Green Office Guide IV: Sustainable Development for your Business

As an initiative to address sustainable developments in the workplace, we have begun making efforts to provide guidelines and tools for greening the office work environment. We’ve started by developing a 5-part Green Office Guide series. In the first section, we discussed ways on how to reduce your carbon footprint at work. The second installment of our guide spoke about greening the office product line and its importance. In the third piece, we listed ways your brand can improve the environmental impact on business operations. Today, we will be diving further into the concept of sustainability and hopefully raise awareness on what it really means to ‘go green.’ Presenting Part IV of our Green Office Guide on how you can achieve sustainable development for your business.

Let’s begin with the definitions and the facts. We understand that it’s not always an easy process to incorporate green practices in a business- but learning the facts can only help.


A. What is Sustainability?

“Green” is a common expression that originally referred to those products, actions or organizations that were thought to be environmentally superior. In recent years, more people have begun to associate the term with sustainable development or sustainability. Sustainable development carries many definitions, the most common of which was articulated by the UN’s Brundtland Commission in 1987: “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

From the perspective of organizations, the goal of sustainable development –often referred to in the shorthand as sustainability –entails meeting the “Triple Bottom Line” of economic, social and environmental responsibility. It is about fostering respect for people and other living things while at the same time wisely using and managing environmental and economic resources. It calls for a careful balancing that takes into account the interests of key stakeholders—employees, customers, suppliers, investors, governments, and others—the very parties whose support is critical to the success of any organization.

Over the last few years, many businesses, cities, non-governmental organizations, and academic institutions have realized they have a role to play in the march toward sustainability. Certainly commercial businesses have an important role, too.

B. General Guidance on Implementing a Sustainability Program

(1) Use Guidance: Prioritize.
If your organization desires to pursue sustainability, it should do so in a practical way– in a way that is most suitable to its resources, location, structure, culture, and nature of operations, and service. The approach should be one that adds the most value to the organization. The checklists and other guidance above and below can provide ideas on how that might be done. It is not expected that the organization adopt all of these practices; indeed, there may be other practices that are as effective for the organization, if not more so, than those listed. Also, given the breadth of sustainability, it is advised that you prioritize and pace your efforts toward implementation over the course of years. Take a few short steps, gain some success, and then move on to others.

(2) Systematic Approach.
A simple management system approach, though not essential, may prove helpful in pursuing sustainability. This entails a sequential process of planning, implementing the plan, reporting and evaluating performance, adjusting the approach, and periodically repeating these steps for continual improvement. Here are some more specific steps that may be worth considering, too:

  • Secure Buy-in: Discuss with employees what you are trying to accomplish by adopting this sustainability initiative and why you think the organization should do it; secure employee buy-in.
  • Adopt and Post Policy: Adopt, sign and post a sustainability policy in one or more prominent places in your office area. This will inform everyone about your purpose and objectives. For ideas about the content of such a document, see the two model policies in Appendices 3 and 4.
  •  Appoint Coordinator: Identify a person from the organization as a sustainability coordinator to oversee your implementation of the policy, and track and report progress.
  • Assess Status: Use the checklists and other recommendations of this Guide to assess the current status of sustainability of your organization.
  •  Create Plan with Goals: Establish a plan for implementing the sustainability policy in a way that makes sense for the organization. One way to do this is to have teams propose a few objectives, metrics, and goals, and then the organization’s leaders can select the priorities and spread them across a number of years so that progress is steady but not overwhelming.
  • Identify Implementation Leaders: Assign people within the organization to lead the implementation of each key objective or goal. A supporting sustainability team may also be useful for implementing some items.
  • Evaluate Performance: After a period of implementation—say, one year– commence an annual evaluation of progress and challenges.
  • Report Progress: Periodically communicate the organization’s progress in implementing the policy. Do this internally first, then publicly. This is most credibly done when noteworthy achievements and best practices are conveyed along with a description of challenges and plans for further improvement. A public report may take the form of a brochure or other publication for customers. It may also entail posting a simple progress report on the website of your organization. Guidance on public sustainability reporting and ideas for performance measurements may be found at the Global Reporting Initiative website:
  • Recognize Achievements: Celebrate success; recognize exceptional performance; have some fun.
  • Adjust and Repeat Process: Adjust the objectives as appropriate, and repeat the process for continual improvement. Eventually meld the process into the organization’s regular business planning. Make this part of the organization’s culture.
  • Tell Others: Share your experience with others outside the organization (customers, new recruits, other organizations, communities, media, etc.); inspire others to undertake a similar commitment.

This is Part IV of our green office series. If you miss any of our articles, check them all out here!

Part I – Reduce your Carbon Footprint in the Office

Part II – Greening the Office Product Line

Part III – Improve Environmental Impact in Business Operations.

Join us next week as we conclude our 5-Part Green Office Guide Series with the final installment.

  • I really agree with the “prioritize” section. Just like the old “80/20” rule, it’s normal that a few business activities result in the greatest negative impact on the environment.

    I’m excited that consumers are becoming more demanding and favoring brands/companies that work to achieve more sustainable operations.