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Building a workplace with sustainability in mind

Some organizations in the country are trying to become more eco-friendly with the help of technology, design, and their employees

Research shows employees feel more empowered when they participate in their company’s green initiatives.
Research shows employees feel more empowered when they participate in their company’s green initiatives. (iStockphoto)

An April report by computer software company Adobe found that seven in 10 employees in India believe their company wants to reduce its environmental impact. In fact, of the 1,000 workers and business managers who were surveyed as part of Adobe’s Sustainability At Work report, 94% said they were directly involved in driving sustainability practices at their workplace, including mindful use of paper, plastic and electricity, and that it helped improve their productivity.

The pandemic and the conversation around rising global temperature have changed the way people interact with the workplace. Businesses are increasingly realizing the importance of offering a more healthy and eco-friendly environment to their employees. They are going beyond the usual ways—encouraging carpool, going paperless, banning plastic—utilizing technology and design to adopt eco-friendly practices that showcase their values and keep workers more invested in their jobs.

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Employees, on the other hand, feel more empowered when they participate in their company’s green initiatives.

“In the past 15 years, there has been a noticeable shift. Companies in India are increasingly getting conscious of their environmental and social impact,” says Mumbai-based human resources (HR) consultant Varda Pendse. Now, post-covid, Pendse adds, the trend has become more widespread, reaching more companies, small and big.

Focus on technology

Multinational Capgemini has, for instance, transitioned to 100% renewable energy in all its India offices. They use organic waste converters and biogas plants to treat kitchen and garden waste and produce manure for garden use; recycle wastewater through sewage treatment plants; and have rainwater harvesting facilities across campuses.

“We have also invested in energy-efficient technologies to reduce our overall energy consumption, including using energy-efficient lighting, optimizing HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems, and encouraging employees to adopt energy-saving practices,” says Vijay Chandramohan, head (corporate real estate services), India and Asia-Pacific (APAC), Capgemini.

The design of workspaces is also a focus area for some companies, when it comes to following sustainability practices.

Besides having interventions like advanced filtration for indoor air quality and atmospheric water generators at all its hotels, 22 properties by ITC Hotels have the LEED (a global green building rating system) Platinum Certification. The certification focuses equally on office areas of the hotels and covers aspects like the availability of natural light, optimum fresh air infusion indoor, environment- and occupant-friendly chemicals, treated water for horticulture, and using low-volatile organic compound (VOC) paint (VOCs are harmful carbon-containing substances that vapourise at room temperature). “The sustainability space is evolving daily and we are continuously evaluating and implementing the latest technologies and processes for providing a better workplace,” says H.C. Vinayaka, vice-president (technical, EHS and sustainability).

While larger organizations can invest in technology and design, sustainability efforts in smaller organizations are no less significant. Floral and plant gift service, for example, has a 15-member team across their Delhi and Bengaluru offices. Sustainability drives their business: instead of plastic, they use paper and jute packaging; excess flowers are dried and made into candles; packaging materials are recut and repurposed; and they help sustain several local cottage industries by working in association with them.

“We reuse paper, use glass or metal bottles, and use natural light as much as possible, turning the lights on only in the evening,” says founder Garv Singhal, adding that it is often easier in smaller companies to educate people and inculcate sustainability. “This emphasis trickles down to the rest of the team.” attempts to hire people who reside in proximity of their offices to lessen the environmental impact of longer commutes. “Ninety percent of our employees are within 8km,” claims Singhal.

A joint effort 

For any sustainability effort to be successful inside the office, it needs active participation from the employee as well.

Research shows that workers who are involved in eco-friendly practices at work experience higher work engagement, which is associated with less burnout and better performance. Providing fresh food, natural lighting, green spaces and cleaner air enhances employee health as well.

What’s more, commitment to sustainability puts a company’s values at the forefront, attracting more talent that follows similar principles. Such employees even help companies come up with better initiatives.

Like ITC Hotels’ Vinayaka says, “Employees give us feedback on our initiatives and often provide us ideas.”

PepsiCo, meanwhile, has a Green Teams concept, in which employees are encouraged to become more sustainable at work, home and in their communities. “These green teams can work for a cause they believe in, which the organization funds with an allocated budget to support their intent to impact the community positively,” says Pavitra Singh, the chief HR officer, at PepsiCo India. PepsiCo’s other initiatives include encouraging teams to carpool and reduce the use of the lift; no use of plastic crockery and cutlery; waste segregation; solar panel rooftops; and use of recycled water in the washrooms.

At Capgemini, it is the sustainability business resource group (BRG) that helps drive the organization’s sustainability goals. The group works on sustainability initiatives like eco-fairs, tree-planting initiatives, and steering the general conversation around implementing community-level sustainability practices.

“The BRG works closely with leadership and cross-functional teams to shape and implement sustainability practices throughout the workplace,” says Chandramohan. Their recent initiative, Zero Hero Movement, involved managing unwanted or excess Capgemini resources. “Employees brought in unused items like power banks, chargers and USB sticks, which were either donated to charitable organizations for reuse, recycled or disposed responsibly,” informs Chandramohan.

To bring a change inside or outside the workplace for a greener space, you don’t necessarily need to make a big change. Even small steps count. Pendse offers an example: “Earlier, when a new employee joined, at least 20 sheets of paper were used for the required documentation. Now, everything is technology-driven and done digitally.”

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