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Rethinking sustainability at work

Dr Marie Puybaraud, Director, Global Workplace Innovation, Johnson Controls, speaks to Jerome Sanchez about her team’s project, entitled Sustainable for All.

| | Mar 10, 2013 | 7:29 pm
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Dr Marie Puybaraud, Director, Global Workplace Innovation, Johnson Controls, speaks to Jerome Sanchez about her team’s project, entitled Sustainable for All, which tackles sustainability from a socio-technical perspective. She reveals that employers, employees and customers increasingly want to be partners in environmental initiatives in a business organisation.



Global Workplace Innovation (GWI) is a research programme of Johnson Controls Workplace Solution, the unit of Johnson Controls responsible for providing facilities management services. The programme was created in 2002 with the objective of understanding the evolution of work and the workplace and the roadmap ahead of workplace design and features. The aim of the project was to keep the customers ahead of the game. Dr Puybaraud elaborates on the objective: “We want to make sure that our customers are aware of the developments, and that they take them into account. And we help them to design new workplace strategies and deliver new facilities management services … we really help them focus on new workplace models.”


Dr Puybaraud says that since its inception, GWI has worked on several projects that aim to identify and study workplace trends and understand their impact on business performance. Commenting on a few of the projects that GWI is working on, including “Collaboration 2020” and “Digital Natives”, Dr Puybaraud explains that the function and role of the office is gradually moving towards supporting collaboration. “Offices are no longer places where you go in the morning, sit in front of your computer, and leave … now there is some level of collaboration and interaction happening in the office.” She also shares the information that the results of the projects suggest that technology – to collaborate, to exchange information and to manage building services – is going to be “extremely” present in the workplace. She explains: “I am not saying that it is already being done, but it’s perfectly feasible that one can already use one’s iPad to run a videoconference call, to take notes or to monitor the temperature in one’s room.… So, the function of the office and the role of technology are growing extremely fast.”

Thinking beyond the building

Dr Puybaraud observes that companies are under increasing pressure to reduce and report on their carbon emissions, working towards an objective of an 80% to 95% emission reduction by 2050. “Technologies for building efficiency are becoming more and more present,” she says, and adds that currently, sustainability is only addressed at the scale of the building with intelligent building management systems controlling lighting, heating and air conditioning. While these efforts on the part of the companies and facilities managers are welcome contribution towards the cause of sustainability, Dr Puybaraud points out that this approach overlooks the human level at which the services and spaces are actually being used and experienced. She says that employees are looking to see their companies’ efforts towards sustainability become more evident in the working environment. “If I could summarise it, it’s more about ‘show me that you are sustainable, and as an employer, what are you doing to lower your CO2 consumption and make it obvious in your working environment’,” says Dr Puybaraud.

Sustainable for all

march2013-interv0201GWI’s project, entitled Sustainable for All, in partnership with the Royal College of Art in London, tackles the concept of sustainability beyond the physical workplace. “The project puts the people at the centre and recognises the complexity of human behaviour,” explains Dr Puybaraud. With this approach, she adds, GWI aims to help employees understand the importance of environmental initiatives to their daily routines, and to, therefore, help embed sustainable thinking for the long term. “With customers now demanding greater sustainability, and governments legislating for it, companies are looking for ways to develop a more sustainable culture. But many struggle to define the right approach,” emphasises Dr Puybaraud.

Speaking against the backdrop of the project, Dr Puybaraud explains that from the outset, it was clear that different people had different understanding of what sustainability in the workplace should mean. “These views were based on people’s perceptions of the various costs and benefits of being sustainable to both company and employee,” she elucidates. From the study, the different sustainability cultures, based on relative costs to company and employees, are: the “housekeeper”, the “pragmatist”, the “libertarian” and the “campaigner”.

The “housekeeper”:
The “housekeeper” culture represents high cost to employees and low cost to the company, explains Dr Puybaraud. The focus of “housekeepers” is changing behaviours and finding areas to save and make do. The changes that they incorporate have reportedly no actual cost, and in a “housekeeper” culture, employees are highly encouraged to carpool, centralised waste bins are marked for sorting, and reducing energy spend is done by adjusting current sources.

The “pragmatist”:
This culture, says Dr Puybaraud, represents low cost to employees and low cost to the company. The “pragmatist” believes that cost rules action, and that employees should not bear costs that become gains for the company. According to the study, a “pragmatist” culture has desk sharing policies and abilities to work from home to reduce emissions. In addition, recycling old IT equipment is also practised in this culture by selling it for second-hand use. “Pragmatists” also think of switching to a renewable energy supplier.

The “libertarian”:
The “libertarian” culture represents low cost to employees and high cost to the company, Dr Puybaraud reveals. The “libertarian” believes that the cost is the company’s responsibility and that sustainable measures are important. But they should not affect the employees’ ways of working. In a “libertarian” culture, there exist subsidised public transportation, set and publicised waste reduction targets and investment on the part of the company in renewable energy products.

The “campaigner”:
Taking urgent action is the battle cry of the “campaigners”, says Dr Puybaraud. In a “campaigner” culture, cost is expected by both the company and the employee, and the company invests and the employees accept the changes that benefit sustainability. The culture represents high cost to the employees and high cost to the company. The “campaigner” culture has free public transportation, zero waste policies and exclusive use of recyclable materials, and the belief that the company should do more and the employees should get engaged in sustainability efforts.

march2013-interv0204The relevance of the sustainability models

Dr Puybaraud explains that the four different sustainability models can be used to help companies review their policies, understand how they could work better and create a sustainability strategy that is suitable to their needs. “The models provide an understanding of the way in which sustainability should be communicated within a particular corporate culture,” she says. She explains that research shows how, through a user-centred approach, companies can be better equipped to deal with the challenges they face in relation to sustainability in the workplace. “Through the increased understanding of different cultures that exist,” Dr Puybaraud says, “companies will be able to build on the interests, values and individual expertise of employees to create policies that are relevant, connected and, therefore, meaningful to people’s roles.”

In full controlMoutaz Bakri Abdalla, Projects Development Manager, Aftermarket Energy Solution, Middle East, shares information on the subject with regard to Johnson Controls’ Headquarters in Milwaukee, Glendale, Wisconsin. He says that the employees in that office have the capability of controlling their task, lighting and temperature within their space through a touch screen panel on their desks. Reportedly, the information on consumption per square foot is available on the Internet for all the employees to see. “This,” Abdalla explains, “creates an internal, good-spirited competition that everybody wants to do better in … that makes people want to turn things off before they leave for the day, and so on.”

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