While energy-efficient appliances, CFLs, solar panels and LEED Gold certification can make a big difference in an office’s environmental impact, a report by the American Council for Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) reminds us not to overlook the power of the employee.
After all, if no one turns off that CFL light or throws the compostable cutlery in the proper bin, then much of the point is lost. Through multiple case studies, the ACEEE shows that changing employees’ attitudes and behaviors around going green can impact the office as well as the rest of the community. One of the case studies featured the government’s “Green the Capitol” initiative, which included a whole host of measures to reduce the carbon footprint of the House of Representatives.
Beyond the structural changes necessary to switch from coal to natural gas power and replace the Capitol Dome lights with CFLs, the program included education and encouragement for people to carpool, turn off computers when not in use and make sure recyclables reach the blue bin. After 18 months, the efforts reduced the House’s carbon footprint by 74 percent. While separating out the direct impact of employee engagement is more than a little tough, it’s definitely in the positive direction.
So how exactly do you get employees on board? The ACEEE noted four main approaches in all the programs studied. First, getting the senior management on board and making a public dedication to the cause is critical. If people don’t think it’s important, they won’t take time to do it.
Once you have the grand, green pledge out there, someone needs to take charge and implement. Building a team with a project committee and peers to take ownership in the endeavor is more powerful than just a message sent down from on high.
Next, you have to let people know what to do. If it’s a small startup, then you’ll be able to see your confused co-worker standing in front of the compost bin and can lend a hand. But in larger organizations, getting the word out through emails, websites, staff meetings and posters is part of creating that cohesive, green environment.
Last but not least: create incentives. Beyond just knowing we’re doing our part for the earth, it sure would be extra motivation to know there’s a prize involved. And a little peer pressure never hurt anyone if the whole floor is vying for a department lunch for least used paper.
Now, the ACEEE is not suggesting that employees don’t already care about the earth, but creating an earth-friendly, green company culture can encourage that behavior in the workplace and not just at home. This idea is not new to many companies who are already sporting their own green teams and hosting their annual bike to work day, or doing public transportation reimbursement and teaching lessons in the cafeteria about the green, blue, and black bins. If happy employees are more productive employees, then we like to think that happy, green employees are going to give the highest performance of all – with the lowest environmental impact.