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Workers Leave Eco Message At Home

Workers Leave Eco Message At Home - published in issue 26 of The WIRE
Turning green: A key criterion in BDGworkfuture's design for sister company Research International's new London office was to make it easy and simple for people to conserve energy and recycle at work. Desks are close to windows to make the most of natural light; meeting rooms are only lit when occupied; kettles have been replaced by hot water points; and the number of printers have been reduced and positioned centrally to discourage unnecessary printing. Recycling containers for paper, glass, plastics, toner cartridges, CDs, batteries and bulbs are positioned prominently throughout the office.
A study by design specialists BDGworkfutures has found that people who are enthusiastic about switching off lights at home expect their employer to take responsibility in the office. Gill Parker reports

WHATEVER your views on the subject, the green debate will have transcended your professional and personal life to some extent. Sustainability issues have never enjoyed a higher and more fashionable profile than in the last few years, and there is much evidence to suggest that consumers are increasingly choosing to alter their behaviour in line with this.

Businesses are undoubtedly meeting their customers' desires for more sustainable and ethical products and services - cynics may say they are quick to cash in on the 'green dividend', but there is an undeniable demand. From our vantage point as workplace designers, the only anomaly in this groundswell of enthusiasm appears to be in the contrasting level of commitment between employers and employees. This is significant as at least 50 percent of a full time employees waking hours are spent at work per week.

To investigate this further BDGworkfutures commissioned sister WPP company BMRB to conduct a survey of 1,600 office workers to uncover their true feelings about green initiatives in the workplace. Are workers really leaving their ethical hats at the threshold of their offices?

The research discovered that of those people who have environmentally-friendly initiatives happening within their company, 70 percent feel that it is not up to individuals themselves to be responsible for them. Instead, they expect the responsibility to lie with company directors (35 percent), facilities managers (15 percent) or office managers (10 percent).

Meanwhile, nearly half of office workers find recycling (44 percent), switching off lights (48 percent) and switching appliances off from standby mode (49 percent) easier to do at home. This highlights a key issue: as consumers we are able to make our own ethical and socially responsible choices but as employees we have to relinquish this power to the property and procurement experts.

It is the humble gestures conducted on a grand scale that will have the greatest impact

It is important that corporations begin to close this contrast between the message they send out as a business and the one that employees are experiencing and hence giving to the outside world. The business that fails to harness their employees' goodwill could be damaging their offer and lose out on a host of commercial benefits. The British Council for Office (BCO) spells out the advantages of a sustainable workplace in its Best Practice Guide, Environmental Management in Offices. These advantages include improvements to: business performance and profitability; customer and contractor relationships; stakeholder confidence and employee job satisfaction and productivity.

This last point is also borne out by the green initiatives survey findings. More that six in 10 (61 percent) of office workers feel that if they were searching for a new job and were offered two identical packages by two separate employers, then if one employer took steps to reduce its impact on the environment it would make a difference to their choice. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this figure was even higher among early-adopter Londoners, where 70 percent said it would make a difference.

One very positive finding from the research was that awareness is extremely high, with only seven percent stating that 'no-one' was responsible for the green initiatives in the workplace. The survey clearly demonstrates that employees' hearts are in the right place but they do expect leadership to be provided from above.

The more we all learn about this subject we realise that it is the humble gestures conducted on a grand scale that will have the greatest impact. The good sense of well-designed, well-laid out office space is beyond doubt, from a commercial, sustainable and ethical point of view.

Socially-responsible behaviour has to be a 24/7 endeavour and we must empower an incentivise employers and employees to take responsibility for their collective working environment. The green environment is no long an option - it has to be our base line.

Gill Parker is joint managing director of BDGworkfutures.

This article originally appeared in volume 26 of WPP's global newspaper, The WIRE.

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