Sustainable Business will (probably) Save the Earth
The international community, though they seek to demonstrate a consensus on climate change and global warming through various agreements, the real work of minimizing and reversing environmental damage will be in the hands of national governments and businesses. Governments, like the forward-thinking government of the UAE, will be responsible for setting and enforcing environmental regulations. Businesses, too, have a crucial role to play. This is not only because they are one of the main sources of environmental pollution, but also because they have the opportunity and incentive to create innovative solutions to avoid and perhaps, reverse continuing damage to the ecosystem. Some examples would be investing in alternative energy sources and by implementing sustainability indicatives in the workplace.
Environmental sustainability is defined as “the quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance”. Sustainable workplace practices can be roughly defined as those that achieve the following:
- Minimise damage to the environment
- Reduce resource wastage
The Many Benefits of an Environmentally Sustainable Workplace
Every day, more companies are beginning to adopt more environmentally sustainable workplace practices, not only to fulfil their corporate social responsibility, but because sustainability makes business sense, in terms of reduced operational costs, improved employee health and well-being, and a better bottom line. Environmentally sustainable workplaces are those that seek to protect the environment, to conserve precious natural resources and to minimise damage both internally and externally to the business. In a previous post, we discussed how creating green working spaces through sustainable fit out has multiple benefits and positively impacts company results.
- Buildings have the largest potential of reducing greenhouse gas emissions
- Emission savings potential could be as high as 84 gigatons of CO2 by 2050
- US Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified buildings use 25% less energy and 11% less water than those uncertified and non-green buildings
- According to owners, green buildings, whether new or retro-fitted, increase around 7% in asset value. – Dodge Data & Analytics, 2016
- A European Commission, 2015 study estimates that energy efficiency initiatives could save €280 to €410 billion.
- Employees in environmentally sustainable workplaces are on average 16% more productive. 
- LEED buildings’ maintenance is 20% lower than typical commercial buildings. Green building retrofit can have an immediate effect of reducing operational costs by 10% in just a year.
At Summertown, we not only have deep knowledge and experience in helping different kinds of business with their workspace fit outs, but we are advocates of creating more sustainable working spaces, and for promoting environmentally sustainable working practices. We are constantly revisiting and fine-tuning our own sustainability strategy. Being a green fit-out specialist in Dubai is not just our job; it is our mission. We are always eager to share our experience and knowledge with others to contribute to increasing environmental awareness in the UAE with specific focus on commercial interior fit out.
Sustainable Workplace Practices
Based on our experience, we have identified 7 key recommendations to create a greener, healthier, happier and more sustainable working space for you and your employees. Our main objective is to help companies go beyond just talking about becoming more environmentally sustainable and to start walking the talk. Some of these recommendations will possibly involve upfront investment. For example, in changing or upgrading plumbing fixtures and A/C equipment, others are simpler to implement but require longer term commitment to begin showing results like employee engagement initiatives.
1. Sustainable Fit Out
A sustainable interior fit out is the essential first step in creating an environmentally sustainable workplace. It creates the base conditions in terms of energy and resource consumption, lighting, air quality, thermal comfort and others. Aiming for an environmental certification such as LEED for a new fit out enables sustainable commercial interiors to be created to an international standard.
There are also many cutting-edge technological innovations that can contribute to making interior fit out more sustainable. Green fit out enables the implementation of workplace practices that improve employee health and productivity, while cutting operational costs. Experienced fit out contractors will also use environmentally sustainable materials where possible and reduce internal pollutants by using non-toxic paints and materials, contributing to improved indoor air quality.
2. Energy Management
- Perform an energy audit to find opportunities to cut consumption. The US Department of Energy says that just sealing leaks and cracks in the workplace can cut 20% of heating and cooling costs.
- Set in place systems for smart metering and monitoring of energy consumption, and increase employee accountability for the results
- Set an automatic turn off and turn on of the office lighting, A/C, equipment and appliances
- Set up occupancy sensors
- Use natural lighting as much as possible not only because it cuts down on electricity usage, but because it helps create a more healthy workplace that integrates biophilic elements
- Invest in LED and energy-efficient office equipment and appliances
- Raise A/C temperature by 2 degrees
3. Water Efficiency & Conservation
Water is a scarce resource, especially in the UAE’s arid climate. Some of the measures that can be taken to manage water consumption include:
- Using water efficient plumbing fixtures including ultra-low flow toilets and showerheads, low-flow aerators that fit on the sink faucets, and water-efficient dishwashers and washing machines
- Water recycling or reusing measures (Grey water and process recycling systems), and
- Reducing water use in HVAC systems.
4. Waste Reduction
Waste generation rates in the UAE are among the highest in the world, due to the rapid growth in population and economic development. Each UAE resident is estimated to produce between 1.9-2.5 kg of waste daily. But only 10% of residents are currently recycling. In response, the country has set an ambitious goal of cutting the amount of waste reaching landfill by 75% by 2021. Various measures are being implemented to encourage residents and local businesses to become more aware, and to recycle more. Dubai Municipality has recently instituted a waste levy on commercial establishments to discourage waste generation and to encourage more recycling. Abu Dhabi is also setting up recycling stations across the emirate to help in cutting waste disposal costs. So having an efficient waste disposal system in place is not only good for the environment, it will save companies’ money too. This can be done through:
- Developing clear waste disposal policies, with defined accountability and reduction targets
- Implementing recycling policies in all work areas – including reusing and sorting
- Making clear purchasing choices to use goods and materials which stop waste being generate. This can be in the form choosing products with minimal packaging or using recycled or recyclable materials
- Ensuring safe disposal for waste that cannot be reused or recycled.
5. Go Digital
There are many ways to help office become a greener space. Workers can use different kinds of software and devices to work more efficiently, using time more effectively and cutting down on waste. For some companies, this will involve a shift in culture, and having clear policies requiring people to think and work differently.
- No Paper is the Greenest Paper
According to a TechRepublic rundown, a staggering 90% of all US office waste is due to documents being printed needlessly multiple times. The Emirates Environmental Group, a local NGO dedicated protecting the environment through education, action programs and community involvement, collected almost 1,800 tons of recyclable waste during a 2011 campaign, the majority of which was paper! Employees can be encouraged to go paperless, by reducing the number of printers, rationing paper and toner, and printing on both sides. Other ways to go paperless is to move to electronic invoicing and e-statements. Creating a collaborative work culture that uses online sharing tools rather than paper.
- Virtual meetings are more efficient
Using technology to facilitate online collaboration and to organise virtual meetings and conferences is one of the best decisions a company can make. First, it cuts down on travel time and costs as well as the associated carbon footprint generated by transportation. Second, it cuts down on time consumed in getting to and from meeting places. Third, it can reduce costs associated with organising meetings, including facilities and refreshments. Finally, they can cut down on waste produced by more traditional meetings, including printed materials. Virtual meetings can be held using a combination of voice, online chat, video instant messaging and desktop sharing. There are many web conference applications available as well. 
6. Employee Engagement & Awareness
Offices are living spaces. To ensure that a sustainable office remains that way, employee engagement is key. This includes motivating and involving employees in implementing sustainability measures. Smart thermal interior controls and recycling policies are positive, but so much more can be achieved if employee awareness of being sustainable is high.
- Raise Awareness & Increase Accountability among Employees: Each company has its own corporate culture. Involving employees in creating an environmentally aware culture is essential to the success of any sustainable workplace initiatives. Employees can become more engaged in a variety of ways. Depending on the nature of the company and its size, an employee group can be formed to lead employee actions. They are more effective in motivating their colleagues to participate in recycling and to cut down on paper use than any office memo. More aware employees can also push a more sustainable purchasing and procurement decisions. 
- Incentivise Employee Environmental Behaviour: Provide employees with way to monitor their resource consumption and carbon footprint. Incentivise employee behaviour changes through competitions, coupons or gifts. For example, encourage employees to use public transport or to use hybrid, electric vehicles.
7. Procurement & Supply Chain
At another level, one way of applying environmental concerns in the workplace is to put in place policies and procedures for sustainable procurement, as well as to examine all phases of the supply chain to see if environmental improvements are feasible.
Sustainable procurement typically means including environmental, non-cost elements in the procurement process. Procurement decisions are then made not only with regards to cost and quality, but also with regards to sustainability. This involves considering whether the supplier has environmental processes and policies in place and whether the goods themselves are environmentally sustainable. It may also mean engaging with suppliers to help them put in place more green policies. 
Summertown’s Workplace Sustainability Strategy
Summertown has just celebrated its 20th year anniversary; and have always had a clear vision and sustainability strategy inspired by global and regional sustainability goals including the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, the Vision 2021 and the Green Agenda, as well as the UAE Happiness Charter and CSR Mandate.
We are committed to sustainability in every corner of our business, as demonstrated by our achievement of being the first in our industry to achieve LEED Gold certification for our interiors, and first in our industry to achieve LEED Gold certification for our existing building; operations and maintenance (LEED EBOM). for on-going operations and maintenance of our Dubai headquarters. To meet the LEED EBOM sustainable criteria, we implemented a number of modification works including the installation of water sub-meters and energy monitoring units to enable us to effectively monitor and modify our resource consumption. We also revamped our MEP infrastructure, including installing carbon dioxide sensors to monitor air quality in our offices, creating a healthier workspace for our employees.
Over the course of last year, our results have confirmed the benefits of our sustainability strategy and approach:
- Positive economic performance – annual turnover of 13% over previous three-year average
- Energy intensity per employee cut by 9.3%
- Absolute Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions shrunk by 10.3%
- Office waste volume sent to landfill slashed by 32%
- Employee survey of our Wellness & Wellbeing programme
- 85% of employees state that workplace morale has improved
- 96% of employees said team spirit has increased
While we focus on performing at a high level for our external clients, we are also committed to creating the best internal environment for our employees. It’s worth noting that our efforts mentioned earlier have been recognised, as we won the ‘Best Workplace Wellness Program’ Award at Happiness @ Work Awards. Our Health and Well-being programme is a critical part of our corporate sustainability strategy. Our 2017 program include regularly scheduled activities to improve employee health and being, such as healthy breakfasts, mindfulness workshops and group yoga sessions.
We also do our best to be early adopters of technological innovations that can have a positive environmental impact. This year, we installed an electric car charging station for electric and hybrid vehicles at our headquarters in Dubai. The station has two dedicated car parks with one vehicle charger fitted with a universal plug enabling it to charge all electric and hybrid vehicles. The cost of charging is free for all Summertown employees and visitors. Our aim is to enable our staff to adopt a more environmentally sustainable lifestyle as well as contributing to our wider community. We want our employees to think about actively reducing their carbon footprint, by encouraging them to invest in electric or hybrid vehicles or explore public transportation. 
Summertown is the Go-to Contractor for Sustainable Workplaces
Summertown has impeccable credentials and unparalleled experience in carrying out commercial green fit outs and in creating environmentally sustainable workplaces. Our commitment to provide our clients with high quality, creative and innovative solutions is unequalled. Contact us today for advice and guidance on how to make your workplace more efficient, more productive and more sustainable.