Promoting Sustainability Behavior in the Workplace. Are you an environmental citizen?

 I recently came across an article in the British newspaper, The Guardian, about sustainability behavior campaigns in the workplace. The article introduces a simple and meaningful concept in the sustainability field— environmental citizenship. But what does it means to be a good environmental citizen? 

 Let’s start by saying that the word citizen evokes a sense of belonging to the larger community in which we are all responsible, not only for our own personal actions, but also for contributing to the greater good.  In a similar way, being a good environmental citizen requires incorporating our individual behaviors into the bigger picture of our collective impacts.

 Sustainable behaviors in the workplace (and by the same token, at home) need to be rewarded by a sense of belonging to something greater than self-interests and financial gains.  A successful program that aims at instituting sustainable behaviors in the workplace should look at organic changes that will actually grow overtime as part of the business or institution’s culture, rather than “expiring” with funding or time.  These changes in behavior should also be easy to follow without adding extra tasks to our daily routines.

 For instance, energy efficiency updates have been the “low-hanging fruit” of most sustainability programs; however, in most cases, they are a one-time project in which businesses save money and reduce their carbon footprint. This is a great thing, do not get me wrong, but it does not provide an ongoing plan for consistent, simple and organic changes that become part of an environmental identity or citizenship.  Sometimes, after the new shiny lights are installed, business continues as usual and the organization misses a great opportunity to educate and incorporate other sustainability changes.  Is it really worth it to install LED lights if we leave them on all night long?

 In my opinion, that is exactly what separates the Sustainable Business Leader (SBLP) and the Sustainable Community Leader (SCLP) Programs from many other sustainability (including energy efficiency) programs in the market. The SBLP and SCLP are designed to incorporate “low hanging fruit” changes in addition to other sustainable practices that might not generate a quantifiable financial payback, but rather, create and nurture a sense of belonging to and having a personal responsibility to protect the natural and social environment

 One of the most common challenges we find in SBLP and SCLP is the lack of consistency necessary to carry out and maintain sustainability practices in the workplace.  It is not a secret that business owners, employees and staff are busy. The thought of adding more “things to the plate” might not seem feasible, but if the incorporation of these practices is structured in a practical way they will become a normal part of the work routine and daily lives.

 For instance, if you are asked to recycle the paper generated at your desk, but the recycling bin is located at the opposite side of the room or floor, and the trash can is right next to your desk, you will most likely toss the paper in the trash can. For the most part, people want to be good citizens and do the right thing, but if the current conditions make recycling more difficult, the easiest (and more natural) thing to do is toss the paper in the trash can.  The easy fix is to move the recycling bin closer! 

 This seems too simple, isn’t it? Exactly, that is the point. Make the process easy and painless, and it will become part of the daily workplace routine.

By Juan Sanchez

Programs Coordinator, SBN

email:    |    phone: (617) 395-0250

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