Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Workplace ECO Committee

I'm a member of the ECO Committee at my work. We try to come up with ways that we as employees and our employer alike can be more conscious of and therefore mitigate the negative impact we have on our environment. There's a few initiatives that we run, based on industry best-practices. These include:
  1. encouraging recycling and composting by staff => using signage to promote proper garbage sorting (what's really garbage, recyclable, and compostable) and providing relevant bins; 
  2. sorting of garbage by maintenance staff;
  3. running educational and awareness-raising campaigns using print and electronic media; 
  4. organizing agency-wide events such as Spring Clean-up Day, guest speakers, etc.; 
  5. working with management to improve certain policies (e.g., all computers are set up to always print double-sided, buy materials that are earth-friendly whenever possible). 
Our organization even has solar panels and a complex computer system to manage electricity use - after a few years, we are running a surplus, which can be sold back to the grid. This system can even calculate the C02 emissions that are saved.  

I am happy to say that my organization does quite a lot for the environment. This will eventually come full circle and positively impact human health. We on the committee are always grappling with ways in which we can improve as individuals and as an organization. I've recently been tossing three ideas around in my head.

The first is to encourage staff to bring in reusable containers and coffee mugs to use when buying lunch/hot drinks. This will reduce packaging, such as styrofoam that is recycled or thrown away. It necessitates staff remembering to bring these things in. I don't have great faith in memory unless we have adequate awareness-raising and incentive programs, at least at the outset.

The second is to create a green roof. We have lots of space on the roof and it is flat. I am guessing, however, that this will require quite an investment by the organization, in terms of buying materials and maintenance costs. I'm not entirely certain if it is structurally possible either. 

The last is a bit more contentious. The organization is not located downtown and many staff live in suburban or rural areas, which makes taking the car the only feasible option. One idea to reduce driving is to encourage people to park further away from work, and walk, say 10-20 min the rest of the way. This would involve identifying areas where staff are allowed to park for the entire day, without penalty from the City or other organizations. This is an idea that has come up in the child active transportation literature. I'm just not sure that it will be feasible without changing at least the organizational culture towards driving, and recognizing that this does not have to be an all or nothing endeavor - one or two days a week would be something!
Recently at a committee meeting, it was brought up that we don't always tangibly know how certain interventions translate into say C02 emissions savings (other than our electrical system). We've been basing our initiatives on best-practices, but yes, this is important to know. Especially in terms of where we divert most of our efforts. I plan to research this; something that is certainly out of my domain of expertise. Please, business/environmental/sustainability people, show me the way to the relevant science literature!

If you don't already have one, think about organizing an ECO (or green or whatever) committee in your place of work. It's about reducing impact on the environment, but ultimately it's about improving human health. You already do it a home, why not help your workplace and fellow co-workers?