How to Create a Sustainable Workplace

http://www.motherearthnews.com/nature-and-environment/sustainable-workplace-zbcz1311.aspx

Stuart AwardDon’t you sometimes wish you could live in a more progressive place than the one you live in right now? I know I do. It would be so much easier to live in a place where everyone gardens organically, bikes to work, has clean energy and recycles everything. We all know of places that seem way more advanced in sustainability when we read about them, but often I get discouraged when I think of all the work it would take to get my little corner of the world up to those standards. Places like Cambridge, Massachusetts require all new construction to be LEED certified and has a compost program that picks up organic waste from local residents, restaurants, bars and hotels. Oakland, California has the nation’s cleanest tap water, hydrogen-powered public transit and the country’s oldest wildlife refuge. Portland, Oregon is probably at the top of most lists when people think of green cities. All the good press these places get can sometimes make you feel like all you need to do is just move there and relax; because there, all things are good and green. But even the most progressive of places still need a lot of work.

Just outside of Portland in the suburb of Hillsboro, local company Eid Passport Inc. has been growing. They recently relocated to a new office building to cover the expanding needs of a company that has become the leading commercial provider of U.S. Department of Defense recognized vendor credentials. Of all the new changes this company was making, they had forgotten some of the most important ones. This is where my brother-in-law Stuart Laudert and coworker JoAnn Mueller stepped in. They formed a green team at Eid Passport and streamlined the company’s recycling program, which was basically non-existent. In April they celebrated Earth day with a paper shredding event, where information on water, energy conservation and recycling was distributed.

Stuart and the new green team didn’t stop there. They went through the whole company and made as many little, yet important, changes as they could; giving attention to items most people take for granted. The staff kitchen now uses durable dishware instead of disposable ones. They work hard to reuse as many office supplies, bubble wrap and wrapping paper as possible in order to lessen the waste produced. They replaced older lighting with CFL’s and LED’s, as well as out of date products such as thermostats and the buildings HVAC system being replaced with more efficient versions. They buy cardboard boxes from local sources to limit the shipping distance. Employee’s receive a subsidy for riding public transportation and are encouraged to ride bikes to work. The company even planned for a bike room when remodeling before they moved in the new building in 2011. All the work this team did earned them the 2013 Washington County Recycle at Work Award (You can link to the full article below).

Stuart and his fellow employees were not the owners of the company. They could have easily just carried on through their work day caring as little as the next employee; no bonuses or promotions incentivized them into motivation. They just took the time to put in a little effort because they knew it needed to be done. It’s a good reminder that these communities are not working more sustainable just because that’s how they are, they are working more sustainable because of the people who live there and the choices they make. Little changes that can start with questions like “What kind of light bulbs are we using?” “Can we buy these products from a local vendor and decrease our carbon footprint?” or “Are there any safer cleaning products that are less toxic to people and the environment?” Most of us are creatures of habit who ride the momentum of daily routine. All it takes is a few influential ones making little pushes in the right direction that eventually gets us all moving to a better rhythm.

I don’t worry anymore about going somewhere better because I know even the most progressive cities need people like Eid’s green team to get that way and lucky for them, those cities already have some. So I might as well start now and improve my own community instead of dreaming of greener pastures. Taking Stuarts example, all it takes is a few good questions and little steps every day to make my place a more sustainable, happy place.

Aaron Miller lives in Olympia Washington where he grows organic vegetables and herbs. He and his wife make natural products at home in pursuit of a simpler life. They share their products and ideas at www.themillercollection.org 

Photo by courtesy of Efua Osam-Cue