Building a Sustainable Workplace

Written by Sterling Content
April 17, 2019


Written by Sterling Content
April 17, 2019

BCCJ members offer lessons for individual, corporate change

The BCCJ has kicked off its popular hackathon series in 2019 with a Toolbox event entitled “Building a Sustainable Workplace.” Members from a wide range of firms and industries joined the interactive workshop at Hogan Lovells’ newly refurbished eco-friendly office in central Tokyo.

Following three inspiring speeches from their peers, attendees split up into small groups to discuss the set-up and delivery of sustainable, responsible business practices, which the BCCJ believes can support the growth of the British and Japanese economies.

Real-life example

“Sustainable development is designed to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”, said Hogan Lovells’ Aragon St-Charles as he explained the need for individuals and corporations to operate more sustainably. As operations manager, he had responsibility for the complete design and outfitting of the firm’s new green facilities.

“I wanted the office to be sustainable by design,” he said of the project. “It was about looking at every decision through the lens of sustainability, making changes on the institutional level to make sustainability painless for staff. Often, those changes reduced costs as well.”

Activities undertaken include sourcing buyers for the firm’s unwanted furniture rather than disposing of it—which raised ¥2 million yen for Hogan Lovells charities—reusing insulation, repurposing furniture, choosing local materials and introducing plants proven to remove volatile organic compounds from the air.

Printers were reduced and stocked solely with 100% recycled paper. Bottled water was removed from on-site vending machines and remains available only to clients. In the cafeteria, individually wrapped goods were also removed to reduce waste.

For St-Charles, educating people about the steps that have been taken is as important as carrying them out. He recognises that an informed and motivated workforce can further improve Hogan Lovells’ sustainable practices.

“We’re telling people what we’re doing, producing promotional material and encouraging staff to be environmentally friendly,” he said, adding that sessions include how to reduce water use and why plants boost productivity.

Small changes significant

The approach of making small changes and building support for them within organisations was seconded by fellow speaker Tove Kinooka, co-founder of sustainability and leadership consultancy Global Perspectives. 
Kinooka reported that many firms know they need to adopt more sustainable practices. They see the risks of not doing so: a supply chain threatened by climate change or a reputation damaged by potential human rights abuses. Yet, implementation is a challenge.

“The thing that is often overlooked when strategies are set is that a company is a group of people—and people often resist change. We are creatures of habit. We have to make an effort to change,” she said.

Fear and uncertainty among staff as well as complaints of inconveniences and even outright rebellion against change can hold back corporate efforts.

Kinooka pointed out that organisational change takes not only time, but also a long-term commitment and, possibly, involvement of external partners.

Organisations need a clear vision and strategy, capable leaders skilled in communicating messages and understanding organisational structure, and a culture that enables and supports change. She advised implementing idea sharing, mentoring, evaluation and an attitude that it is OK to try new things and fail if it aids learning.

Individuals, meanwhile, should develop an understanding of how they can act more sustainability and change their behaviour accordingly. Those who successfully implement change, even if by small experiments, can become change champions who can help firms reach a tipping point for sustainability.

Kinooka explained that implementing sustainable business practices is like climbing Everest; you shouldn’t jump in. “You need to break down [your approach] into small and manageable steps, track and manage progress, celebrate success, try, evaluate and move forward,” she said. “The process is continual and ongoing.”

Responsible investment

The event’s third speaker was Heather McLeish, director in the financial services team at EY Japan, who discussed how environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues are impacting investment practices. Companies are no longer being valued by their financials alone; intangible assets, such as sustainable and responsible business practices, are critical to decisionmakers, she said.

McLeish pointed out that such practices are “galvanising businesses” to make changes and take steps to disclose their performance, evidenced by the non-tangible asset reporting of almost every company listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

Moreover, the United Nations’ Principles for Responsible Investment—a group that seeks ESG-positive investments for US$89.7 trillion in assets under management—has Panasonic and Toshiba among its signatories.

Growing interest in sustainable business practices is also being driven by the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which McLeish said “offer a universal approach” that can be measured easily thanks to clearly defined criteria.

She noted that although interest in the Sustainable Development Goals has remained largely limited to corporations and government to date, more firms worldwide are following suit.

“It’s impossible for any company or individual to say they do not deal with any of these issues on a daily basis,” she said. “We can positively or negatively impact them in our sphere of influence.”

In closing, she said that, by considering sustainability when applying risk management or business strategies, BCCJ members have “a lot of opportunities to push forward positive change.”

Produced by Sterling Content for the BCCJ