Sustainability is one of those goals that can be achievable on both a macro and micro level in the professional world. If you're a cog in a larger machine, you can push for change, while those who have more control over a business' decisions have the power to make a real impact.
But what are some steps you could actually, practically take, if you're looking to make your working life less damaging to the environment, and more sustainable? We've gathered together some ideas you could use, whether as a springboard for more complex changes, or as simple, one-step measures that can salve your conscience and encourage others to emulate your attitude.
1. No more printing
Our first point might seem obvious, if only because many businesses have been doing it for years, but cutting down on printed material and moving documentation online really is a no-brainer. For every big, modern office that has a no-paper policy, there are a few smaller businesses that haven't brought it in.
Often there are clear reasons why it could be a painful transition, especially where people are dealing with printed matter or simply have legacy systems that appear to demand paper copies. The reality is, though, that every team could change to paperless systems with a bit of effort, and there are loads of programmes out there now to allow collaboration online, whether through the Google Suite or just active Slack channels. More than some other steps, cutting back on paper orders and usage will result in a tangible change.
2. Cut down the travel
We don't wish to be insensitive - we know that countless people around the world currently have no choice but to avoid travel, and work from home, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
However, if people are looking for silver linings, one could be that many businesses are given a chance to allow for more flexible working patterns, and to realise that much of their workforce could potentially work from home more regularly even under regular conditions. Every time you stay at home to work, you save a journey's worth of emissions, and the same goes for a meeting conducted online instead of in person.
Even if we return to normalcy and you return to your commute, think of ways to avoid emissions, whether that means cycling to work or encouraging remote partners not to travel in for short meetings.
3. Carbon neutralise
Of course, if you want to make an impact aside from your working behaviours, or indeed to compensate for your past impact on the global environment, one easy way to do so is through carbon neutralisation schemes.
We don't wish to toot our own horn too much, but if we can do it, so can you. There are plentiful tools out there to let you calculate your estimated carbon tonnage on an annual basis, including the WWF's Carbon Footprint Calculator. It will help you work out your rough impact, so that you can offset it.
This can be done through schemes like Forest Carbon in the UK, which will plant and maintain trees according to how much carbon you need to offset. Of course, offsetting should ideally be paired with behavioural change, but it has the bonus of being something you can do from your desk, easily.
4. Research your equipment...
Another significant step you can take to mitigate your impact on the planet is to take the time to research any equipment you use and purchase as a business or for professional use. Again, this can be small-scale or wider.
It might mean that if you need a new phone you consider something like the FairPhone 3, built with a firm eye on sustainability. Or if you need a new office chair, you could find a firm that uses recycled and recyclable materials rather than buying a cheaper, flimsier model that's destined for the landfill. On a personal level this can be a manageable change.
If you're able to impact the decisions of a large business, though, you could have a real impact. Some office buildings have thousands of chairs, desks, computers and other materials involved. Changing how these are procured to make sustainability an assumption could make a real impact. Indeed, you could even push for your business to locate itself within office buildings that have high sustainability scores and energy-trapping properties, which will play its part in encouraging more of these buildings to be constructed and renovated.
5. ...And your partners
Of course, you might be able to control your own actions, and those of your business to some degree, but another complication arises when you turn to your business partners. Whether you're part of a supply chain, or work with other businesses on projects, or hire them to provide services for you, another way to make your work more green is to encourage sustainability among your partners.
This could mean making sustainability a priority when tendering work and choosing partners, or it could mean simple talking to the management at those businesses about what they're doing, but if you can encourage other firms to take positive steps, without alienating people, you'll be doing good work that goes beyond your own working life.
We've run through some of the straightforward ways that you can approach making your work more sustainable, but it's important to remember that you likely won't be able to do all of them easily, at least not immediately. That's no bad thing - the key is to remain positive, and to make whatever small changes you can.