Greening up the workplace

Adopting green business practices goes beyond environmental gains and cost savings. Eco-friendly organisations are also more likely to attract and retain talent as employees feel a sense of pride for their place of work. HRM investigates

Organisations that care deeply about their environment and society are more likely to take care of their employees. Herein, lies the draw of sustainable companies among job seekers.

According to a 2012 survey conducted by US-based online job board TheLadders, 72% of job seekers would prefer to work for an “eco-conscious” company.

The survey also found that 75% of employees would be keen to change their daily routine if their company provided them with small incentives to be green.

However, sustainability isn’t just about minimising environmental impacts – it’s bigger than that, says Shirley Chua, director of communications and outreach, Singapore Environment Council. “In the context of HR, it’s more about taking a long-term view, and that’s the key characteristic of a sustainable organisation – a concern for the future survival of the business, not just of present profitability.”

According to Chua, HR can play a major part in sustainability in terms of managing the relationship between the business and its workforce. “However, the challenge for modern businesses is one of changing workforces – because today’s workforce is very different from previous generations,” she says.
 
Boosting staff morale

Environmentally conscious companies often have an edge over the competition when it comes to talent attraction.

Young employees these days aspire to join an organisation whose culture resonates with their own personal values, Retnam Pui Yim, Vice President of Corporate Services, YTL PowerSeraya. “They would like to be associated with a company that cares for the environment. This is evident in some of the interviews that our HR department has conducted for potential candidates. They were keen to join YTL PowerSeraya because of its active involvement in green practices.”

According to the Singapore Environment Council, green practices are generally positive in nature and help to assure employees that their company is not just focused on its bottom line but is equally mindful of the environment and the impact it has on staff.

Green programmes are also a good way to boost employee engagement. An active green programme to consistently engage staff will especially help those who value green practices to think further about their own involvement and, as a result, lead to greater engagement and sense of belonging in the company, says Retnam.

Employees who already adopt green practices in their home would also feel more engaged and happier working in a company that also adopts green practices, says Retnam. “Collective green efforts in the company can help build a common purpose and this helps bind staff members and boost their morale.”

YTL PowerSeraya, which is a certified Eco-office (see: boxout) includes green initiatives in its corporate social responsibility activities. For example, it conducted pot-painting workshops with its adopted charity GROW, which placed completed potted plants in staff work areas. “Having such plants at work can contribute towards a better working environment, improve indoor air quality and promote staff’s well-being,” says Retnam.

Socially-responsible companies also emit a more attractive employer brand. Companies that follow environmentally-sound initiatives such as electronic filing, car-sharing, teleconferencing, recycling, online training, and energy-efficient office spaces leave a positive impact. “All these measures don’t just ensure compliance and improve productivity, they also have an impact on intangible yet invaluable assets such as brand and reputation. Employees are attracted to companies who run their businesses and achieve goals in a way that aligns with their values, and connects their business decisions to ethical, social and environmental concerns,” Chua says.
 
Driving the green agenda

A clear direction and good leadership are essential for driving effective green workplace practices. But who takes the lead?

YTL PowerSeraya has a dedicated Sustainability Department that is responsible for the green agenda in the organisation. This department also leads a “Green Team” at itscorporate headquarters, which comprises of representatives from different business units looking into ways to ‘green’ the office.

The HR team at YTL PowerSeraya plays a role in facilitating the Sustainability Department’s efforts to educate staff on “green” matters. For example, the green agenda is incorporated into employee orientation programmes. “This includes sharing about the company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy and how our CSR Strategic Thrust of ‘Nurture Human Capital’ is more than just training and developing employees, but also about inculcating a sustainability culture within the organisation,” says Retnam.

YTL Power Seraya’s HR team also provides staff with training opportunities on green matters such as in the area of energy efficiency management, so that such knowledge may be applied at the workplace, in plant operations, and even in helping to educate customers on energy efficiency.

Similarly, at imaging and electronics company Ricoh, green practices come under the purview of the Environmental Management Group Department. An Environmental Committee takes cares of green certifications. “HR plays a supporting role in generating environmental awarenesss during Induction Training and provides necessary facilities,” says Wong Yee Thing, assistant manager of the regional environmental management group service and environment division of Ricoh Asia-Pacific.

Every year, Ricoh sets clear targets and objectives focused on areas such as company-wide environmental conservation, the purchasing of environmentally-friendly office stationery, as well as environmental social contributions outside of the office. “We monitor our internal paper and electricity consumption and convey the results to all staff on a monthly basis. All our staff (go) through environmental training and complete competency test to ensure they are aware of our company’s environmental policy and practices,” says Wong.

At Ricoh’s Eco-certified offices, there’s no individual waste bin for staff. “We have a general bin for food waste and coloured bins for waste segregation purposes. We even have recycling rooms and engage certified recyclers who collect papers, cardboard, and electronic waste every month.
 
Overcoming challenges

Adopting a green agenda is not without its challenges. When Ricoh embarked on its efforts in 2003, going green was uncommon and it took a while to change employees’ mindsets, shares Wong. “So, the support from top management was really important. Subsequently, we ensured that all our new staff went through environmental training to ensure the smooth faciliation of our green initiatives.

Pursuing ‘green’ is often perceived to mean extra costs to the organisation, says Retnam of YTL PowerSeraya. “However, if we were to look at the life cycle cost of going green, there are actually long term benefits and cost savings to the company.”

For example, when YTL PowerSeraya decided to purchase paper from Forest Stewardship Council-certified sources in 2008, it was more expensive and still is. “Over years of deliberate paper reduction measures, we have managed to reduce paper usage to a level that not only pays for the cost premium but also reaps cost savings,” Retnam explains.
 

Green practices that can boost staff morale
 
  • A green businesses and building can enhance productivity and health of staff, and reduce absenteeism.
  • A green workplace accompanied with a reward system to motivate or encourage green activities can satisfy employees’ environmental expectations of their organisation.
  • A flexible working programme, such as working from home for part of the week, can improve the work-life balance of employees, leading to enhanced job satisfaction.
 
Source: Singapore Environment Council

 

Go green and save on costs!
 
Ricoh
  • Since it started monitoring paper and electricity consumption, and finding measures to reduce consumption in 2003 the average consumption rate per staff member has been reduced by 51% and 31% respectively.
 
YTL PowerSeraya
  • $5,000 in annual energy cost savings at its corporate office since 2010.
  • $5,300 in annual paper cost savings since introducing paper monitoring as well as reduction measures in late 2008

 

Get your workplace eco-office certified
 
  • Launched in 2002, the Eco-Office certification programm is a joint initiative between the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) and City Developments. It focuses on ‘heart-ware’ to gear behavioural change in workplaces. The main aim of the programme is to instill a green culture in offices and a cascading sense of responsibility for employees, who can pass green tips and habits to their families at home.
  • Interested companies can contact the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) for a self-audit form which can be used to assess their current environmental performance.
  • With this self-audit form, points are allocated with each item achieved. It is based on simple metrics, such as corporate environmental policy and commitment, purchasing practices, waste minimisation measures, and levels of recycling.
  • Companies will be eligible for an external audit with a score of at least 50% and the SEC will then assist in all arrangements between them and the third party external auditors.
  • External audits take approximately half a day, where companies present evidence to auditors based on their input in the completed self-audit form.
  • SEC will then vet through all audit reports to confirm that the report submitted is fair and accurate.
  • An auditor’s score of at least 50% will allow companies to be “Eco-office-certified”, an assessment that is valid for two years.
  • As of June 2013, a total of 177 unique offices are currently registered as Eco-offices.

 

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