Preparing the workspace for uncertain climates ahead

“By 2050 London could be as hot as Barcelona – that is only 30 years away!” my daughter said. She is in a generation worried that our planet is heading for catastrophe if, collectively, we don’t start acting now. It has really made me focus on how climate change will transform the workplace and how we need to be prepared for it.

The study that had generated the media headlines and triggered my daughter’s interest was from Zurich’s Crowther Lab, which is researching climate change. The study looked at how a two-degree temperature increase could significantly change major cities across the world.

We cannot leave it to national and local governments to create better environmental behavior through legislation or taxation. As a responsible employer, we must also take the initiative. Orange has a long track record in environmental sustainability, and now we must really double down on these activities. Our world, and my daughter’s, needs it.

We should also be mindful of the impact that rising temperatures have on the workplace. We need to go back to basics and look at better building design. The ability to recycle excess heat from servers is being built into new data centers so that this heat can be used to heat nearby offices. For example, waste heat from the Telehouse West data center in London’s Docklands is being used by local businesses to heat their premises.

Orange Business in the UK has recently moved to new offices located by a rail link with hot desk features for flexible working. This highlights the fact that as an organization we are helping cut carbon emissions by supporting people to work from home when they can and use public transport instead of cars.

Orange is actively reducing its fleet of company vehicles and is implementing a mixed power policy, for example, to fit around employee travel patterns. Electric vehicles will be used where possible, for short trips in and around towns and cities, and Orange runs an active car sharing scheme. In France, Orange has also been alerting teams about pollution spikes in the Île-de-France to encourage employees to try alternative modes of transport or work from home. Nearly 400 tonnes of CO2 were avoided through this initiative in 2017.

Environmental benefits can also be gained from full or part-time teleworking – which we at Orange actively encourage. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), assuming an average commute of 30 miles or less each day, each teleworker could reduce transport-related carbon emissions by an average of 69% – equivalent to 3.2 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year.

The changing face of the working day

We may also need to look at re-thinking the working day. During this summer’s heatwave in Barcelona, for example, employees were coming into offices very early and leaving at midday to avoid the high temperatures.

To achieve a sufficient reduction in emissions to meet the Paris Climate Agreement and keep the global warming increase below two degrees, the think tank Autonomy said some drastic action will need to be taken. It suggests a shorter week for European workers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

We can all make a difference

We can’t stop climate change it its tracks, but small changes can make a difference, such as riding a bike to work, using a re-usable cup, setting thermostats lower, printing less and turning off electronics and lights when not in use. In addition, we can encourage employees to come up with new ideas on how they can make a difference for a greener environment.

Get involved

Here at Orange, we believe that digital technology can make an important contribution to greening our environment and energy transitions. We understand that technology empowers our world, but it also comes with great responsibility. To this end, we are increasing our use of eco-design and are developing services and solutions that will help build sustainable smart cities, eco-friendly travel, and so forth.

Human resources professionals have, I believe, an important role to play in the climate change debate. We are key to helping develop workforces and policies that will drive a sustainable future.

Generation Z and millennials put huge emphasis on sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR). According to non-profit Brookings data, millennials will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025. To succeed in engaging and hiring millennials, we will have to address issues like social and environmental commitment. Climate change and protecting the environment are now their top concerns, according to Deloitte’s Global Millennial Survey 2019.

It is therefore little surprise that 76% of millennials carefully consider an organization’s social and environmental commitments when deciding on taking up a role, according to Core Communications’ Millennial Employment Engagement Study. In addition, 64% decline job offers if the potential employer doesn’t have strong CSR DNA. This meaningful engagement around the issue of CSR is likely to grow with Generation Z.

Getting involved in sustainable activities can bring an organization together, enhance co-worker relationships and improve sustainability knowledge and skills. All for a positive good.

I’m interested to hear how your organization is engaging its workforce and collaborating to mitigate climate change.

Paz Fonteboa
Paz Fonteboa

Paz Fonteboa is Europe’s Regional Head of Human Resources at Orange Business. Prior to joining Orange España in 2013 as Human Resources Director and member of the Executive Committee, Paz held various human resources directorial positions at major telecom, consumer goods and banking enterprises for over two decades.