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Blog Post 2 June 2021

How to ensure a sustainable return to the office

Location notice

Please note that this page contains information and links most relevant for people living in England.

Across the UK, lockdowns are slowly but surely coming to an end. Soon, many of those who have been working from home will be able to return to the office, most likely on a flexible basis.

As of March 2021, 33% of the UK workforce was working remotely and 19% were on furlough, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS). This is set to change as restrictions start to lift during the UK Government’s latest roadmap out of lockdown.

Now that businesses might be thinking of returning to the office, at least part-time, there are some things that your organisation can do to create a more energy efficient workplace that produces less waste, uses less energy and benefits the health and wellbeing of staff.

Many businesses will have reduced their operations as a result of Covid-19 restrictions, by up to 24% in some cases, according to ONS, and government green policies have been rapidly changing since the UK’s net zero target was announced in response to the climate emergency. Now is a great time to look at sustainable solutions that can help achieve long-term sustainability targets.

Back to the office or staying in the home office?

Is your office sustainable? With remote and flexible working looking to be a popular working model post Covid-19, at least for office-based workers, businesses across most major sectors are thinking about their office spaces. With millions of employees from the UK’s biggest firms expected not to return to the office full-time, less office estate will be needed.

Do you have fewer employees returning to the office? This can have its own environmental benefits, including reduced emissions, as fewer staff commute to and from the office every day.

Encouraging energy efficient behaviour, such as using less power-hungry equipment, turning off lights and keeping a close eye on the thermostat, can also help lower your organisation’s overall carbon emissions. It might be worth keeping an eye on the overall office energy bills if you’re implementing employee engagement with sustainability, to better compare which activities are most effective for your office.

Working from home has resulted in higher energy bills for many during the past year. It’s important that businesses support employees with energy efficiency advice for those who choose to work from home. This can be done through working from home guides, internal communications, or a ‘green team’ of employees from different departments with the aim of creating and tracking your business’ sustainability goals and activities.

A green team is an especially effective tool for engaging colleagues with sustainable behaviour and supporting home energy efficiency. It could even create outdoor team-building and environmentally friendly activities for staff to enjoy in warmer weather.

What should you be thinking about?

Organisations returning to an office should also think about how to create workplaces that are more energy efficient and lower carbon, regardless of estate size or employee working days. This can form part of the overall sustainability strategy that can help the UK reach net zero.

In 2018, the business sector was responsible for 18% of the UK’s carbon emissions, however by understanding and quantifying environmental impacts, such as the office, fleet or operations, the amount of carbon emissions could be significantly reduced.

A sustainable office may sound like a place with low energy usage and recycling, but workplaces are now having to think about the larger environmental impact, including internal messaging on sustainable behaviour and the wider economic sustainability of the business. According to The Cone Communications Millennial Employee Study, 64% of millennial workers won’t take a job if the business does not have a strong corporate social responsibility (CSR) or environmental, social and governance (ESG) policy.

So, before you decide whether to reopen your office or continue letting staff work from home, or settle on the most popular flexible working solution, think about the sustainability implications of each choice, your stance on environmental issues and what the future of your office may look like for current and new employees.

Start being sustainable today

If you’re looking to make your business more sustainable through a tailored sustainability strategy and would like some expertise on the matter, Energy Saving Trust is here to help.

Contact us

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Last updated: 23 April 2021