Join us in climate action
There are many ways to get involved in climate action in the workplace. For example, we can develop recycling and stop brewing excess amounts of coffee. Climate change is already affecting working conditions – for instance, summer heatwaves can reduce work efficiency by as much as 75 per cent.
Climate change requires resilience in the workplace, i.e. the ability to cope, adapt, learn and innovate towards greener thinking. Functional changes and new know-how are needed in service and production processes.
“Major climate impacts arise when it comes to logistics, production and materials, for example, in the real estate and construction sectors, the manufacturing industry and transport. The choices made at different stages of the food supply and manufacturing chains have a big, combined effect,” says Senior Specialist Arja Ala-Laurinaho from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.
New ways of working also affect the daily lives of employees.
Of course, strategies and policies are handled by the company management, but new ways of working also affect the daily lives of employees.
“Recycling is a good example of this; practices are changing, and they need to be learned in the workplace. With sustainable development, innovations, new jobs, and know-how are also created,” Ala-Laurinaho says.
Climate thinking can be a development incentive for a company when looking at processes from a new perspective. It can be only a matter of rationalising operations. Revolutionary innovation is not always needed.
“During a major cleaning project in a construction company, all the premises and storage facilities were inspected. The tools were taken to their proper places, and the materials were sorted. The spaces were organised properly and also kept in order. This reduces unnecessary material purchases and facilitates recycling,” says Ala-Laurinaho.
Brew coffee only as needed
Ala-Laurinaho’s colleague, Senior Specialist Jarno Turunen, notes in his blog post that at least 150,000 service sector workers are working in a new way to curb climate change. They aim to reduce energy use, recycle more comprehensively, reuse waste, and replace cleaning products with environmentally friendly ones.
Sometimes it is surprisingly easy to take part in climate action. One workplace noticed that they always brewed two pots of coffee, no matter how many coffee drinkers there were present. The remaining coffee was poured down the drain.
They saved two litres a day!
“As they started brewing coffee only as needed, they saved two litres a day! This will be quite an annual savings for the workplace. At the same time, excessive water and energy consumption is reduced. If the workplace favoured fair-trade coffee, they would support the sustainability of primary production,” Ala-Laurinaho says.
More and more people want to make an impact
Climate thinking shapes and creates new work tasks, that much is clear. Future tasks will focus on remote and mobile work, but also local service. Much of the work is done using digital platforms and tools as well as mobile technology. Another point is that local artisans doing maintenance and refurbishment work are gaining in value because the longevity of items is valued rather than consumption.
In addition to everything that needs to be done in the workplace, there is a need for an open debate to promote sustainable thinking: what does climate change mean in our work, and how can we curb global warming? Climate anxiety is plaguing many people, and more and more people want to feel that they are making an impact, doing the right thing.
The employees know their area of responsibility best.
The importance of the employee in climate work is emphasised when it comes to following guidelines, but also as active initiatives. The employees know their area of responsibility best. They may recognise ways to do something in a more environmentally friendly way and smarter long before the management does.
“Everyone can think about how the climate perspective could be taken into account in their own work environment: turn off unnecessary lights, lower the room temperature a bit, recycle their own waste, prefer a paperless office and so on, ” Ala-Laurinaho says.
The circular economy is curbing climate change
In actions aiming to curb climate change, attention must also be paid to occupational safety, as some changes might significantly reduce occupational safety. The transition to a circular economy curbs climate change but can expose a worker to hazardous chemicals.
“Some of the recyclable materials contain chemical compounds that are harmful to humans, which must be taken into account when sorting and handling recycled material,” Ala-Laurinaho says.
The world would benefit if hybrid work would take root in Finnish working life.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have worked remotely and have not commuted with their own car. It is a climate act with a major impact, but as many as 1.5 million commuting trips are still made every weekday in Finland. The world would benefit if hybrid work would take root in Finnish working life and commuting by private car was clearly reduced – or if people hopped on a bike or used public transport.
Heat is a risk factor
The impact of climate change on working life is a broad issue that significantly affects an employee’s health, ability to work and function, and occupational safety and workflows. One risk factor for the future is heat: the optimum temperature for physical work would be 11 degrees, but work is already being done at 25–30 degrees in the summer.
“In Finland, too, the climate will warm by an average of one degree by 2030, and there will be more and more warmer periods. From the point of view of physical work, heatwaves are a problem,” says Specialist Research Scientist Satu Mänttäri from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.
In her work, she examines the relationship between human physiology and workload.
“Exposure to heat poses a particular danger in the same way as, for example, asbestos. The limit of hot work, 28 degrees, was exceeded many times last summer. The temperatures can easily reach 37 degrees, and human activity is reduced by 75 per cent at that temperature.”
Outdoor work involves exposure to heat in many workplaces, such as construction and infrastructure sectors.
“Asphalt work exposes the most to heat as heat also comes from the work environment. It would be good to move heavy work to cool weather and do it during nighttime,” Mänttäri says.
Occupational health care plays an important role
Even inside, those carrying out heavy work might not be protected from heat exposure. For example, old hospitals do not always have up-to-date cooling equipment. Even in the home care sector, people work mainly in non-air-conditioned apartments. The increase in heat must be taken into account in all future renovation and construction projects.
“Heat can also interfere with working in the offices and home offices. Last summer, many people who worked remotely had to travel to work just because that was the only place with decent cooling,” Ala-Laurinaho says.
Employers have to anticipate higher temperatures in working environments.
A healthy person is usually able to adapt to working in the heat as long as they are given time to do their job. However, heat exposure can even be fatal for people with heart disease. In occupational health care, it is important to learn to identify those who suffer from heat or are unable to do physical work in high temperatures without risking their health.
Employers have to anticipate higher temperatures in working environments and plan the work during heatwaves. According to Mänttäri, the anticipation of heatwaves of hot spells should also be strongly associated with employee training.
“The first heatwave of early summer is the most difficult, but since then we have already adapted to the heat a little better. During that period, a lot of breaks and long rest periods are needed.”
In addition to heat, slippery zero-degree weather, extreme weather phenomena and infectious diseases pose a wide range of occupational health and safety risks that require alertness in the workplace and occupational health care. Climate change also has psychological effects, the identification and prevention of which is part of future occupational health care.
Finland, together with other European Union countries, is committed to reforming its climate policy so that the global average temperature increase would be limited to 1.5 degrees. Many public entities have excelled in responsibility and sustainability, and climate issues have become an important part of corporate business.