Earth Day Pride For The Global Workspace Industry

Earth Day – the day marked on April 22 each year where we all take time to reflect on how our daily activities impact our planet. Observed worldwide with rallies, conferences, outdoor activities, and service projects, it is an important day for people to take time out of their busy lives to consider the impact that humanity has on the environment and for taking steps to minimize these impacts.

So, what are some ways that we as an industry can make an impact for our community and our planet? The GWA team wanted to know more, so we reached out to Tracy Wilson of CloudVO, who recently partnered up with an incredible organization that uses environmental and financial assessment and research, to help businesses and organizations make sense of their single-use plastic footprint.

Check out our conversation with Tracy below.

GWA: Hey Tracy – Can you start with telling us why this is a topic you are so passionate about?

TRACY: Like so many of us, the COVID 19 experience was a game-changer for me.  Of course, I’m aware of the fact that the next thing, hour, day is not promised but, the pandemic really drove home the precarious nature of our world.  

For some time, the issue of plastic pollution has been an area of distress for me. I really didn’t do a whole lot more than wring my hands because, what could I, one person, really do to make a difference? The pandemic told me, if I complain and never take action … I never will. I took action.  I began by telling friends and colleagues that I was going to do something to deal with the scourge of single-use plastics – that, I didn’t know what or how, I just knew I would find an opportunity.

The first stop on my path led me to the Circular Economy.  Circular Economy is about changing our economic model from a linear model (take resources → make a product → dispose of product), which creates a lot of waste, into a circular model, where materials of today never become waste, rather resources for tomorrow’s product. For you, business-owners, this roughly translates to maintaining the value of products you no longer need.

Product Service Systems (PSS) is a term used in Circular Economy discussions.  PSS companies sell a product’s utility, not the product itself.  Sound familiar?  In place of product ownership, the purchaser buys the use, service or maintenance.  To make good business sense, PSS businesses are enticed to maximize use and maximize longevity and value.  We all can think of examples of these – software as a service, or as we coined at CloudVO, workspace-as-a-service.  There are many other examples we should know about. For example, did you realize that Philips sells lighting-as-a-service and Insight offers carpet-as-a-service?

As a long-time member of the GWA (so long, I include: WWBCN, ESA, OBCAI) and a proud, past serving member on its advisory board, realizing our direct connection to the Circular Economy, I developed a renewed pride in the work we do.  In fact, the pandemic provides our industry an even greater opportunity to influence a future sustainable economy.  The Circular Economy requires collaboration – a foundational element of the flex office industry – which is already so well supported by our shared associations such as the GWA.  It also creates global opportunities while almost requiring hyper-local connection, a mix our industry already does so well.

GWA: What are environmentally friendly focused decisions flex office spaces can make today that would make a major difference?

TRACY: For the flex office industry this is an opportunity to continue to lead the way in a new way of work.  We can set the example for solid business practices, high hospitality and make decisions where – one office location at a time – we make a difference in global resource management.  Let us all celebrate our place in the changing economy.  Let us also recognize, we can still do better for our planet. 

I mentioned previously that my intention was to play a small part in addressing the issue of plastic pollution.  There are currently legal mandates in place, particularly in the European Union for member nations to make changes toward the circular economy framework.  Reduction in single-use plastics is a component of these mandates.   Certainly, other nations will follow.   Our workplaces are going to have to play a role in helping our clients meet current or future circular economy mandates.  We’ll need to show a sustainability plan. One way to do this is through third party certification programs, which prove your company’s commitment to the effort. 

GWA: Tell us a little about the organization you are working with?

TRACY: In a case of serendipity – finding opportunities by opening your circle – I am also now working with a non-profit called SUPER®SUPER® is an acronym for ‘single use plastics elimination or reduction.  We are a certificate program that is working with organizations that want to show their constituents (employees, clients/members, vendors, etc.) that they take plastic pollution seriously and are willing to make procurement choices that both create hospitable and happy work environments and, greatly reduce or forego reliance on single-use plastic products.

Certifications are very important to businesses for the reason that it identifies to the consumer the claims made regarding sustainability aren’t ‘greenwashed’.  ‘Greenwashing’ is a term where companies use puffery or deception in their marketing practices to place their business in the sustainable category, where their actual practices aren’t in alignment.  SUPER® is still in the early stages of adoption – having started just prior to the COVID pandemic, but we believe legislative and societal pressures mean the time is right for this effort.

GWA: We’re curious…does SUPER® have any data that they could share with our group?

TRACY: As I mentioned, SUPER® is a nascent organization.  The founder, Manuel Maqueda, (a pioneer in educating individuals and companies on plastic pollution) began this effort at the end of 2019.  As we know, 2020 was the year of Work From Home so, workplace plastic footprinting was not a priority for many companies.  I believe though that the global flex market is a perfect place to re-launch, if you will.  That is where I am currently focusing my efforts.  Data will follow, I promise.  

In the meantime, I would like to share a few things. First, according to the Rainforest Alliance, more than 90% of global consumers surveyed stated they want companies to address social and environmental issues. Further, they say, 98% of businesses who used sustainability standards reported sales and marketing related benefits.  Additionally, Reuters reported data last December from a survey of 2,000 office workers in the UK, finding that 65% of respondents indicated they are more likely to work for a company with strong environmental policies and that 63% want to learn ‘green skills’.  There are strong business reasons to consider formal sustainability efforts in your strategy.

GWA: This has all been great information you’ve provided today. 

TRACY: This is a special time and opportunity for our industry.  My journey now is to share my learning and to collaborate with my global workplace community regarding opportunities around the Circular Economy.  I want to learn from operators that have best-in-practice sustainability solutions, particularly in the reduction of plastics products.  I’m hoping to learn about local or global sustainable office products and solutions which promote special, sustainable and productive spaces. 

GWA: How can someone wanting to learn more get connected with you?

TRACY: I would love to hear from any of you with thoughts and ideas.  I can be reached at [email protected]

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