How to create a sustainable workplace part 3: staff behaviours

Supercharge the sustainability credentials of your start-up with our guide to how to encourage staff to be more environmentally friendly.

Creating a sustainable workplace encompasses your workspace, your business operations and – crucially – the behaviour of you and your employees. Staff play a huge role in helping a start-up boost its sustainability credentials and can be valuable advocates in spreading the word to customers about your green activities.


The key to success is recognising that everyone has a role in creating a sustainable workplace. By involving your team in creating a greener workspace, they’ll be able to own the solution and get involved with their ideas. It may be worth appointing an environment champion who can help coordinate staff activities and keep tabs on progress.

Staff incentives can be instrumental in creating a sustainable workplace, such as rewards for employees who recycle the most. Even the smallest green act can contribute to a more sustainable workplace, and engage and retain staff who support your start-up’s commitment to sustainability.

Want to learn more about start-ups and the climate?

Discover more about climate science and environmental topics in our free Could we control the climate course. As part of our Learn with Start Up Loans partnership with The Open University, our online course is free to join, delivered by experts and includes a free statement of participation on completion.

If you’re stuck for ideas to motivate employees to go green, we’ve rounded up some of the best ideas to get your team involved in creating a more sustainable start-up.

Find out more about how to make your business premises more sustainable in part one, and learn how to transform your business activities to support better sustainable business operations in part two.

Sustainable travel ideas

Travelling to work is a fundamental activity, but it can have serious effects on the environment. Road transport emission is considered one of the most significant sources of pollution in the UK. In 2017, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from road transport made up around a fifth of the UK’s total GHG emissions. Luckily, there are a few alternative ways staff can travel to reduce CO2 emissions.

1. Choose to cycle or take public transport

Cycling to work is a great way to reduce pollution and can help improve fitness simultaneously, which may result in fewer sick days. Many businesses are involved in the cycle to work scheme, allowing staff to buy a bike and spread the cost over 12 months. Another great way to cut down on air pollution is to encourage employees to use public transport. Although it still emits CO2 into the environment, increased use of public transport means fewer cars on the road emitting CO2.

2. Lift shares

Sharing lifts is a great way to travel to work and reduce emissions. Not only does it save money for the driver as passengers can share the cost of fuel, but with fewer cars on the road, it can help reduce pollution caused by cars idling when stationary in traffic jams. Lift sharing is particularly effective when you have several employees living in the same area.

3. Flexible/hybrid working

As the pandemic made working from home more common, implementing a flexible or hybrid working schedule for staff can help reduce emissions. Allowing staff to work from home can remove unnecessary journeys and lead to lower emissions. Instead of travelling to meet in person for business meetings, host video conferencing calls to avoid unnecessary journeys.

Environmentally-friendly workplace ideas

Staff can incorporate a variety of steps into their routine at work that may benefit the environment.

1. Recycle

Recycling is one of the easiest ways to help the environment and increase start-up sustainability. Set up different bins in the office for different types of waste such as glass, cardboard, batteries, toner ink and plastic to encourage staff to recycle. Install a food waste bin for staff to compost their food waste in kitchen areas.

2. Reuse

Invest in reusable supplies such as refillable water bottles for staff. The UK uses an average of 150 plastic bottles per person per year. Adding a water fountain to the office and using refillable bottles can help cut down on plastic waste.

3. Eco-friendly alternatives

Encourage staff to bring lunch from home to avoid unnecessary plastic waste from shop-bought lunches. Provide staff with reusable containers to bring their lunch in and wax paper sheets as an alternative to clingfilm. Wooden cutlery, such as bamboo, is better for the environment than plastic cutlery. Provide sustainably and ethically sourced products, such as toiletries, that avoid toxic chemicals entering the sewage system.

Food waste can be recycled for soil use. Buying lunch-on-the-go adds up to around 11 billion pieces of packaging a year, so cutting down will help reduce packaging waste significantly.

4. Office plants

Aside from reducing stress, boosting mood and adding to the office interior, indoor plants release oxygen and absorb CO2. Plants may also be beneficial for reducing noise pollution in the workplace, supporting staff wellbeing.

Encourage staff to use less

Reducing some of our consumption activities can help support the environment. There are various ways staff can minimise energy use, resulting in few GHG emissions.

1. Energy

The Green Alliance found that UK office buildings waste £60 million in unnecessary energy bills. Encouraging staff to switch off lights, turn off the water and unplug devices are small steps that can reduce wasted energy over time. Some old equipment can be replaced with newer, more energy-efficient models to help reduce energy bills – remember to recycle old, unwanted equipment or encourage reuse by other businesses in your local area.

2. Embrace digital

For a more sustainable workplace, avoid needlessly printing documents. Instead, make documents and files accessible online to reduce paper waste and printer ink consumption – both of which are harmful to the environment. There are plenty of note-taking apps to utilise in meetings and rather than posting items such as documents and brochures, email or send a link to a digital version if possible.

3. Educate staff that less is more

Encourage staff to create a sustainable workplace with regular training and education sessions. If staff understand the reason for implementing specific practices, they’re more likely to maintain them. Learning how even the most minor things they do can impact the environment will help them think about ways to incorporate eco-friendly, sustainable practices into their work life and at home.

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Disclaimer: While we make reasonable efforts to keep the information on this page up to date, we do not guarantee or warrant (implied or otherwise) that it is current, accurate or complete. The information is intended for general information purposes only and does not take into account your personal situation, nor does it constitute legal, financial, tax or other professional advice. You should always consider whether the information is applicable to your particular circumstances and, where appropriate, seek professional or specialist advice or support.

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