Sustainability begins in the workplace

The economy has been dealing with the issue of sustainability since long before young people started taking to the streets to campaign for climate and environmental protection. Back in 1990, the "Three Pillars Model", comprising economy, society, and the environment, was devised as a measure of sustainable activity within politics and economics. According to a recent survey, one in two consumers will change their own consumer behaviour on account of sustainability.
Many large corporations have now declared sustainability to be a corporate goal. However, even in smaller companies, sustainability is becoming increasingly important. More than 80 percent of Germans make their purchase decisions based on how seriously a company takes the issue of sustainability.

However, generally the focus here is on resource-efficient production and environmentally-friendly packaging. The topic of sustainability spans the entire value chain, from production, to sales, and administration. The "green office", whereby employees utilise machines and resources in an environmentally-conscious manner, is increasing in significance.

In this article, you will receive important tips to help you increase sustainability in your workplace, in just a few steps.

The office as a factor that determines a company's carbon footprint

The ecological responsibility of the company doesn't stop outside the office door – and for good reason: business and administrative processes influence a company's carbon footprint** just as much as energy consumption in production, logistics, and packaging materials for sales. This is not just about saving electricity and paper during working hours. It is increasingly the case that sustainability in the workplace is beginning on the journey to work, and extends beyond the careful use of resources, and into the coffee and lunch break.

There and back

Up until now, how have your employees travelled to work? After all: whether your staff travel to work along in their cars, use public transport, or jump on their bikes, is very likely to make a difference to the environment. 

Your journey to work is a private matter, and it should stay that way. Nonetheless, your company has opportunities to bear influence, and to promote the protection of the environment; for instance, by offering to organise car-sharing initiatives, financing the use of public transport by employees, or issuing bonuses for environmentally-conscious behaviour. As an employer, you can therefore make a significant contribution to motivating your employees to act sustainably. 

In particular, the pandemic has shown us that business trips are not always necessary: video conferences can often also bring the desired success. However, when there is no other option, it is worth looking for rail offers, rather than resorting to travel by car or plane.

Office equipment ranks second in the statistics

Even when it comes to purchasing furniture, technology, and office supplies, you can also focus on the Three Pillar model. Manufacture, delivery, and disposal generate a high level of CO2 emissions. Here it can be helpful if you go with regional manufacturers, and ensure that your furniture and technology are sustainably produced. For example, you should research environmentally-friendly materials for your office furniture, and make sure that you only purchase the quantity of office supplies that will actually be used. Keeping reserves may well be important, but here too you should focus on procuring an appropriate quantity, rather than going overboard.

Make resource-efficient use of office equipment

The efficient use of office equipment is an important building block, which can contribute to your company's sustainability strategy.

In particular, there is great savings potential when it comes to paper. Purchasing recycled paper will remind your team that paper can be printed on both sides. Not every email has to be printed, and not every misprint has to go straight to the shredder. Memo notes can be made just as well using printed paper, and so there is no need to buy expensive memo pads. A catalogue of measures as an appendix to the operating manual can be a useful aid to memory in this regard. Here every office supply, from staplers to paper clips must be scrutinised. What is really needed, what is unnecessary or could be more resource-efficient?

The same also applies for the kitchen.Fairly traded coffee rather than coffee pods emphasizes the management's desire to operate sustainably within every area of the company.


Doing away with single-use cups for coffee and hot drinks is also an important measure, which is really easy to implement. To this end, it is sufficient if all employees bring an old mug into the office from home.

The wrong lighting can guzzle power

In addition to equipping your office with sustainable products, sustainability within the office also requires an adjustment in the behaviour of employees. Saving power is right at the top of the agenda. Every consumed kilowatt hour releases more than 500 grams of CO2 into the atmosphere. With an electricity mix made up of 40 percent green electricity, 474 grams of carbon dioxide are still released. In actual fact, you could save electricity in many areas within the office through the use of:

  • Energy-saving technological devices

  • Multifunctional devices

  • Office lighting with LEDs

  • Wall sockets with toggle switches

There are numerous energy guzzlers in the office. This is not limited to PCs and printers, but also to the inefficient use of lighting, air conditioning systems, and kitchen appliances. The energy-saving potential here is huge. With lighting along, an 80 percent saving on electricity consumption can be made if traditional incandescent bulbs are replaced with LEDs. Incandescent bulbs convert just five percent of the energy into light, whereas with LEDs the figure is 35 to 40 percent.

The fact is: it is not just printers etc. that incur high electricity costs. Almost half of electricity consumption in German workplaces is caused by the lighting. A lighting concept that is tailored to the spatial requirements, with energy-saving lights with "light-emitting diodes (LEDs)" is one way to save electricity.

However, there are other ways that you can motivate your employees to save electricity. For example, it may help if you share important information with your employees. For instance, you could publish a list of the monthly electricity costs, and compare these with those for previous months. If you like to keep this information to yourself, then it is worth drawing up a list of the devices that consume the most electricity within the company.

Notices explaining how electricity can be saved by using sleep mode, or through the efficient use of heating and kitchen appliances can significantly reduce the electricity consumption within your company. Even browsing the Internet can be made more sustainable, if search engines that are committed to sustainability are used within your company. What applies to the entire delivery chain, is also worth noting here. There are actually search engines that operate on a carbon-neutral basis, for example, by supporting environmental projects, such as the ECOSIA search engine.


For a better room climate, do away with energy-consumoing devices. Plants consume CO2 and produce oxygen. They regulate room temperature, act as pollutant filters, absorb sound, and create a lively atmosphere. Green offices also make for a greener environment!

The separation of waste is mandatory

When it comes to environmental protection, waste separation is a key topic within the office environment. Around 50 percent of all employed workers in Germany still work in an office. Here it makes no difference how large or small the company is - nowadays no company can operate without a coherent waste disposal concept. A waste paper basket at each workstation has long since been insufficient. It is increasingly the case the waste and recyclables must be collected separately, and properly disposed of.

A well-designed waste separation system, with appropriate collection containers for the different types of waste, such as paper, plastics, recyclable materials, and organic & non-recyclable waste are among the established categories. Waste containers such as this, which are also visibly labelled, will motivate your staff and facilitate waste separation. Waste separation and proper disposal as defined in the German Waste Management and Product Recycling Act, are not actually voluntary for companies, but rather are legally required.

Sustainability only functions if all three pillars are addressed

In addition to environmental concerns, the social responsibility of the company goes hand-in-hand with a sustainable corporate culture. While it was previously all about economic interests, nowadays companies go beyond their legal obligations, including with regard to social responsibility. The term "Corporate Social Responsibility", or CSR for short, encompasses all measures that impact the environment and society in general, and in particular, your own workforce. Among other factors, this includes:

  • Staff appreciation

  • Adequate remuneration

  • Equal opportunities

  • A safe workstation, within a healthy working environment

The advantages of a tailored CSR strategy to a company are clear to see. Companies that take their social responsibility towards their employees and towards society in general seriously are sought-after employers and business partners. This, in turn, contributes to a positive image in the eyes of the public.

As a result, this gives them a competitive advantage. In addition to environmental and social responsibility, companies must, however, always demonstrate economic responsibility. Only companies that generate profits can invest in their operations, in their employees, in innovations, and in environmental protection. Without profit, sustainability is not possible. Only by combining environmental, economic, and social responsibility, can a corporate culture of sustainability grow.


Sustainability within a company cannot wait outside the office door. The potential for sustainable action is particularly high in the workplace. This is about more than just the resource-efficient use of energy and raw materials. The alignment of environmental concerns and business interests is increasingly offering room for corporate action that has a positive impact on the company's image, and its long-term success. Society and policy require that businesses practice sustainable CSR management, which must be conscious of its environmental, economic, and social responsibility, and should be visually apparent within every subdivision of the company.

Only if the three pillars of sustainability are firmly anchored within the corporate culture, will the desired effects in terms of environmental and climate protection be generated. In this regard, our tips can help you to establish a greener culture within your office.

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