Survey: How 'Green' is the American Workplace?

"Going green" is a hot topic, but has the workplace caught on yet? According to the 2008 SHRM Green Workplace Survey released recently by the Society for Human Resource Management of Alexandria, Va., 50 percent of surveyed organizations have a formal or informal environmental responsibility policy, but 43 percent have no such policy and no plans to implement one within the next 12 months.

"The findings revealed a surprising paradox," said Susan R. Meisinger, president and CEO of the group. "The study shows that companies really do benefit from environmentally-friendly practices, and yet a large portion of firms have no plans to 'go green.'" she added.

Companies that implement environmental responsibility programs report considerable benefits. Human resource professionals cite improved employee morale (44 percent) and a stronger public image for the company (42 percent) as top benefits. They also report increased consumer/customer confidence/choice (20 percent) and a positive financial bottom line (19 percent) as a result of the organization's environmental responsible program. Survey respondents also cite increased employee loyalty (16 percent).

Despite the benefits, human resource professionals admit that it's not easy for their companies to become and remain environmentally friendly. The most common barrier to creating an environmental program is implementation cost (85 percent) followed by maintenance cost (74 percent). Other barriers include lack of management support (43 percent), lack of employee support (25 percent), and concern for workplace inefficiency (20 percent).

Still, nearly three out of four employees from companies without environmental programs say they want their employers to "go green." Seventy-three percent of surveyed employees in companies without an environmental responsibility policy thought it was very or somewhat important that their organization develop an environmental responsibility policy.

“It is possible for every organization to provide some level of environmentally responsible practices,” said Victoria Johnson, human resources director of Fellowship House and a member of the group's Corporate Social Responsibility Expertise Panel.

The survey also found that human resource professionals rank the top five environmentally-responsible practices to be:
1) encouraging employees to work more environmentally friendly (83 percent);
2) offering a recycling program for office products (83 percent);
3) donating and discounting used office furniture and supplies to employees or local charity (73 percent);
4) using energy efficient lighting systems and equipment such as Energy Star® equipment and occupancy sensors (66 percent); and
5) installing automatic shutoff for equipment (63 percent).

Employees offer a slightly different view and rank the five most important environmentally-responsible practices as follows:
1) donating and discounting used office furniture and supplies to employees or local charity (53 percent);
2) promoting walking, biking, taking public transit (49 percent);
3) using energy efficient lighting systems and equipment (43 percent);
4) offering a recycling programs for office products (39 percent); and
5) encouraging employees to work more environmentally friendly (36 percent).

Both human resource professionals and employees state that their No. 1 motivation for participating in environmentally responsible programs is to make a contribution to society. Human resource professionals placed more weight on environmental (53 percent) and economic (46 percent) considerations as second and third most-prevalent company motivators. Employees report public relations strategy (26 percent) and health and safety considerations (24 percent), respectively, as the second and third driving factors.

The Green Workplace Survey's 429 human resource professional respondents represent publicly- and privately-owned companies, nonprofits, and the government sector. The 504 employee sample was randomly selected from U.S. telephone population. All employee respondents were either employed full-time or part-time.

A complete copy of the survey is available at www.shrm.org/surveys.

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