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How Can I Use Data to Make my Workplace More Sustainable?

July 12th, 2023 | 13 min. read

How Can I Use Data to Make my Workplace More Sustainable?


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The intensifying focus on environmental sustainability is creating a shift in how offices are planned and designed. This paradigm shift is greatly driven by the millennial and GenZ workforce - 40% of whom are motivated to work for organizations that are committed to environmental responsibility. However, there persists a gap between the rhetoric and reality, with the Harvard Business Review revealing a trend of environmental sustainability being oversold within the corporate world.

A solution lies in authentic, data-backed sustainable workplace strategies that result in reduced environmental impact. Insightful data analysis paves the way for identifying areas of improvement and measuring the impact of your sustainability efforts. 

Benefits of a Sustainable Building

Enhanced employee well-being: A sustainable workplace translates into a healthier and more comfortable environment. Natural light, improved air quality, and temperature-controlled spaces contribute to a better work environment. This not only promotes employee well-being but also boosts morale and pride in being associated with a company that values sustainability.

Improved productivity levels: Numerous studies indicate a direct correlation between greener workspaces and elevated levels of productivity. A visually appealing, well-lit, comfortable environment can enhance cognitive function, reduce fatigue, and subsequently result in higher levels of efficiency among employees.

Long-term cost savings: While the initial cost may seem steep, the long-term savings are substantial. By leveraging renewable energy sources, optimizing energy consumption, and effectively managing resources, companies can significantly cut down on utility bills, maintenance, and repair costs.

Increased business stakeholder value: Environmentally sustainable practices can be a significant determinant of company value in the eyes of stakeholders. Investors often look favorably upon businesses that proactively pursue sustainability, considering them less risky in terms of potential environmental liabilities and better equipped to sustain long-term profitability.

Reduced energy consumption: Energy-efficient buildings align directly with the global urgency to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Efficient structures use a fraction of the energy consumed by regular ones. By integrating smart technology like sensors, timed power systems, and energy-saving appliances, organizations can create substantial energy and cost savings. 

Each of these benefits contributes to an overall robust and cost-effective business environment which results in financial savings, enhanced efficiency, and improved public image.

How Data Impacts Sustainable Practices

There's an inherent power and effectiveness that comes with utilizing data-driven decision-making in the pursuit of sustainability. Data analysis can highlight areas for improvement by revealing details about building usage, utility costs, energy consumption, waste management, and more. Insights like these allow decision-makers to isolate resource-consuming areas or appliances that require attention. 

Data also enhances accountability and trust by providing tangible evidence of sustainability efforts. Companies can share this information with stakeholders, fostering transparency and reinforcing their commitment to sustainable practices. This data-driven approach promotes optimization across various areas as it reveals inefficient systems and prompts necessary process alterations.

IoT devices are particularly helpful in gathering data and identifying costly energy usage patterns, allowing for real-time modifications. Sensor-based systems can gather data from every corner of a workspace, uncovering optimization opportunities related to lighting, temperature, and space utilization.

Measuring Sustainability in the Workplace

A few of the metrics that workplace and CRE leaders should evaluate to understand their current sustainability standing and how it evolves with ongoing initiatives include:

Energy consumption: Monitor the amount of energy used within your buildings. Focus on areas of high energy usage, whether it's lighting, heating, cooling, or specific appliances. Workplace leaders can use energy monitoring tools or smart meters to accurately record electricity, gas, and other energy usage data and further single out high-energy-consuming systems for attention.

Carbon footprint: Measure your company's total greenhouse gas emissions, often represented as a carbon dioxide equivalent. Tools such as carbon calculators make it possible to estimate greenhouse gas emissions, with more detailed audits carried out by specialized environmental consultancies that factor in utility use, commuting, and other indirect emissions.

Water usage: Look at the quantity of water utilized within your buildings. Track water consumption using water meter data, or consider installing smart water meters that can provide more detailed, real-time data. Further identify potential water-saving areas by evaluating consumption patterns and usage frequency. Determine the efficiency of current usage and identify areas where water savings could occur, such as low-flow faucets, efficient appliances, or better irrigation systems.

Waste generation: Quantify the amount and types of waste produced by your offices. Waste audits can provide valuable data about the quantity and type of waste produced in your workplace. These typically involve sorting and weighing waste over a specific period and should ideally occur after implementation of waste reduction strategies.

Indoor air quality: Poor indoor air quality can negatively impact employee health and productivity. Utilize indoor air quality monitors that measure various parameters such as the temperature, humidity, ventilation, and volatile organic compounds, while particulate matter sensors are used to detect air particle concentration.

Real estate usage: Evaluate how efficiently you are using your current space. Look at metrics such as capacity usage and time usage to determine the potential for downsizing or reconfiguring your space for better utilization. Workplace occupancy sensors and occupancy intelligence platforms can provide real-time and accumulated data about how and when your office space is utilized, contributing to better space use.

Sustainable procurement: Assess the proportion of goods and services your company purchases that meet certain standards for environmental friendliness. The higher the score, the greener your procurement practices. Evaluate your suppliers and goods purchased based on certifications such as the Forest Stewardship Council for paper products, Energy Star for electronics, or Rainforest Alliance for food products. 

Renewable energy use: Measure the proportion of your energy supply that comes from renewable sources. This might include energy generated on-site or purchased from a green-energy provider. Refer to utility bills and green energy certificates to determine the proportion of renewable energy used. On-site renewable energy systems such as solar panels will also typically integrate monitoring capabilities.

Employee engagement: Conduct regular employee surveys to quantify the level of engagement and sentiment towards your company's sustainability initiatives. This metric can guide you in adjusting your strategies to ensure maximum employee participation and a shared commitment towards environmental responsibility.

Building energy efficiency ratings: Utilize energy rating systems like the Energy Star Score or the LEED certification to measure the energy efficiency of your buildings. Over time, track any improvement in ratings as a direct reflection of your sustainability efforts.

A Data-Driven Checklist to Building a Sustainable Workplace

A sustainable building is the foundation to meet your ESG and sustainability targets. As businesses make strides towards sustainability, consider the following checklist to create an data-driven strategy:

  1. Establish sustainability ownership: First, it’s essential to create clear ownership as to who is managing and promoting sustainability within the organization. Whether this is a dedicated role or integrated into existing roles will be dependent on your organization’s level of focus on sustainability. These roles are critical as they bring focus and accountability to these efforts.
  2. Comprehensive sustainability audit: Conduct a thorough audit of all workplace practices that impact sustainability. This is a holistic evaluation of current sustainability practices, using the measurements listed above. The insights from this audit provide a benchmark for your sustainability initiatives and identify areas that require immediate and long-term attention.
  3. Define clear goals and objectives: Based on the findings of your sustainability audit, set clear, achievable sustainability goals relating to your organization and sector. These goals may look to address high energy usage, excessive waste production, inefficient water usage, and more. Targets should be time-bound and specific to ensure clarity and measurability.
  4. Develop a sustainability action plan: Developing a strategic action plan is the next step. This plan should clearly outline the strategies, initiatives, and tasks that will be used to achieve the defined sustainability goals. Prioritize these tasks based on factors such as their potential impact, cost-effectiveness, and feasibility of implementation. The action plan should also clearly identify the people responsible for each task, the resources needed, and a timeline for execution.
  5. Communicate and implement the plan: To ensure desired engagement and results, the sustainability plan should be communicated effectively across the organization. Regular updates on the plan’s progress can maintain interest and motivation over time.
  6. Measure, Review, and Adjust Strategy: Continually collect and review performance data to measure your sustainability impact against your set objectives. Making adjustments informed by data ensures that your strategies are always aligned with the end goal. Technology such as real-time monitoring tools can be particularly beneficial in accessing accurate, up-to-date data.

Integrating data and data-driven strategies into each step of the sustainable building checklist ensures a robust approach to sustainability. By making data the cornerstone of your sustainability initiatives, your organization will be positioned to make informed, effective decisions that drive tangible environmental impact.

Building a Sustainable Workplace

The intensifying focus on workplace sustainability is driving a paradigm shift in office planning and design. However, it is crucial for businesses to move beyond rhetoric and embrace authentic, data-backed sustainable workplace strategies.

By proactively incorporating sustainable practices and leveraging insightful data analysis, organizations can make informed decisions that lead to reduced environmental impact. This data-driven approach allows for the identification of areas of improvement and the measurement of the tangible outcomes of sustainability efforts.

To dive even further into workplace sustainability, please explore our other ESG resources.

How can I make my CRE portfolio more ESG-friendly?

How can I make my workplace more sustainable?