The Workforce Is Changing—So Must Your Office, In A Sustainable Way

By Jeremy Macdonald - ISS Director of Energy & Sustainability

Employees spend a lot of time at work.

They understand that a great workplace must also be great for the planet. Actually, they are demanding it. As it turns out, your company’s sustainability plan—any company, for that matter—strongly influences your employees’ decisions to join and stay with your company long term.

A recent study published in Fast Company found that nearly 40% of millennials and 17% of baby boomers said they chose a job because of company sustainability. More than 10% of workers said they’d be willing to take a pay cut to work for an environmentally friendly company.

The war for talent led to a lot of misguided attempts at making each workplace cooler than the last. Those things we thought employees wanted—table tennis, a shiny kegerator or indoor rock climbing walls are merely pointless perks that have become passé.   

Backing that up is this survey by Glassdoor, which looked at what aspects of company culture matter most to job seekers. At the top of the list: the company’s values must be aligned with their own personal values. And as you’ve seen, many place high value on sustainability. Compensation and benefits came in last.

For businesses, including yours, the message is clear: Jump on the sustainability bandwagon or risk your ability to sustain talent—and performance. In fact, one study estimated that companies see an average rate of return of 27% to 80% on eco-friendly investments. And Arabesque and the University of Oxford concluded in their study that good environmental standards lower the cost of capital, resulting in better operational performance, and have a positive effect on stock performance.

It’s no wonder that, recently, the Business Roundtable—an association of chief executive officers of America’s leading companies—redefined the purpose of and what it means to be a corporation. The updated statement extends beyond shareholders to include employees, customers, suppliers, and communities.

What do you see?

You might very well be pleased with your organization’s greenness. But it’s good to acknowledge that there is always room to do much more. And we have a few tools and tactics we think might help—they’ve certainly helped our customers.

Over the years, ISS has made huge strides in helping so many customers create sustainably conscious workplace environments. That means workplace environments that reduce harm on the planet, increase value for stakeholders, and improve environmental, social, and governance practices and compliance.

And these efforts are making a big impact. In 2018, we helped one client advance a very lofty goal: to design a campus and culture with zero waste in mind. With a keen focus on sustainability, we heeded some remarkable results.

In 2019, we helped another win an award from the Department of Energy for Best Practice in Energy Management.


Now it’s your turn to make a difference. Here are three things you can do to create a more sustainable workplace without using a ton of green:

1. What employees are looking for: Let in the natural light.

What you can do: We’ll assume you don’t have the budget to construct a new building. But there are simple, cost-effective tactics you can employ, like getting rid of those pesky fluorescent lights. (They are definitely not increasing your employees’ health, wellness, and productivity.) Instead, opt for desk lamps that replicate natural sunlight, which are also significantly more cost-effective. If you do have windows, take down the blinds and let it shine—and hang mirrors on the walls to reflect and amplify that light. And finally, encourage employees to take breaks outdoors by creating group step challenges and holding outdoor walking meetings.


2. What employees are looking for: Good air temperature and quality.

What you can do: A thermostat at every desk—well, now, wouldn’t that be nice. It can be challenging to please the temperature needs of everyone. One easy money-saving conservation tip: update your dress code. Allow people to dress a bit more casually in, say, the summer months, and discourage attire like dark suits and ties. You might even consider switching up the working hours, too. Try starting work one hour earlier, which means fewer workers at the office in the afternoon when energy use peaks. And consider telecommuting options. Also, maintain your HVAC systems. Air quality has a dire impact on employee performance and happiness.


3. What they want: Reuse—again, and again, and again . . .

What you can do: For just one example, reusable cups have a longer lifespan—and much lower impact on the environment—than disposables. Glass cups are the best alternative. If you’re forgoing paper coffee cups by using a glass mug, you can be having a positive environmental impact in as few as six uses. Reusable plastic cups are a close second. Using one just seven times yields greater environmental returns than single-use cups. In third, ceramic cups. Reuse them fifteen times and you’ve made an impact. Now, think of the multiplier effect it can have.


More and more, organizations are taking the initiative in creating a more environmentally conscious company culture through eco-friendly policies. You should be one of them.