Brighter business / Making your return to work sustainable

Making your return to work sustainable

11th November 2020

2020 has posed unprecedented challenges. COVID-19 has forced businesses to adapt to constantly changing circumstances.

While some businesses have temporarily shuttered, others have adapted to working from home where possible, and recent government advice has instructed that we continue to do so. As such, some may be venturing into the office, depending on the nature of their work and depending on local lockdown restrictions.

Unfortunately, life as we know it is on pause; everyone is adapting to the ‘new normal’.

As we continue adapting to coronavirus - and prepare for a post-COVID future - all businesses should adopt appropriate measures to ensure compliance with government guidelines. Businesses with Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policies in place should also be considering safety measures in the context of sustainability.

Here are a few suggestions for businesses to introduce sustainable COVID-19 compliant measures.

Strike a balance between location-based and remote work

Our research shows that 75% of small businesses believe COVID-19 has made them feel differently about how they run their business with a renewed focus on flexibility. Working from home give employees more freedom and flexibility and is also positive for the environment.

Less traffic on the roads leads to fewer emissions. By cutting down from five days of commuting to two or three, you can reduce the transport-associated emissions of your workplace.

The same is true for the cost of running the office. Assuming a business’ energy consumption is consistent across its five weekdays, one full day of working from home for the entire business could mean a 20% reduction in energy use - and costs.

Encouraging reusable face coverings over disposable, single-use masks

Face masks have become mandatory in many environments and they are likely to be a requirement for the foreseeable future.

Providing employees with washable, reusable face masks is much better for the environment than encouraging the use of disposable masks. With their four-hour life cycle, many workers would use two masks a day. Disposable masks also contain plastic and will add considerably to the world’s problem with plastic waste.

However, some organisations are looking ahead, to more sustainable materials; hemp shows some promise.

However, the material is less important than the principle: make sure you encourage the use reusable masks, and don’t rely on single-use masks.

Introduce screens between desks

Acrylic screens are now being widely used as a protective measure in supermarkets and cafes, bars and restaurants. Businesses outside of these areas should also consider introducing screens between desks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

While acrylic is currently the material of choice, screens can be made of other materials which are easier to produce. Cardboard screens with a small inset visor - either so employees can engage with customers or see their colleagues - can be more easily recycled.

Using biodegradable cleaning products

Cleaning regimes have been stepped up all over the country to try and reduce transmission risk. In high traffic areas or on public transport, increased cleaning regimes provide reassurance.

However, while cleanliness - both of our hands and of surfaces - is important, many cleaning products contain harsh ingredients which can damage the environment.

Where possible and appropriate, using biodegradable, or non-harmful disinfectants can help to keep your workplace and staff safe, without compromising on environmental sustainability.

Removing communal furnishings

For now, space is at a premium so that workplaces can ensure suitable social distancing measures. Communal areas will have to be the first to go, and desks may also need to be rearranged.

If you’re permanently removing furniture, it’s more environmentally friendly to try and give it a second life. Where you can, try to sell or donate to charity. To avoid furniture being added to landfill, try to find a company that can recycle furniture that you have to get rid of.

There are other COVID measures that will have an impact too – less energy consumed and less paper waste – which will improve your sustainability record and reduce emissions.

The pandemic has provided the opportunity to rethink what we do and imagine a new, better normal. Sustainability should be central to the way that we emerge from COVID-19.

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