Companies can promote small changes in the working environment which contribute to environmental conservation: from arranging buses or company routes to teleworking, including the creation of the necessary jobs to monitor sustainable development. 

The connection between environmental issues and those of the world of work may seem remote, since they are of such a different nature. However, a broad globalized vision of this subject is required, taking into account the extremely important impact which production processes and the way in which workers do their work can have on the environment and how all of this may affect workers’ perception of their work.

This is nothing new, although a lot of work has yet to be done to address, also from a labor perspective, the challenges involved in environmental conservation. The International Labor Organization (ILO) has recognized climate change as one of the greatest threats to sustainable development, for which reason it is (i) developing international policies and standards for sustainability at work, (ii) urging the authorities at national level to implement social and employment policies which support commitments regarding climate change, and (iii) encouraging production sectors and companies to assume real commitments to environmental conservation in their production processes.

All of this is extremely important from a business perspective since the concept of decent work or quality work is being constantly reinvented and, by engaging in a risky futuristic exercise, we could even venture to say that in the future the only job which will be capable of being considered decent is one which is really committed to environmental conservation, in companies with sustainable production processes and which make constant efforts to move towards a green work model.

How plausible is this? Is there something that can be done by companies whose production processes does not in itself affect the environment? What specific measures can be adopted from an employment perspective?

The environment can be improved not only by converting coal-fired power stations into windfarms. Small changes which a company can promote in relation to how the production processes followed by a group of workers are designed and implemented, or even in the way in which independent contractors are selected, can go a long way towards preserving the environment.

We outline below some of the green initiatives most in vogue in the workplace:

  1. The development of corporative governance policies to enable the company’s green compass to be set on a stable basis so that it can lead the way to be followed by the rest of the company’s policies. Not only the company’s general policies but rather a truly general across-the-board application.
  2. The creation of procedures for contracting third parties (Know your customer policies) which requires third-party contractors to also have policies and practices compatible with the environment and sustainable development.
  3. The arrangement of buses or company routes or the existence of a policy for car sharing among work colleagues for travel to the workplace, which significantly reduce fuel consumption and carbon particle emissions, while promoting punctual arrival and benefiting workers who live in places with limited public transport.
  4. The existence of teleworking policies, whereby workers can work from home completely or partially, permitting the reduction of the volume of traffic in cities, pollution levels (and workers’ exposure to areas that are contaminated or have adverse climatic conditions) and which also promote punctuality and improve the work environment and well-being at work.
  5. The promotion of the use of new technologies to permit (i) the reduction of paper to what is absolutely essential, by the widespread introduction of documentary authentication mechanisms, for example by having genuine electronic signatures, and (ii) avoiding unnecessary costs of travel and space utilization, for example by the habitual use of video conferencing platforms (which will also reduce the expenses arising from travel and inefficiencies due to the time devoted to it).
  6. The renewal of fleets of vehicles (especially in companies with extensive sales forces or travel in private cars) which give priority to electric or hybrid cars (which also have attractive tax incentives).
  7. The early detection and proactive removal of items harmful to the environment and to health, such as asbestos or lead, among others, in compliance with occupational risk prevention legislation.
  8. Job creation by detecting the jobs which are necessary for the monitoring of sustainable development and the observance of environmental policies.
  9. Evaluation and remuneration, linked to the actual achievement of green goals which make the observance of the company’s policies a matter in which there is involvement at all levels of the organization.
  10. Training on key issues such as waste reduction, use of new technologies and the company’s green policies so that, even in companies which are not contaminators as such, all existing profiles develop the skills to manage the transition towards production processes which are sustainable and sensitive to the environment.

These are all small initiatives in the workplace. However, in an age of social networks, interconnection, Big Data and globalization, it can hardly be denied that small patterns implemented on a large scale can give rise to huge changes. Changes like those which are needed to reverse the trend. Changes that are necessary to undo 250 years of nongreen production since the industrial revolution. Immediate changes to protect the environment. Changes to address one of the most important changes of our generation and our time: climatic change.

Felipe Ochoa

Labor and Employment Department of Garrigues