Climate change is detrimentally affecting the way we live across the globe. Combatting it is no easy feat, but we’ll look at how you can simplify sustainability this World Environment Day. Through developing awareness and adapting supply chain practices, businesses can already take steps towards the UK’s net zero target.

Where does the UK government stand on sustainability in the workplace?

So, where can employers start on World Environment Day? The UK government's Environment Act 2021 provides a set of regulations and guidelines for becoming more sustainable as a business. It is part of the UK’s strategy to reach net zero by 2050. The Act sets new environmental targets for businesses, and The Prince’s Responsible Business Network also says that: ‘Businesses should also work proactively to embrace the changes as research has shown that environmental regulations can boost economic growth by improving business innovation’.

Pressure is now also coming from the UK government for businesses to improve the sustainability of their supply chains. Back in 2022, the government created two new laws for UK businesses covering Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) reporting. According to their strategic report, businesses are now expected to disclose the environmental risks of their business, as well as reporting the methods that they've used to assess them.

Sustainability in the workplace ideas

With the above in mind, what steps are UK businesses currently taking to reduce their environmental impact? Let’s look at supply chains. Sainsbury’s now claim that they monitor their entire supply chain using their own independent standards, which involves keeping food waste to a minimum, and aiming to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030.

Circular economy models are perhaps the ultimate in sustainable supply chain management. PwC explains that a circular economy model is an alternative to linear ‘take-make-waste’ models, instead maximising a product’s lifecycle and ‘reusing by-products and waste to make new materials or products’. This new model already has political backing: The World Economic Forum says that Europe is planning on transferring to a circular model.

Despite this push towards more sustainable business practices and supply chains, the UK isn't seeing a huge increase in green jobs. Our Hiring Lab survey found that they've only grown by 13% since 2016, revealing this to be still both a challenge and an opportunity to businesses looking to take advantage of the renewable energy economy. In order to meet the government's net zero target, more of these roles need to be available much faster.

Greenwashing is a ‘no’ for consumers

Consumers (which also means your employees and potential hires) are becoming increasingly conscious of what’s known as ‘greenwashing’. According to Greenly, ‘Greenwashing is when a company claims to commit to environmentally friendly practices, but doesn’t take any concrete effort to encourage or sustain these practices’. For example, back in 2021, The Guardian questioned Leon’s claim of ‘carbon-neutral’ burgers due to their controversial (and potentially ineffective) carbon offsetting processes.

In the same article, Greenly also found that greenwashing may cost more time and money than developing more simple sustainable practices. And what happens if customers find out that you’re greenwashing? They believe that there should be strong repercussions. 75% of UK consumers that Leigh Day surveyed wanted harsher penalties for corporations caught greenwashing, and 77% felt that companies put their profits before the environment.

While responding to this might seem like an additional challenge for companies struggling with supply chains and budgets post-Brexit, it’s one that’s a big priority for your employees, candidates, and customers alike. The Harvard Business Review discovered that supply chain transparency in particular may help industry leaders to retain employees: companies like Patagonia have low employee turnover and high rates of applications, in part due to its reputation as being environmentally responsible.

Educating your employees on sustainability

The Stanford Social Innovation Review notes the importance of linking: ‘employees’ value and support for sustainability… with daily work and the company’s operations’. The aim, they claim, is to realign the personal values of your employees with the corporate values of your business. One strategy for this is communicating the long-term sustainability interests of your business to your employees, in the form of a blueprint for a sustainable growth.

The Review also found that managers have to make the economic case of sustainability to employees themselves, perhaps by providing presentations on their company’s relationship to the environment, and the challenges that come with this. HSBC found that while just over half of businesses are invested in sustainability training, some employees were worried that sustainability targets may affect their ability to do their job properly.

So, engaging your staff with the reasoning behind your environmental objectives can help them see the practical value in achieving them. It also emphasises helping staff to feel a sense of autonomy about what they can do for the environment. Consider it a form of upskilling — you could either design courses yourself, or outsource this to an agency that specialise in sustainability training.

Educating your managers in sustainability leadership skills can help them to make better informed decisions when it comes to the environmental impact of their teams. Setting them challenges for reaching short-term sustainability goals could help them to develop these skills. One UK company already looking into this is the Victoria and Albert Museum, who are providing employees and volunteers with carbon literacy training, and the V&A’s ‘Zero Carbon Pathways’, which includes group and self-directed learning opportunities.

This World Environment Day, set sustainability in motion

On World Environment Day – and for the rest of 2023 – employers can start to tackle sustainability in the workplace through a combination of supply chain transformation, and practical education for their employees. While some employees may be initially resistant to changes in their processes for the sake of sustainability, helping them to see the genuine value in these changes is ultimately the way forward.