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September 05, 2013

Are you living green at work?

Living with an environmental conscience shouldn’t stop at home. Here are some easy ways you can also live greener at work.

You may already be taking steps to live greener in your personal life, but what happens when you arrive at work? Do you feel frustrated by your company’s lack of recycling bins, energy-saving programs or sustainability goals?

You’re not alone. Research says many of us would prefer to work for an organization with values that align with our own, especially when it comes to something as important as protecting the environment we depend on.

Between the energy they use and the waste they create, we know that the places we work — be they on the road or a factory floor, in a restaurant, retail store or corporate office — can also be major contributors to the sustainability challenge and key drivers of climate change.

But you can make a difference wherever you work and every effort, however small, counts. Or, as Stevie Wonder once sang: “A whole lotta littles makes a whole lotta lots.” Here are a whole lotta little tips to help satisfy your environmental conscience at work:

Home schooled

Think about all the positive green habits you’ve already adopted at home and implement what you can at work: no management permission required.

  • Turn it off! Are you master of the light switch at home, but don’t give a second thought when leaving that meeting room lit up like Times Square? What about those electronics? Time to turn them off, just like at home. Better yet, make a sign to remind others to do the same.
  • Greener drinks. Are you and your reusable mug or water bottle attached at the hip when running errands (or kids) around town, but suddenly enemies on the job? Make friends with a second reusable water container and mug to leave at work. Soon, you may notice others following your lead.
  • Leave no trace. Many schools mandate “litterless” lunches to reduce waste — and so can you. Bring your own healthy lunches and snacks in reusable containers and don’t leave anything behind when you return home. You’ll reduce your need for food packaging such as plastic wrap and sandwich bags — often made with materials associated with climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions — and save money by not forking out for takeout.

Collaborate for impact

You probably have colleagues who wish your employer was greener, too; you just need to find them.

  • Start a green dialogue. Whether it’s around the water cooler or in the conference room, look for opportunities to stimulate a dialogue by asking questions or talking about work-related sustainability issues and current events. Speaking up will signal to managers and colleagues your interest in green projects.
  • Be a green ideas machine. Share your ideas on ways to solve green challenges, especially those with measurable business benefits. (For instance, conserving energy will save money.)
  • Ferret out opportunities. Many successful green programs begin as grassroots projects, so ask around and see how you can use your skills and passion for good.
  • Do one thing. Identify a single, burning green problem and invite others to join you in finding solutions — but don’t forget to measure performance and share successes. It could be a simple campaign to get colleagues to print less and digitize more. Demonstrate the business and environmental benefits by letting others know how much waste and costs were reduced. Successful small projects will inspire your colleagues — even your bosses — to tackle larger challenges.
  • Put the green in teamwork. Consider starting a company “green team.” Many employers are happy to help support these employee-led, volunteer teams focused on greening the organization, so why not ask?

By doing what you can on your own, and finding ways to collaborate with others, you will satisfy your environmental conscience and positively contribute to your company’s future by helping your leaders begin to see that green business equals good business.

Caroline Nolan is founder and principal of ThinkSustain® Consulting. She helps organizations design, develop and implement strategies for environmental, social and economic sustainability.

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