Why the future of the workplace is becoming more sustainable

Andy Tomkins
Andy Tomkins

European Environment & Product Safety Manager, Canon Europe

Sustainability is one of the world’s hottest topics today. We see it in the newspapers, on our TVs and increasingly in boardrooms, influencing business decisions, commitments and strategies. Realistically, I find it touches every part of a business with customers, employees, partners and suppliers all keen to work with companies that reflect their evolving sustainability ideals.

A lot of businesses are already on this path, but equally, many aren’t. Sustainability isn’t a flash in the pan trend, so now is the time to start thinking seriously – how is it going to change the future of business? And how can we start planning now?

It’s about more than just recycling cups

We can already see that sustainability is a top priority for society, from our travel choices to our buying habits. More people are choosing to cycle to work over getting public transport than ever before; and sustainable fashion brands and recyclable products are seeing big booms in popularity. So it’s no surprise that we can see that filtering into the workplace. We all want to feel good about where we work and it makes sense that we are more driven to work for companies that share our values.

With that in mind, businesses are going to have to dig deep. You have to go beyond just sticking a recycling bin by the office printer or removing cardboard cups from the coffee machine and change your organisations business strategy.

If we look at predictions for 2030, ‘Climate Positive’ is on track to become the new ‘Carbon Neutral’, so that means every business will have to think beyond damage control, into driving positive change. For example, businesses today are focusing on reducing the amount of CO2 they create, or the raw materials they’re mining and sourcing from the earth, to try to balance out their overall footprint. But by 2030 they’ll be expected to be adding more to the earth more than they’re taking away, say by planting new forests. So what does that mean for you? It means looking at how you’re giving back. Where are you making positive change? Where could you be? It’s time to start thinking about this if you don’t want to fall to the bottom of the pecking list.

Everyone knows we need to collaborate to stay afloat

I’ve seen businesses are already under more scrutiny when it comes to the supply chain. It’s not good enough to have an “out of sight, out of mind” approach to your production model – you’re now expected to be accountable for your entire end-to-end supply chain. This pressure is not just coming from customers; more and more, it’s from your partner organisations who don’t want to get caught out. No company is an island – everyone knows we need to collaborate to stay afloat. But while businesses have typically looked at your skills, experience and financials, sustainability credentials are now taking more of a priority.

And this will only step up in the years to come. In the next decade I expect organisations will start needing to show new levels of accountability. For example, you may be expected to achieve ‘radical transparency’ across your entire supply chain. In other words, it won’t only be the supplier that companies want information on, but also the supplier’s supplier and that organisation’s whole supply network too! We can already see this happening in the food industry, where law dictates that manufacturers list every single ingredient in packaged food. How can you get ready for this future? Start thinking now about your supply chain network and how to make it more transparent.

Rejig of priorities?

Money makes the world go round, so it must be a special circumstance where cost saving gets knocked down to second priority. Yet, that’s what’s probably going to happen, if only in the short term.

Business leaders are coming to understand the significance of sustainability to their organisation’s future success. Sustainability credentials are increasingly moving from a ‘nice to have’ to a crucial aspect for potential suppliers. In fact, by 2023, half of organisations will include sustainability metrics within their technology vendor selection criteria. If you want to remain competitive, you’d better bolster your metrics. For many, this means playing catch up, even if that means putting cost-cutting to one side to invest now, for the sake of the future.

A rejig of priorities will need some direction and we can expect to see it spearheaded by an influx of Chief Sustainability Officers, hired to keep sustainability at the heart of boardroom strategy. While cost saving is unlikely to remain a number two priority in the long term, that doesn’t mean that sustainability will be a ‘quick fix’. Becoming a sustainable business involves organisation-wide changes, so we can also expect to see companies integrating some long-term strategies into their future plans.

I have no doubt that the current global situation is taking us into a new stage of business culture. Sustainability is already a top priority for many employees, suppliers, partners and businesses and this is only going to increase. To keep up with competitors, hold onto business partners and attract talented employees, you’re going to have to make sustainability a priority. Being green isn’t a novelty, or a phase, but a global movement. The sooner you adapt your strategy to make it a priority, the better adapted you’ll be for the future.