Where I Work/Learn

Change is needed in every workplace in order to meet our climate change commitments. Moreover, it can also bring great benefits to your personal wellbeing and productivity.

Whether you work in an office, shop, hospital, school, factory or a farm, some general principles apply:

  • Think about how your actions have an impact on climate and nature.
  • Discuss them with your colleagues or employer.
  • Look for ways in which you can take action, starting with small steps, leading to more ambitious actions wherever possible.
  • Join a trade organisation that campaigns for a sustainable economy and supports workers in making a just transition.

As a sole trader or employer, you have the scope to review your entire approach to your business, from your supply chains to the long-term impact of your products or service. Contact a sustainability consultant who can provide expert advice on how to transition your business to a low-carbon, circular model. The book, ‘Doughnut Economics’ by Kate Raworth, is an excellent introduction to this revolutionary concept.

Consider the recommendations below in order to implement sustainable work practices.

General Principles

  • Commit to change by reading up on climate issues and their effect on people and the planet.
  • Discuss it with others. Opening this conversation can be difficult, so find a group of like minded co-workers and build from there.
  • Set up a staff network to raise awareness and change behaviour in your place of work. Identify what changes can take place in your workplace and make it happen by creating more sustainable options and explaining why they are important. Raise awareness and understanding of sustainability issues by inviting speakers. Get management on board and committed to greater sustainability.
  • Reduce waste. For example, stop using non-compostable disposable cups in staff rooms/canteens. Bring your own!
  • Switch off lights and equipment when not needed.

Working in an Office

  • Reduce paper use by printing only when necessary and on both sides. Turn off your camera during online conference calls to lessen your data carbon footprint.
  • Shutdown computers and turn off monitors at the end of the day, rather than leaving them on standby mode.
  • Nominate a colleague to become a sustainability leader for the week.

Education

Teachers have a unique role in shaping the minds of future citizens, the ones who will be most affected by climate change.

  • Engage with Green Schools, ECO UNESCO, Global Action Plan and other environmental initiatives.
  • Educate yourself about climate change, maybe even do a Climate Change CPD course.
  • Change what you teach. Focus on getting out into nature and developing an appreciation for it, the science of climate change, healthy lifestyles (plant based diet and active travel), waste reduction and even global inequality.
  • Take action! Facilitate a school strike, email TDs and councillors about your concerns.
  • Contact your union and ask them to step up to climate change.

Healthcare

Here is some advice from an Irish doctor:

  • Subscribe to Irish Doctors for the environment newsletter and check out their website for podcasts, events and resources.
  • Seek out sustainability committee meetings at your hospital and ask to join.
  • Think of a small sustainability project at your department. Keep it small, do it well and showcase your results.
  • Educate yourself as much as possible on climate change and local issues.
  • Use your background in healthcare to push the sustainability agenda.

On the Farm

Five most effective ways in which people working on a farm can mitigate climate change and biodiversity loss:

Assisting Pollinators Farmers growing crops such as oilseed, rapeseed, apples, strawberries, and vegetable crops like peas or courgettes are dependent on pollinators. Nitrogen fixing clovers, so important in grassland swards, are also insect-pollinated. So, what do bees, nature’s best-known pollinators, need? Food (pollen and nectar), shelter (domestic bees – hives; wild bees – cavities which they excavate in soil, or long grass) and protection from insecticides. One simple thing you can do to help pollinators is to leave some grasslands (even lawns!) unmowed and/or lightly grazed during the main flowering season (May to July) when they are flowering/seeding. Then harvest the grass in late summer so it creates space for next year’s crop of flowering plants. More information at pollinators.ie.

Maintaining Healthy Soils More earthworms and microbes in your soil means a better functioning soil (e.g. improved nutrient cycling, water and carbon storage) and the more nutritious your crops will be. Earthworms and other soil organisms till your soil, aerating and draining it. They are the living, beating heart of your soil. Don’t treat soil like dirt – avoid exposing your soils, limit your use of chemical fertilizers and slurry and avoid soil compaction. Retain species-rich areas rather than replacing them with monocultures as different plants have different rooting depths and work better to aerate soils and capture nutrients.

Protecting Shelter Belts Hedgerow removal, or excessive trimming, exposes livestock to wind and rain, as well as airborne diseases. For tillage farmers, hedgerow removal may cause the soil, when dry, to blow away and, when wet, to silt up nearby rivers and streams. With increasing variability in weather conditions such problems are likely to worsen. So, it’s time to value our hedgerows for the many services they provide. Never remove a hedgerow, instead, repair it if it’s not functioning well. Allow your hedgerows to grow up and out a little. Trim back the sides on a three year cycle and allow them to flourish skywards rather than suppressing them.

Considering the Local Amenity Not only are you managing your farm, you are managing the landscape, air and water quality for your local community. A farm’s impact is not restricted to its boundaries; the water, the plants, the animals that depend on these (including us) are healthier in the wider community if you are farming for biodiversity and leaving the water and air cleaner and fresher. This in turn has a knock-off effect on physical and mental health benefits to both you as the farmer, and those around you. Protect the water bodies on your farm – make sure there are no pollution points or that stock doesn’t have unfettered access to waterways – water is life and we need to protect it.

Thinking of your Legacy Farmers are very conscious of their legacy for future generations. As one of our farming ambassadors, Sean O’Farrell says, we need to think ‘seven generations from now’. The land has a value beyond money and that value can be increased by farming sustainably, for nature. It also gives future generations more choice. Think about your legacy, for your family, community, and how you might enhance it. Be a good ancestor and plant some trees for those generations ahead!

Retail

Retail is a demanding sector when it comes to waste disposal. Here are five steps to take in order to help you manage retail waste:

Reusable Shopping Bags Offer incentives for reusable shopping bags instead of the standard plastic ones. Large stores such as supermarkets often have places where you can recycle plastic bags too.

Have a Policy in Place It’s always wise to educate your staff on what they can do to reduce waste in the workplace. You could even go one step further and have a clear recycling policy displayed at your retail premises. Doing this will also show customers that you’re taking the extra step to reduce your retail waste.

Go Digital Not everything can be paperless, but often retail marketing materials include lengthy catalogues and newsletters. Consider going green and switching to digital options where you can.

Buy Back Schemes This is not only a great way to reduce product waste but also gives your retail brand a positive, eco-friendly image that many customers will appreciate. When you know you can reuse, recycle or donate old or unwanted products, having a scheme in place allowing customers to trade old for new is a great initiative.

Offending Packaging Excess packaging is a big offender when it comes to managing waste in the retail sector. Where possible, try to minimise the packaging you use when you send products to customers or try to find recyclable alternatives. Asking your suppliers to do this too will help you cut down on the amount of waste packaging you generate.

As an Employer/Sole Trader

Examine how your business model contributes to climate. Can it adapt to the principles of the circular economy?

Make an Action Plan Establish a dedicated taskforce to lead your company on the journey to carbon neutrality. Make an action plan for the steps your company will take and motivate employees to make it happen. Start by reading SEAI’s SME Guide to Energy Efficiency. Switch to a 100% renewable energy supplier. Examples of Irish suppliers include: Energia, Panda Power, Pinergy and SSE Airtricity.

Have a Policy in Place It’s always wise to educate your staff on what they can do to reduce waste in the workplace. You could even go one step further and have a clear recycling policy displayed at your retail premises. Doing this will also show customers that you’re taking the extra step to reduce your retail waste.

What Gets Measured Gets Managed Calculate the carbon footprint of your 1) building operational energy and water, 2) equipment, 3) employee travel, and 4) consumption and waste. Use online tools, like MyClimate.org or Carbonfootprint.com.

Reduce the Need for Heating Lower the temperature by 1°C and encourage people to bring more clothes. Install sensors or timers to reduce unnecessary use. If retrofitting, upgrade insulation and windows, design out thermal bridging and switch to efficient heating systems that use a renewable energy source.

Aim to be Carbon Neutral Set out a road map to get your sector to carbon neutrality. Get the whole sector moving. Explain what needs to be done and set out achievable targets. If you can’t do it by yourself, bring the industry together and campaign for a sectoral road map. For example, see here for the road map for the Irish broadcasting sector.

Make a plan for how to ensure your service offering is carbon neutral too. Invest in upskilling staff in necessary areas, and build the business case for a carbon neutral offer to motivate clients. If you are an Enterprise Ireland client you can apply for a Green Start Grant to assist in your journey.

Encourage Sustainable Mobility Create a workplace environment that supports sustainable mobility through virtual meetings, work from home, the Bike to Work scheme, subsidised public transport or car-share. Allow extra leave for employees who wish to use slow travel for their holidays instead of flying. Provide proper lock-up areas for bikes and decent shower rooms to encourage people to cycle to work.

Reduce Wasteful Consumption Lease equipment and furniture or source them from second hand suppliers. Introduce a recycling scheme and encourage a paperless workplace. Water use impacts carbon too, so switch to A-rated sanitary ware.

Sign up to a Certified Offsetting Scheme Reduce your impact whilst you take greater action and offset carbon that is currently hard to reduce (i.e. employee travel patterns, heating energy source, waste production). Examples of schemes include: UN’s Carbon Offset Platform or a certified Gold Standard project. A carbon audit will help you identify how much to offset.

Pensions

It is essential that capital flows towards more sustainable technologies and away from more polluting ones. Pensions and savings provide a huge source of capital but most people never think about the impact of these. Consider that ‘greening’ your financial assets could generate 27 times greater improvements in your personal carbon footprint than eating less meat, using public transport, reducing water use, and flying less. So, look for a pension with good ESG credentials.

More sustainable investments do not have to mean less return. These have been providing good returns and industries with high greenhouse gas emissions are increasingly likely to find their value decreasing. If you have a workplace pension, campaign for the default option to be substantially greener, and seek even greener investment options. Also, consider banking with an ethical/green bank (e.g. Triodos, if it comes to Ireland) and investing in funds committed to socially responsible investment.

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