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Sustainability in the Workplace | How Organizations Can Go Green

Lakshmi Hutchinson

Two hands pull up a pile of dirt from a grassy mound. Coming out of the dirt are colorful flowers and worms. A red desk lamp shines light onto the dirt pile.
Illustration by Marian Blair

As a professional in the social-impact space, you probably know about the effects that individual decisions—from using disposable coffee cups to driving gas-guzzling cars—can have on the environment. But is your organization doing all it can to move toward sustainability in the workplace? Luckily, there are several innovative ways you can encourage your place of work to take the leap and go green.

Implement composting in addition to recycling initiatives

When we talk about sustainability in the workplace, most people immediately think of paper, plastic, and metal recycling. Many organizations already have these types of recycling programs in place, and although there’s no federally mandated recycling program, a number of states and municipalities legally require businesses to recycle. 

So, if your organization wants to go green, how else can it reduce waste? Think about what happens to your office’s food trash. American consumers throw out about one pound of food per person per day, most of which ends up in landfills, contributing to methane emissions. Starting a composting program in the office is a great way to address this issue. In addition to reducing the amount of waste heading to landfills, composting also creates nutrient-rich fertilizer that can be added back to the soil for your office plants or in your gardens. 

Offer perks for green commutes along with remote work options

Another way that organizations can encourage eco-friendly practices is by offering incentives for green commutes. From bonuses or subsidies for employees who bike or carpool to work to tax-free transportation benefits for those who take public transit, employers can make it more attractive and affordable to go green. Beyond monetary incentives, some employers are even offering benefits like on-site bike storage to encourage ridership.

Organizations can also encourage sustainability in the workplace by eliminating the need to commute in the first place. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that fully remote or hybrid work options can be successful and that many employees actually prefer them. Offering flexibility in working from home is one way to reduce employees’ overall carbon footprint.

Work with vendors committed to sustainability

Organizations can also proactively make the decision to work with vendors who are committed to sustainability. Some areas to consider are:

  • Choosing a green energy plan. Most energy suppliers offer a green energy option from a renewable source like wind or solar power. Organizations can also work to increase the amount of natural light in their office (and reduce the amount of electricity used for lighting) through carefully planned design.
  • Employing green cleaning services. Your organization can benefit from sourcing office cleaners that use plant-based and eco-friendly materials. Making the switch to green cleaning reduces the amount of chemicals released into our waterways and can also reduce irritants for employees with allergies or chemical sensitivities.
  • Going paperless, and committing to purchasing recycled office supplies. The shift toward more remote work options goes hand in hand with a shift to a paperless office. Eliminating physical paperwork and relying solely on digital documents actually makes working from different locations much easier. For the times when you absolutely need paper and other office supplies, there are plenty of options for sourcing products made from post-consumer recycled content. 

If your organization still has room to improve on workplace sustainability, don’t be afraid to be the one to take the lead on suggesting more eco-friendly practices. You can start a sustainability-focused group and encourage co-workers to go green. You can also gauge employees’ interest in benefits for green commutes and composting and take your suggestions to leadership. Even by starting small and implementing just one or two changes, organizations can make a big difference in terms of environmental impact.

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Lakshmi Hutchinson

Lakshmi Hutchinson is a freelance writer with experience in the nonprofit, education, and HR fields. She is particularly interested in issues of educational and workplace equity, and in empowering women to reach their professional goals. She lives in Glendale, California with her husband, twin girls, and tuxedo cat.

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