, have your air-conditioning and heating systems serviced annually and change or clean the filters every month during peak seasons. With regular maintenance, you’ll reduce carbon emissions and save money on power bills and by increasing the lifespan of your equipment.
In southern Australia, rainfall is reducing while our population is growing. When local reservoirs fail to keep up with demand, water suppliers tap into alternative water sources (e.g. the ocean, via a desalination plant) and have to pump water against gravity for long distances, as well as treating it to make it safe to drink or wash with. This consumes lots of energy and – unless the water supplier uses renewable energy sources – produces substantial emissions that cause climate change, including more severe droughts. You can combat this deadly cycle by reducing your water use at work.
Contact your water supplier
Request assistance in assessing your water use, water saving tips specific to your location and tailored to your business size and resources, and advice regarding grants or rebates for water-saving projects… And ask them what action they’re taking to reduce their emissions, too.
Ways to save precious water at work:
- Carry out routine maintenance on water infrastructure
- Monitor water bills for any sudden increase, indicating a potential leak
- Repair leaking pipes, fixtures and seals
- Install water-efficient toilets, urinals, showers, dishwashers and washing machines
- Set the thermostat to 24°C if you use evaporative air conditioners
- Plant native species or other plants that require little water to thrive in your region
- Maintain lawn only in areas where people will actively use it for recreation
- Install a rainwater tank for gardening purposes, and
- Deliver consistent water saving directives to all staff, with incentives to comply and opportunities to contribute their own ideas to improve water efficiency.
Transport is Australia’s second largest source (after electricity) of greenhouse emissions. The sector emitted 102 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2018, representing 18% of Australia’s annual emissions.
Work is something you do, not somewhere you go. Telecommuting (working from home) avoids emissions and can boost staff productivity and increase retention by reducing time wasted in traffic, airports or aeroplanes, and improving work-life balance. To move from a culture of attendance to a culture of performance, you’ll need to assess:
- which work can be done remotely
Are face-to-face contact or hard-copy documents required? Suitable roles for telecommuting include project work, policy analysis, research, planning, data entry and writing.
- which staff members are suitable
Successful telecommuters are self-motivated, independent, well-organised and do not prioritise social interaction at work.
- whether you have the appropriate technology
Can computer files be accessed remotely? Is security software current on all mobile devices and laptops? Are you equipped for video- and/or teleconferencing? For businesses currently paying for high levels of employee travel to meetings, investment in remote work technology will have a short payback period.
To reduce the carbon footprint of conferences or special events (e.g. awards ceremonies):
- Introduce an annual air-mile quota to encourage staff to consider carefully whether the career benefits of each trip outweigh the environmental costs.
- Hold less frequent, more valuable events (not necessarily longer, but with higher quality content).
- Coordinate related events so attendees can include several in a single trip.
- Provide access to high-quality video conferencing technology for speakers and audience members.
- Apply 3D virtual-world technology (e.g. this Australian innovation) to create a more natural and immersive social experience for networking and small-group discussions.
Reduce car travel
Nearly 8 out of 10 Australians travel by car to their place of work or study, accelerating climate change and causing traffic congestion that costs $16 billion in lost productivity. Active commuting (walking, running or cycling) directly improves staff health, yielding productivity benefits, as well as reducing emissions. Here’s how to reduce car travel in your workplace or business:
- Make access to public transport and bike paths selection criteria when deciding on your next business location.
- Engage with neighbouring businesses and residents to lobby government together to demand better and safer active and public transport options for your current location.
- Advertise in local media and engage local recruitment agencies to attract skilled workers from surrounding areas.
- Offer flexible working hours to fit public transport timetables and allow pedestrians and cyclists to avoid dangerous peak hours.
- Participate in National Ride to Work Day and National Walk to Work Day.
- Coordinate carpools (with preferential car parking), and ride- or walk-to-work-together groups for safety and socialising.
- Organise regular breakfasts for staff who walk, cycle or catch public transport to work.
- Institute a more casual dress code or a weekly casual dress day to suit walkers and cyclists.
- Enable staff to salary-sacrifice their bicycle or their annual public transport ticket.
- Offer staff interest-free loans for bike purchases and reimbursement for bike maintenance.
- Establish a staff fleet of electric- or push-bikes for short work-related trips, with helmets of different sizes, bike locks, lights and reflective vests.
- Provide in-house end-of-trip facilities (bike parking, showers, lockers etc) or memberships of shared facilities, such as Cycle2City in Brisbane.
- Allow staff who give up their personal car parking space and/or company vehicle to include the resulting cost savings in their remuneration package.
If your workplace still needs a car fleet, the Green Vehicle Guide can help you to minimise emissions. The Clean Energy Finance Corporation enables Eclipx Group, one of Australia’s largest independent fleet leasing companies, to offer favourable loan interest rates for customers when they invest in passenger and light commercial vehicles satisfying low emissions benchmarks.
You can purchase carbon offsets to recapture greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere in proportion to the emissions from your transport use. Typically used as a last resort (once emissions cannot be further reduced), carbon offsetting can also be used initially to drive the business case for action: measuring base-level emissions and paying to offset them can make it easier to justify costs associated with making reductions.
Some organisations offset by staff salary-sacrifice or as part of salary packaging. This reduces the cost to the organisation and is tax effective for the staff member as well as motivating behavioural change to cut emissions.
A ‘circular economy’ applies responsible manufacturing with life-cycle management to minimise waste and maximise reuse and recycling of materials and products. This supports the development of new industries and jobs, increases efficient use of natural resources, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions from: (i) raw materials extraction, (ii) processing or manufacturing, and (iii) waste incineration or decomposition.
According to Planet Ark, Australian businesses are generating an average of 1.7 tonnes of waste per employee – yet only about half of that is being recycled.
Planet Ark’s Business Recycling website is specifically designed to make it easy for small to medium-sized Australian businesses to find re-use and recycling services in their area. The site provides information about:
- the recyclability of each material
- how to develop a plan to reduce waste
- how to choose the right recycler
- how to successfully communicate waste initiatives with staff
You might also want to consider hosting a National Recycling Week event to celebrate your achievements!
To help Australia move towards a circular economy, conduct a supply chain audit and check your procurement policies to ensure that your company uses recycled and recyclable materials, products and packaging wherever possible. In addition, cut the waste produced by your business or workplace, starting with the three most common types:
Buy ‘post-consumer’ recycled paper (i.e. it’s been used at least once and is not a by-product of new paper manufacturing), preferably carbon-neutral, Australian-made and certified by Responsible Wood, PEFC or FSC. These days, you can easily find recycled paper that is bright white, low-dust and compatible with your office equipment. Manufacturing recycled paper and cardboard products uses up to 50% less energy and 90% less water than making them new from raw materials. Paper can be recycled up to eight times.
The US EPA estimates that 45% of paper printed in offices is trashed by the end of the day. Saving a tonne of paper from landfill prevents 2.9 tonnes of carbon emissions. Here’s how to reduce paper waste:
- Store documents on the cloud instead of making hard copies. Almost all formerly paper-based documents can now be handled digitally, including proposals, contracts, invoices, timesheets and tax forms.
- Set photocopy machines and printers to print double-sided by default.
- Introduce codes for use of photocopiers and printers to track everyone’s paper consumption and motivate staff to hit reduction goals.
- Adjust document formats to fit more content per page.
- Turn unwanted, non-confidential, single-sided documents into notepads.
- Keep mailing lists current and use email whenever possible.
- Use outdated letterhead for in-house notices and memos.
- Reuse envelopes.
Tradeshows or conferences often generate large amounts of paper waste, but organisers can cut costs and carbon emissions if they:
- Develop a website or use and mobile app for the event and use online registration.
- Offer documents (e.g. the conference program and presentations) online and provide wi-fi access at the event.
- Ask attendees to take notes on their laptop or mobile device and provide notepaper only on demand.
- Encourage speakers and exhibitors to limit distribution of handouts and use web-based or electronic copies instead.
- Send post-event communications electronically and use an online survey for feedback.
The cost of food waste to the Australian economy is around $20 billion each year. Consumers throw away around 3.1 million tonnes of food, while another 2.2 million tonnes come from the commercial and industrial sectors.
In Australia, rotting food in landfills produces methane, equivalent to around 6.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. The wasted production, harvesting, transporting, and packaging of discarded food all generate emissions too – more than 3.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide.
To reduce your workplace’s food waste and associated emissions, start by conducting an audit. Once you’ve measured the extent and composition of your waste, here’s how to reduce food waste in your office or food-serving business.
Special events or conferences can be especially wasteful, so when you organise your next one, follow these four tips to ensure your event’s menu and service is sustainable.
E-waste is discarded electronic appliances, devices and parts, including computers, mobile telephones and tablets, white goods and TVs. Australians produce 700,000 tonnes of e-waste annually and only recycle around 10%. E-waste is growing fast, driven by accelerating technological change and rampant consumerism, and it contains materials that are toxic to the environment and human health.
On average, a tonne of e-waste contains 400 kg of steel, 250 kg of plastic, 90 kg of non-ferrous metals, 15 g of silver and 1.5 g of gold, along with tin, nickel, zinc, aluminium and copper. Due to its complexity, every 10,000 tonnes of e-waste recycled locally creates 50 or more full-time equivalent jobs, compared to only 2.8 jobs for landfill.
Recycling e-waste cuts greenhouse emissions by:
- recapturing valuable materials and components, thereby reducing energy-intensive extraction and processing of raw materials and manufacturing to make new components, and
- reducing decomposition of e-waste that produces methane, which is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere.
Enabling and encouraging staff to put their super into ethical or ‘green’ funds is a powerful way to combat climate change. A 2017 poll found that 80% of Australians would be willing to switch funds so their money is invested according to their values, and that rises to 88% among those aged 18-34.
Some ethical super funds apply a negative screen, i.e. they will not invest in harmful activities such as fossil fuel production or old-growth forest logging. Some additionally apply a positive screen, i.e. they invest in beneficial activities, such as renewable energy projects or waste management. Some also take a ‘best of sector’ approach, selecting the company/ies that best meet their ethical criteria.