Building integrity: Sustainability, workplace productivity and ethics

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Winston Churchill once noted, “We shape our workplaces and thereafter, they shape us.” Some 50 years after his death, Churchill’s insight has implications for the sustainability field. The design and use of commercial office space influence a host of sustainability topics, including ethics, employee well-being, engagement and worker productivity.

It comes as no surprise that a successful sustainability strategy rests in large part on the built environment. The statistic that approximately 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions are produced by buildings is a clarion call for corporate citizens to attend to their bricks and mortar. Traditionally, we have focused on how we can reduce our footprint through more efficient use of energy and disposal of waste, and the payback statistics are now irrefutable.

However, a best-in-class approach suggests there is more to be gained when you leverage the workplace as an ally. The way we design, develop and operate the workplace have profound impacts on our hand-print: the people side of the sustainability equation.

Workplace design influences ethical behavior
In a recent JLL study, 64% of respondents said that workplace surroundings influence the ethical environment, and 81% believe that open office plans generally promote improved behaviors when compared to individual office plans. Considering the ongoing revelations about workplace harassment and abuse, JLL’s lessons-learned have broad implications to the corporate social responsibility community.

“When we first really understood the data, we were surprised by the strong correlation between the open floor plan and positive employee conduct,” explained JLL’s Global General Counsel, Mark Ohringer. “Simply put, when people work in an open floor plan, it is more difficult for them to do ‘bad’ things.”

Engaged workforce makes financial sense
Data culled from JLL’s workplace productivity research reveals additional benefits to the triple bottom line attributed to emerging types of office space, including less absenteeism, increased collaboration, lower turnover and higher levels of employee engagement. These social performance indicators are gaining legitimacy among investors who can now link the “S” in ESG – environmental, social and governance – to higher stock price and long-term value-add.

Employee engagement was a focal point of the recent SRI Conference where fund managers consistently spoke to the need for companies to provide fuller disclosure about these types of non-financial metrics that drive value as one way to advance the sustainable responsible investment (SRI) approach.

Data from Gallup shows that organizations with an average of 9.3 engaged employees for every one actively disengaged employer experienced 147% higher earnings per share compared to the competition. And according to the consultancy Global Tolerance, almost half of the British workforce now wants to work for an organization that has a positive impact on the world.

Our bottom line?
JLL is seeing a growing interest by clients in evaluating the socio-economic impact of their buildings and leveraging their workplaces as their ally to deliver bottom line impact. Leading companies in the real estate sector are increasingly able to quantify their positive contributions to social value. Why does it matter? Because more people are seeking purpose at work or demanding that their employers act according to ethical principles.


Cynthia Curtis is Senior Vice President of Sustainability for JLL. She is responsible for elevating JLL’s sustainability program, Building a Better Tomorrow, embedding it broadly throughout the business and driving meaningful impact with and through JLL’s clients. Cynthia joined the company in 2015 to work with clients to design and deliver effective sustainability strategies and initiatives that help achieve their goals.

 

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