Since kindergarten, we’ve been taught the impact of industrialization on the environment and the importance of sustainability.
While we may do our part at home by returning bottles and cans to the store and purchasing eco-friendly cleaning supplies, our nation’s workforce is falling behind.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as much as 45 percent of waste generated in 2010 was from commercial and industrial businesses. Big corporations often have green solutions already implemented, but that still leaves small and medium-sized businesses without any clear direction.
You can help your office and the environment by designating yourself as your company’s green expert.
Beyond boosting your company’s sustainability efforts, you will also boost your standing within the company. Start by following this six-step plan.
Find Out Where Your Company Stands:
Before making any eco-friendly changes to your office, figure out where your office is in its green efforts. Is there already a recycling system in place, and if so, how is it being used?
In what ways is your company saving or wasting energy? What types of cleaning products and paper products are used?
You can also start by observing your office’s current practices and finding where the greatest differences can be made.
According to Mary Rose, co-executive director of the Network for Business Innovation and Sustainability (NBIS), that difference likely lies in how your office uses paper. “One of the most wasteful office practices is printing things we don’t want or need.
We need to start paying more attention to this and asking ourselves if it’s really necessary that we print,” says Rose.
She recommends that offices conduct a waste audit to truly see the amount of recyclable materials that are continuously thrown away.
Get Management on Board:
While there are some little changes you can make at your company on your own, eventually you’ll need management’s approval to truly revolutionize your office’s way of doing things.
In a perfect world, your bosses would see all the benefits of going green; however, there are some who might be resistant to change or who might not see eco-friendly practices as a priority.
According to Estevan Baza, sustainability coordinator for Oldsmar, Florida, your chances of getting management on board may have less to do with the environment and more to do with cost savings.
“Solutions aimed at improving efficiency with water, energy and solid-waste are not only beneficial to society and the environment, they also significantly reduce a company’s overhead costs.
If you’re still having trouble convincing management, try incorporating solutions that cost little-to-no money and presenting the expected cost savings to management.
You might notice that suddenly management is very interested in pursuing more sustainable solutions,” says Baza. In addition to saving money, Rose points out that some eco-friendly practices could actually make money. “There’s a market for cardboard, so in some communities, you can actually earn money for recycling cardboard. You can get paid to return used ink cartridges. It’s just a matter of knowing what recycling services your community offers,” says Rose.
If going green for environmental or financial reasons doesn’t motivate decision makers, Rose says there are also benefits from a company morale standpoint.
“When you have a company-wide project that engages employees, provides a sense of teamwork, and shows that there’s an interest in the well-being of others, productivity increases, the retention rate increases, and everyone is happier working there. There are plenty of case studies that have proven this,” says Rose.
Once you have a plan approved by management, you can get others on board with your cause. Gather co-workers who are just as interested in going green as you and start a sustainability team to educate the rest of the company.
The more you’re able to spread awareness about the eco-friendly changes taking place in the office, the better your results will be. However, getting others on board with a green workplace will take more than a few new recycling bins and a handful of reminder emails.
According to Aynsley Toews, project manager for the Office of Sustainability and contact for the Green Office Program at the University of Maryland, changes need to happen in the mindsets of individuals.
“People often think that if they recycle, they are being green, but they’ll still purchase bottled water or buy coffee in paper cups. There’s a connection that’s not being made. Sustainability isn’t just something that we do; it’s a journey, a philosophy and a culture,” says Toews.
Rose agrees that any significant workplace changes would have to happen on a cultural level. “Right now we have a throw-away culture in this country.
We throw away an empty soda can without thinking about the resources and the energy it took to bring that can to our desks.
More consideration should be made for these chains of events,” says Rose. By continuously educating others, not just on why sustainability is important, but on ways it can easily be achieved, there will be movement from a throw-away culture to a sustainability culture.
The non-profit organization Keep America Beautiful helps foster this type of culture through its nation-wide voluntary workplace program Recycling at Work.
By pledging with your company to increase recycling by 10 percent over two years, you’ll receive a 10-step plan on how to make your workplace more green while gaining access to plenty of tools, including fact sheets, promotional materials, employee activities, certificates and much more, all of which can help encourage an eco-friendly philosophy in your workplace.
Many of the actions you’ll take to make your workplace greener are things that won’t cost much―if any―money at all, and are things you can start doing as of today.
Rose identifies wasting energy as one of the biggest problems among workplaces and as one of the simplest areas to fix.
“One of the most common bad habits offices have is leaving computers on overnight. Even sleep mode still requires the use of power. It’s better to turn them off. If you can, shut down electricity at night completely,” says Rose. She also has a quick solution for creating less waste.
“Try swopping everyone’s trashcans for the proper recycle bins and put the trashcan down the hall. There are companies who have done this and it might be annoying at first but people get used to it,” says Rose. While those are just a few quick tips, she says that there areplenty more on the NBIS Green Office Checklist, which includes ideas such as printing in draft mode (if you have to print), reusing packing peanuts and using real dishes and silverware in place of the disposable kind.
All of these changes may seem like a lot all at once, but Baza suggests they are a good place to start. “I always recommend you begin with something you’ll want to take ownership of and something that will matter to you,” says Baza.
The best way to keep green changes in the workplace going after they’ve begun is to encourage eco-friendly behavior through incentives.
Toews has found this strategy to work with the Green Office Program at the University of Maryland, which recognizes its participants by listing them on the school’s website, by honoring them with a certificate and by providing them with a footer that can be used in emails.
“Our program is all about recognizing and rewarding people for the actions they are taking rather than making them feel bad about what they aren’t doing. Social science research tells us that we will achieve greater change on the behavioral level when we positively support our co-workers,” says Toews.
She recommends that green programs be made fun so that they’re something others enjoy doing. By turning recycling into a competition between departments or by giving out prizes for eco-friendly actions, you’ll be turning sustainability into something others want to participate in.
Track and Present Your Results:
All the prizes in the world won’t keep a workplace’s green initiative going if its participants are unable to see a difference made by their efforts.
According to Rose, this is the best type of encouragement. “When you can show your co-workers how much money they’ve saved the company or how much more they’re recycling than before, it creates enthusiasm.
It gives others a positive attitude and gives everyone a sense of team spirit,” explains Rose.
In addition to keeping the office motivated, tracking your improvements can also be the proof management needs to agree to make other larger, perhaps more expensive, eco-friendly changes that increase sustainability.
If for some reason you’re unable to collect hard data, you can still gather information that will continue to motivate others by surveying your co-workers.
According to Toews, just observing the potential of lifestyle changes can be rewarding. “Everyone is in a different place on the sustainability continuum.
The person who recycles a soda can for the first time is probably taking a bigger step than the person who bicycles to work and buys green power for their home.
There is a large, psychological hurdle to taking that first step, but after that, people begin to think of themselves as someone who is sustainable, and from there, their behaviors are more easily adapted,” she said.
Are you a green expert with more tips to share? Please leave comments below.