A call to action for sustainability enthusiasts at work
By Brittany Ryan
From launching petitions to marching in protests, I’ve come a long way since my environmental activist days. Though still an advocate, I’ve found a different way to channel passion into action. Through my experiences in both the academic and professional sustainability field, becoming a green leader in the workplace has proven to be a very effective strategy.
The first step in triggering a catalytic force behind any social movement is to be the change. The power of Gandhi’s principles resonates with all of us out there trying to cultivate our lifestyle with the hope of inducing a societal paradigm shift. If a more sustainable world is what we wish to see, we must start by polishing our personal habits.
But the next step to inflicting change is motivating others. Even if you’re still working out the kinks in the process of “greenifying” your life, take a leadership role and transform the status quo. Nothing is more frustrating than a person or motivated group that cries out a problem, relentlessly blaming another party, and yet fails to play an active role in the solution. I’m asking all of you eco-folks out there to take what you know and lead – specifically, at work.
Start with materials management
Somewhere along the path of development, we failed to acknowledge and incorporate life cycle assessments and holistic supply chain management into our operative norms. This led to poor materials management practices, increasing waste, economic inefficiencies, and environmental degradation. Although our nation’s recycling and recovery practices improved over time, as of 2013 we still send over 50% of our generated materials to a landfill. After accounting for recycling and recovery processes, the top three wasted materials are food, plastic, and paper, respectively. This week, take a look at your office trash and recycling receptacles and you’ll notice those three items comprise a majority of what we toss.
Your workplace provides great opportunity to inspire change, and I speak from experience. Since joining my company about a year ago, I’ve made it my mission to lead an internal sustainability initiative. Working diligently with my team, we identify opportunities for improvement, promote educational awareness, and implement real solutions. Our materials management efforts bumped our landfill diversion rate to an impressive 86%. The impact is rippling; the staff is eager to become more educated on the subject, actively share these practices at home, and offer new ideas for building our internal sustainability operations. Our community relationships evolved as we share similar goals with the municipality and help to promote a local veteran-employed organization.
A leader in the workplace does not need to rely solely on passion and the “do-good” feeling to convince an organization to make changes. Waste, by the very nature of its name, is inefficient. Nationwide, major companies – think Google – are capitalizing on revamping their materials management because it not only builds their public relations, but it makes business sense. Better management of materials allows for cost savings through a reduction in use or repurposing and serves as a potential revenue stream.
Waste is more than just what we send to a landfill. Materials management encompasses the materials coming into the company, the way products are used, and the manner in which they are sorted for discarding. Digging into this process sheds light on a breadth of adjustments that reduce materials use and save the company money, ranging from office supplies to kitchenware to cleaning products and beyond.
Start by taking part of a sustainability committee, and if one doesn’t exist, investigate how to build one. Use a team to brainstorm positive initiatives that benefit both the company and its staff – make that business case! Understand the current operative practices and measure the company’s performance over time. Share ideas and results with the staff at large, and solicit their input as a continuous feedback loop. And definitely always champion successes through newsletters, social media, and other communication channels to give credit where it’s due and motivate others to do the same.
The benefits to leading change in the workplace are multifaceted. Not only does it accomplish altruistic goals of making the word a better place, but also enables you to distinguish yourself amongst a pool of very competitive thought-leaders further advancing professional development. Becoming an agent of change is empowering and as awareness builds and an increasing number of communities (whether a neighborhood, office, or city) manage resources more efficiently, the sooner sustainability transforms from a choice to the everyday norm.
To find out more information about commercial recycling, click here.
Born and raised on the Jersey coast, Brittany became a resident of the DC Metro Area in 2013. She earned her Master of Public Policy from the University of Maryland in 2015 and has since been working for an energy management and sustainability consulting firm in Falls Church, VA. Brittany also has a real knack for pickling cucumbers and making guacamole.