Thursday, May 25, 2023
Nine out of ten companies in Spain carry out sustainable actions, according to the report 'Contribution of Spanish companies to the 2030 Agenda: results of the business consultation on sustainable development,' prepared by the United Nations Global Compact, which shows a growth of more than 2,500 companies in these commitments. Business awareness of the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) of the 2030 Agenda rose from 69% in 2018 to 86% in 2022; 57% of the private sector has a person or department specialized in sustainability and half of the companies (49%) link their sustainable performance to an improvement in their economic data. Some large companies, such as Cepsa, already have specific Sustainable Employee Plans aimed at boosting the positive impact of their operations.
In the relationship with the work environment, the pandemic exerted a turning point due to the lockdowns, which forced the implementation of teleworking for a short period and has been maintained over time in many cases. This new hybrid model improves work-life balance and has a positive impact on the environment, which are critical objectives in sustainability, together with digitalization, promoting renewable energy, and the circular economy.
Avoiding traffic jams, reducing transport pollution, and saving on energy consumption in offices are some of the advantages of this new way of working, which works for 12.65 million workers, 55% of the working population in Spain, according to figures from the National Statistics Institute (INE). What would be the formula for a sustainable work environment?
More green mobility
Although private vehicle use is the preferred option for 53% of the population when commuting to work, there are alternatives to make mobility more sustainable:
- Public transport. In terms of energy, public transport is "four times more efficient per passenger transported" compared to private cars, while "for every euro invested in it, five euros are generated for the economy." Subsidies for the use of public transport—and even making it free in some companies—or providing a bus service with different routes and schedules for employees are some of the options for them to decide to leave their cars at home.
- Electric vehicle incentives: A reduction in the price of electric vehicles through subsidies or incentives from the company can be a decisive factor in purchasing an electric vehicle.
- Parking lots with electric recharging stations. Both including electric recharging stations and reserving spaces for these vehicles are an incentive for employees to opt for less polluting models in their daily commutes.
- New travel policy: In the European Union, air travel produces almost 38 times more greenhouse gas emissions than rail travel. It is therefore advisable to replace air travel with rail travel at work whenever possible. In addition, offsetting the carbon footprints of these trips through positive actions for the environment is a common method these days in Spain's productive fabric.
- Change of the company's fleet. In 84% of Spanish companies, there are plans to adopt electrified technologies in the next three years and 58% will choose the hybrid model, as shown in the 14th edition of the annual survey Arval Mobility Observatory. Among the sector's top concerns are environmental awareness to reduce emissions (49%); reducing fuel costs (44%); improving the company's public image (41%), and the possibility of driving in traffic-restricted areas in cities (39%).
-Bicycle. Can you imagine getting paid to ride your bike to work? In 2016, Liberty Seguros launched the 'En Bici al Trabajo' (Biking to Work) proposal, which it used to incentivize its employees with 0.37 euros per kilometer covered by this efficient, comfortable, and healthy means of transport. By 2020, "more than 100 colleagues had traveled a total distance of 219,000 kilometers," says Beatriz Ortega, head of Employee Experience in Europe at the insurance company, who estimates that the initiative has prevented 26,000 tons of CO2 emissions from being released into the environment.
More recycling culture
The rule of the three Rs—reduce, recycle, and reuse—is a maxim to be taken into account by companies to optimize the useful life of their products to meet the needs of the planet in the 21st century.
- Waste separation. Converting offices into Sustainable Work Centers (SWC) is the initiative Ecoembes has launched to help, since 2017, implement "the selective collection of packaging in its facilities" by providing the centers with information for correct separation. Since then, 5,541 centers have joined, where "more than 17,100 yellow garbage cans (for plastic, metal and brik containers) and 18,100 blue garbage cans (for paper and cardboard)" have been provided, according to the organization.
- Avoid wasting paper. Paper is always one of the items associated with offices. Just as emails have replaced traditional letters, digitalization favors the gradual reduction in the use of this material. While employees can opt for on-screen presentations or reading digital files instead of printing them on paper, companies can encourage savings by using recycled sheets and providing special collection sites to contribute to their reuse. If printing on paper is essential, setting printers to double-sided printing avoids unnecessary paper waste.
- Disposal of plastics. Small actions such as bringing a thermos flask for water or a cup and glass for coffee to the office are useful to avoid the systematic use of single-use plastics.
- Sustainable food service. During meals, offering sustainable catering services with local products or menus made from organic materials will contribute to promote a more responsible consumption with less environmental impact.
- Stretching the useful life of electronic devices. The key to good recycling habits lies in the idea of moving from a linear, throwaway model to a circular one where all resources are given a second life. This is why, before any required change, the company should consider repairing the electronic devices before purchasing new ones, provided that their useful life still has some way to go. Other options, such as donating computer equipment in good condition to give it a second life, meet the objective of sustainability and solidarity actions.
Less energy use
Lighting, air conditioning, and electricity for office equipment are responsible for 50% of the energy consumed in the service sector according to a report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). With the increased energy costs, savings by companies are necessary to meet the sustainability-economy balance. In that sense, how can companies reduce their consumption from the inside?
-Lighting. Taking advantage of natural light is one of the simplest solutions to avoid unnecessary energy costs; turning off the lights in common areas when they are not in use could save up to 10% of the office's total consumption. In addition, the company Energy GO recommends replacing incandescent bulbs with energy-saving lamps, with a useful life eight times longer and a lower cost of "up to 75%."
-Climate Control. The Institute for Energy Diversification and Saving (IDAE) noted that temperature control in offices is responsible for 54% of energy usage. Turning off inactive devices helps to lower the temperature; programming HVAC systems—between 23° and 26°C in summer and 20° and 24°C in winter—and controlling the switching on of lights at certain times are some habits to keep in mind to avoid wasting energy in the office.
- Office automation. Although the systematic use of electronic devices has a 20% impact on electricity consumption at work, it is possible to make using them more efficient, such as using computers only when necessary, regulating the brightness level and prolonging battery life. Many companies have already opted to replace desktop computers with laptops, which use half as much electricity over the same time period.
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