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How sustainability will shape the future workplace

4 grams. That is how much carbon dioxide was generated by your last email, according to research by BBC Futures. If you sent an attachment, the carbon dioxide generated grows to 50 grams.

There is a strong business case for being more sustainable. Can we deliver sustainable workplaces simply by sending fewer emails? The evidence suggests that may be a start, but the story of how sustainability will shape future workplaces is still in its early stages.

The latest step on our sustainability journey is delivering our net zero commitment, through which we aim to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions significantly by changing where and how we work, and our state of mind.

Sustainability is a state of mind

Environmental regulation plays an important role in driving sustainability. However, using regulation to punish, rather than promoting sustainable practices by incentivising and winning hearts and minds, only gets you so far. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) highlights in its Sustainable Development Goals that being sustainable is a lifestyle choice. It is achieved through adopting a state of mind.

The pandemic has resulted in two major outcomes that pre-COVID policy frameworks have not yet delivered by forcing us to look at how we work and where we work. It has accelerated trends, such as digitalisation and remote working. As a result, sustainable workplaces may become the norm faster than would otherwise have been the case.

Limited studies and data are available to fully assess the impact of the pandemic on sustainable workplaces. A recent report by Everest, which focuses on global service businesses, highlights that the transition to working from home (WFH) has been largely successful, with some caveats.

This suggests the WFH or hybrid model will remain. Superficially, reduced numbers of energy intensive office centres, less commuting and fewer business trips indicate a more sustainable workplace.

However, as pre-pandemic research highlights, this is not the full story. The concentration of workers in a single location leads to energy efficiencies in, for example, winter heating. And we know there is an energy and carbon cost associated with email, messaging, video calls and the infrastructure to support home working.

With data supporting both office-based and remote working, the issue is more complex than it appears. There is insufficient data to fully understand how the COVID-19 pandemic will shape sustainable workplaces. However, with a growing number of companies working successfully on a hybrid model, there is an appetite for new research and assessment.

Employees are driving, and building, the sustainable workplace

According to Mercer’s 2021 Global Talent Trends study, a third of employees want an employer who shows ‘responsibility toward all stakeholders’. The same study also highlights that ‘85 per cent of business leaders agree an organisation’s purpose should extend beyond shareholder primacy’.  Should your organisation do the same?

Skilled knowledge workers can switch employer quickly and work in any location. This means they can choose employers that share similar values and reject those that do not. Mercer’s study confirms that over a third (36 per cent) of employees ‘favour companies that focus on social equity and environmental protection’. Being responsible and embracing sustainability underpins employer brands, helping you both attract and retain workers who identify with your culture.

The messaging from governments, non-governmental institutions (NGOs) and other stakeholders is that individual action on climate change, taking measures in our homes and lifestyles, is as important as national and international policies and agreements. Our workplaces are no different. Individual employees have as much of a part to play as employers. In fact, unless your workforce buys into your net zero and other sustainability commitments, many of your targets cannot be met.

By attracting a workforce that identifies with your corporate values and positioning on sustainability, your environmental strategy goals have the potential to become self-fulfilling. And your talent acquisition strategy will also benefit.

Developing green skills in-house and with partners

No matter how willing and on board with the sustainable mindset your workforce is, organisations need the green skills to implement sustainability strategies. Our journey to net zero includes making sense of and measuring some highly complex concepts. Not only is measuring your business required, but you must also examine your supply chains - where you do not have in-house skills, you must outsource those needs to experts.

To advise on and support our sustainability journey, Hays has partnered with ClimatePartner. This arrangement fills a gap in our capabilities, as ClimatePartner will audit our carbon dioxide emissions, including energy usage at company facilities, business travel, employee commuting, external data centres and more. Alongside making informed choices about our business, we are greening our supply chain through decisions such as investing in greener assets and procuring more sustainable solutions, including offsetting.

Valuable and long-term partners such as ClimatePartner are a vital element of the solution. Changing hiring mindsets and reskilling are also essential. A virtuous circle begins when you attract new hires to your business because of its core responsible values. These workers enter your business already equipped to help it evolve. Offering existing workers upskilling and reskilling opportunities becomes a self-selecting process of retaining the people who will add greatest value in the future.

Start your organisation’s sustainability journey by asking if you should send that email. 4 grams is a modest start, but it is a beginning.

“Here at Hays we believe that sustainability is a crucial component of the future of work. As such, it lies at the heart of our commitment to Net Zero by the end of 2021. We are proud of the progress we have already made, becoming carbon neutral and partnering with ClimatePartner and Ecometrica to measure our carbon footprint. We recognise however that more needs to be done and have set new targets to reach our goal, like reducing business flights by 40% by 2025. Throughout this journey, I have been delighted and proud to see the engagement and commitment of our Hays workforce who actively participate in our fight to do what’s right and continue to inspire us to become a sustainable, green business.”


Matthew Dickason
Global Managing Director, Hays Talent Solutions & Group Head of Strategy

Matthew is the Global Managing Director for Hays Talent Solutions & Group Head of Strategy, having joined Hays in 2005. Previous roles held at Hays include Business Director in the UK and Chief Operating Officer for Asia Pacific. He is now responsible for leading the global business of Hays Talent Solutions and investing to ensure clients retain a competitive advantage in talent acquisition from the delivery of Hays MSP, RPO, technology and modular service solutions.

Prior to joining Hays, Matthew worked within Engineering, Research, Operations and Commercial areas at Johnson Matthey and Corning Inc. He has formal qualifications in Organisational Psychology and Industrial Engineering.