Working together

27 November 2023

Sustainability and safety in business can work together to create a positive impact, says David Head.

As the UK moves towards Net Zero, many businesses are increasingly focusing on improving their sustainability and environmental performance, a trend which has resulted in the topic of sustainability moving up the Board agenda in recent years. This is set against the backdrop of greater awareness of the importance of health, safety and wellbeing in the workplace. So, while historically, safety might have been considered a necessity and sustainability a ‘nice to have’, this is no longer the case.

Indeed, new research demonstrates that, rather than seeing the two as competing elements on the corporate agenda, most people believe that sustainability will have a positive impact on occupational health and safety standards in the workplace.

A growing focus in recent years on a myriad of topics relating to sustainability – such as ESG (environmental, social and governance), Net Zero, BCorp and the Triple Bottom Line (the idea of people and planet being considered as equally important to profit) – mean that both sustainability and safety are now vitally important issues within business and wider society.

However, despite potentially appearing to compete for share of voice – and resources – the two are perhaps more compatible than it might first appear. After all, safety and sustainability policies are ultimately working towards the same objective – preserving resources: people and planet. 

These two corporate functions are increasingly and inexorably linked as the optimising of safety, health and wellbeing of employees is determined increasingly – and certainly in the long term – by sustainability goals being achieved.  

Sustainable business practices

The US-based think tank, the Center for Safety and Health Sustainability (CSHS), which has a global reach and represents 100,000 occupational safety and health professionals in more than 70 countries, has stated that businesses must consider the safety, health and wellbeing of workers as part of sustainable business practices, because it enables them to operate safely in work environments in the long-term. 

Meanwhile the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) has said that business leaders, at every level of the supply chain, need to act not just to improve the social sustainability and long-term prosperity of their own businesses, but to help build stronger, more sustainable communities around the globe. It believes that businesses that set high standards for the treatment of their employees, communities and supply chain and that take social sustainability seriously, benefit from stronger performance and growth, and that harnessing these two elements are central to business success. It further claims that businesses that don’t recognise this risk being left behind.

Research conducted in early 2023, which examined attitudes to workplace safety, and associated topics, provides further insight on the relationship between safety and sustainability. 

It found that sustainability is more important to organisations in 2023 than it was two years ago, with 75 per cent of people involved in the research stating that this was the case in the organisation they work within.

Furthermore, when it comes to competing agendas, sustainability is the most likely issue to be competing with safety as a business priority, along with cost reduction and productivity drives. 

  • Managing/reducing costs (65 per cent – this is especially heightened in the transport industry)

  • Productivity (57 per cent - especially heightened in the manufacturing sector)

  • Sustainability/environmental improvements (46 per cent - especially heightened in the oil & gas and renewables industries).

Despite this competition, the majority of people (62 per cent) believe that sustainability can positively impact safety and the two can comfortably co-exist. Less than one in ten (eight per cent) think that the sustainability agenda negatively impacts safety and believe that the two cannot co-exist.

Workers’ views on safety and sustainability 

An added consideration is how potential employees view a business’s approach to safety and sustainability. One might be forgiven for thinking that, in light of all of the recent media attention on environmental topics, this might be the foremost consideration for people exploring whether to work at any given business, but according to the research this is not the case. Employees are more likely to see safety as an important consideration in choosing an employer than sustainability, with 84 per cent saying that safety is an important consideration in choosing an employer compared to 70 per cent expressing the same view in relation to sustainability.

This view around the importance of sustainability is – perhaps unsurprisingly – most pronounced in the oil, gas and renewables industries (81 per cent).

As the UK moves ever closer towards its 2050 Net Zero targets, it is clear that sustainability topics are only going to increase in importance and rise up the business agenda. And while this may initially have appeared to potentially threaten organisations’ focus on other areas such as safety, the research suggests otherwise.

The growing focus on people and planet as well as profit, clearly encompasses both safety and sustainability, and instead of being seen as competing areas, it’s more likely that they will be viewed in tandem as significant boardroom priorities. 

The report can be found at:

David Head is head of safety marketing at Draeger Safety UK. For more information, visit