A sustainable company isn’t just an eco-friendly one. It’s also one that cares about things like its employees’ well-being and the gender and pay balance within its team—that’s the view of Dan Heuer from Fair Venture.
In 2018, social ecologist Dan Heuer and his mother founded Fair Venture, a consulting company that helps companies with sustainability, as expressed in the form of either non-financial reporting or the introduction of specific CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) programs.
He says that companies are competing today to be the most sustainable on the market. “Young employees are expecting their employers to give them not only a good paycheck, but meaningful work as well,” notes Heuer in his interview for #MORETHANOFFICE.
How would you define a sustainable company in brief?
Sadly I’ll have to disappoint you: no such thing as a sustainable company exists today. Companies always have some kind of negative impacts. This is, however, an ideal of a sort towards which my clients are progressing by reducing their negative impacts and increasing the positives that they bring people.
And is a firm’s sustainability only about the environment? That is, can we say “green = sustainable?”
It’s a much broader topic. One major chapter here is employee well-being, whose foundation lies in a healthy, high-quality work environment. We focus a lot on company culture, which encompasses questions of gender balance in the company team, fairness of pay between men and women, diversity, and inclusion.
However, health is important for employee well-being as well. And so sustainability also addresses whether or not employees have good chairs, large-enough monitors, office furniture coated in eco-friendly paint so they don’t have to breathe synthetic poisons, rooms with enough ventilation... All of this influences working comfort, as well as productivity.
Good chairs are one of the aspects you can use to judge a firm’s sustainable behavior?
The aspect being judged here is employee health. In non-financial reporting, it is measured via the number of days of sick leave or the number of injuries, and it can be compared and evaluated fairly easily.
A good work chair is a tool for improving employees’ health and comfort, and at the same time their efficiency.
A KEY ROLE
How can an office manager support a company’s sustainability?
Significantly. Because if a company doesn’t have a CSR manager, then sustainability will be the wheelhouse of either the marketing manager or the office manager. They tend to be the “transmission gear” between management and employees. It’s good when they learn what the mood is among employees and what sustainability issues they themselves would like to address. And then they pass on these proposals to management.
On the other side of things, they take part in internal sustainability communication among employees, which tends to be a very long-term thing. And of course they implement a major part of the activities in the office.
Can you give some specific examples?
These specific activities should always stem from inside the company, from the people who will go on to introduce them. Perhaps the most important thing in offices is health. Fresh and clean air is very undervalued in general. Out of environmental topics, their activities might be replacing water in
plastic bottles with jugs of tap water, using recycled paper or perhaps introducing a paperless office, restricting the use of plastics and plastic-waste generation, arranging the installation of energy-saving lighting at the office, or, say, processing organic waste.
CONVINCING YOUR TEAM
Why has sustainability only started to gain a foothold in the Czech Republic over the last year or maybe two?
Sustainability has seen attention since the 1970s, but for a long time it was not part of the Czech national discourse. The droughts in recent years were a key moment here. They were clear evidence that something is not right. We all felt them, the media started taking an interest in them, and then companies gradually joined in too.
Young employees are also acting upon these companies from the other side; in this area, they expect their employers to give them not only good pay, but also meaningful work.
If an employee who wants their employer to behave more sustainably is reading this interview, what specific steps should they take? Where should they start?
We definitely don’t recommend that they begin implementing specific projects on their own. That generally ends with a lack of understanding from others, and with burnout. We often hear the phrase “That isn’t possible at our company.”
We can recommend these three steps for a company’s initial pioneer:
- Find allies among your workmates who are also enthusiastic about sustainability.
- Formulate the advantages it brings the company and present those to the management.
- Propose that they compose a sustainability strategy, or at least a vision they’ll be fulfilling.
And how can you convince wavering or doubtful workmates?
We encounter a wide range of reactions at companies—from enthusiasm to polite disinterest to rejection. There’s always a need to map out the company’s situation and determine its mood, and as appropriate, what's dominant and what positives can be built upon.
The key thing is to have a clear vision that’s internally communicated: what’s our goal, what steps will it include, how will we engage in it, and what will it bring us. Our company works that into a sustainability strategy for the given firm. Sustainability can lead to lower costs, higher employee prosperity, attractiveness for talented people, interest from eco-aware customers, and more.
And even banks, investors, and major customers are deciding today based on companies’ sustainability. When you succeed in convincing your internal opinion leaders (both formal—the company management—and the informal ones among employees) that it’s beneficial for the whole firm, you’ve won.
Sustainable environment, or the whole planet? Listen to the panel discussion from the TechoCon 2019 conference.
At what companies is sustainability being promoted successfully?
At the ones that are not focused solely on short-term profit, but whose focus is instead on at least the medium term, because a number of sustainability measures are only fruitful long-term. Company values are key. If sustainability is among them, you’re not bringing it in from outside, but instead your employees have a positive stance towards it from the start, or even actively support it themselves. You don’t have to break down a barrier of disinterest, or worse yet convince someone who thinks the exact opposite.
The companies that are sustainability leaders in the Czech environment include e.g. Nano Energies, Sonnentor, IKEA, Skanska, and Vodafone. That’s primarily because they’re reducing their impacts, but also, they’re engaging their employees into the process.