How to create a greener accountancy practice

More eco-friendly offices are attracting the top talent, even if they aren’t a Big Four company. Why? Younger generations are prioritising a company’s ethics over things like cheap costs. But going green doesn’t require massive change…

Sustainable offices are shining a light on their efforts and pitching it as a unique selling point of their business. And it’s working.

But how has this come about; is it just something trendy?

Consumers are seeking out environmentally-friendly businesses

“The growth of conscious consumerism is putting businesses under pressure to demonstrate their purpose in order to stay competitive,” says Francesca Rivett-Carnac. As Co-Founder of Stand Agency, a communication and impact relations agency, Francesca is tuned into the pulse of consumer demands.

“Price, product and service are givens,” she says. “Younger consumers now expect brands to show they’re acting in the best interests of sustainability, transparency and fair employment.”

The consumer mindset shift is fuelling a rise in new businesses who put their higher purpose at the heart of everything. And it’s happening across diverse sectors; financial services, fashion, health, food and drink.

“Genuine purpose-driven businesses will track and measure their social and environmental impact, and communicate it regularly to customers, investors and other stakeholders,” she says.

But it can’t just be a token approach – employees and customers can spot a half-hearted effort. Instead, your business needs to demonstrate “measurement and transparency” in moving towards a sustainable model, not just “superficial shine”.

How to streamline your office towards sustainability

James Poyser, CEO of inniAccounts, runs his accountancy firm from a renovated warehouse just outside Derby. When they decided to become more environmentally conscious, his employees jumped in with lots of ways to do it.

“We’re not paperless, but pretty close. Our business model is cloud-based so that helps a lot – most of our work can be done online and we’re always working out ways to bring more processes online and paperless. It benefits us and our clients.”

This is a great way to get started in your own business. Try to reduce the amount of unnecessary printing and filing around the office. Memos and announcements can be emailed, files can be shared via cloud-based software, and reports can be read online.

This saves on paper and ink costs, enhances security (if cloud documents are password-protected) and saves time and money in terms of filing and storage.

Sustainable offices could make a big impact

“In an age where drastic measures need to be taken against climate change, we’re seeing a big reduction in the use of plastic, with people being encouraged to buy re-usable bags and cups,” says Lloyd Coldrick, Managing Director of Cobus, a workplace consultancy firm.

“As a nation, we’re slowly but surely attempting to reverse the damage done by years of littering and carbon emissions. One of the best ways we can contribute to this is by making changes in the office – where most of us spend the majority of our time.”

Reducing plastic waste was one of the areas InniAccounts tackled first.

“We made a conscious decision not to use single-use cups and plastics in our kitchen,” says James Poyser. “We wash up instead! And we don’t have a water cooler. We use filtered, chilled tap water.”

Other ideas include:

  • not over-heating the office
  • encouraging staff to recycle paper and plastics
  • and using non-toxic cleaning products.

Eco offices can boost employee well being

“Some of our sustainability initiatives came out of well being ideas,” says James Poyser.

The world of accountancy has a reputation for long desk hours, so inniAccounts tried to change that. They’ve had a rethink on the way people travel to work, and whether they had to be in the office every day.

“We introduced more flexible working hours so people didn’t have the pressure of the rush hour to battle through and be in the office for a certain time,” he says.

“Now people are happier to travel to work by bike, train, bus and/ or walk and there’s the option to work from home. We’ve installed bike racks and showers so people who run or ride can get ready for the day. And we support ride to work via payroll. We’ve recently incentivised car-sharing with set parking spaces for those who share.”

Lloyd Coldrick of Cobus also suggests that employees ask whether flexible working might be an option.

“It’s not always necessary for employees to commute to work every day – and you’ll be reducing your carbon footprint simply by working from home just once or twice a week,” he says.

“Alternatively, if you drive to work but live near public transport services, or even within walking distance from the office, try changing how you travel.”

Use energy-saving appliances

If you’re looking to refurbish your office, try sourcing energy-saving appliances wherever you can. This could include energy-saving lightbulbs with motion sensors, or eco-kettles which only use the minimum amount of energy required.

“The average office is filled with electronic devices,” says Lloyd Coldrick. “These are often left running for long periods of time, for no reason, so it’s no wonder CO2 levels are on the increase.”

Ways to get more sustainable with your devices;

  • switch off computers and lights at the end of the day
  • turn off air conditioning when it’s not needed
  • install toilets that use reduced water for flushing.

In summary

You can make a real difference in the sustainability game by taking active steps towards sustainability in your workplace. To make effective changes that stick:

  • encourage staff to come up with innovative ways to become more green
  • consider setting up an eco committee to help implement environmental measures in your office
  • start with simple changes such as switching from plastic cups, which could make a difference to waste and costs
  • Communicate all changes clearly to your employees – they’re much more likely to embrace the process if they feel included and part of the initiatives
  • think flexibly about how your run your office – do staff really need to print out reports and memos or can you switch to cloud-based storage and file sharing?

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Marianne Curphey is an award-winning financial writer and columnist, and author of the book How Money Works. She worked as City Editor at The Guardian, deputy editor of Guardian online, and has worked for The Times, Telegraph and BBC.

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