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Workspace, Sustatinability and Professional Identity

Research Cluster

Speaker:Pauline Leonard, Reader in Sociology, University of Southampton
Date: Friday 11 February 2011
Time: 1.00-2.30
Location: Xfi Conference Room 1

Further details

This century has been marked by a period of substantial dynamism in the construction and design of workspace. Organisations across business, government and voluntary sectors are reconfiguring the physical landscapes of their offices, as changing forces are reshaping work practices and performances. Whilst the drivers for this are multiple, a key discourse drawn upon by both developers and employers alike to justify the transformation of the spatialised aspects of people’s working lives is that of ‘sustainability’: the minimisation of energy use. In part this is a response to state level policies and regulationswhich frame and monitor the design and specification of new buildings and refits, but its utilisation also reflects the growing currency of ‘greenspeak’ in organisational discourses, policies, cultures and practices at both local and global levels. 
Academically, there is also growing interest in the issue of ‘organisational greening’: the diverse ways in which organisations are responding to global environmental agendas (Jermier and Forbes 2003). The focus here is broad, but much of the literature takes a macro-social approach to explore organisations’ strategic relationships with the environment. Although some management and sociological research is starting to explore the importance of micro-level factors such as organisational culture and employee practices and beliefs in the achievement of green change this is as yet embryonic.
This paper aims to develop our understanding of organisational ‘greening’ at the micro-level by exploring relations between the transformation of workspaces, discourses and practices of sustainability, and everyday working lives. I am particularly interested in first, the extent and manner to which ‘sustainability’ is configured discursively by managers to explain changes in workplace design and practices; second, how this is received by employees and third, what the implications of these changes are in terms of employees’ daily experiences and understandings, both of their workplaces, their work practices and their work identities. To this end, the paper draws on ethnographic research conducted in a range of organisations which have recently undergone major reconfigurations within the design and layout of their workspaces. The research reveals that reconceived workspaces are usually accompanied by a range of (green) rules and routines by which managers prescribe how the new space should be used. However, exploring how these are both framed and experienced demonstrates how there can be a risk of ‘green’ becoming bound up with ‘lean’ and ‘mean’ within organisational imaginations. My conclusions consider the implications of this for organisational policy and, more broadly, for sociological thinking on sustainability.