Sustainability for our corporate overlords
December 28, 2017 7:43 PM   Subscribe

I currently work in a respectably-sized megacorp. All employees, including me, have recently received an email seeking "suggestions for our next sustainability initiative".

Similar to this, but under different circumstances (i.e. I'm technically on board the mothership and they technically weren't, so scope is larger; stakes are somewhat lower; it's 2017 now; etc.)

Things to consider:

• This is intended to be on the level of “how can we make our cafeteria 15% more eco-friendly” or equivalent. They don’t expect to be receiving suggestions on how to run the business.
• The corporation has fewer than twenty office buildings in the US, with a handful more overseas. They are as close to the definition of ‘average office building’ as you can imagine. So far as I can tell, there is nothing unique about them that bears any relation to this—in other words, any proposed solutions should be general enough to work in any office building, save for that mine is the one asking.
• I have no idea if the company is building any new workspaces anytime soon, or how they design theirs. (If I did, I probably wouldn’t be able to talk about it.) Focus on improvements to existing spaces.
• I can’t pull rank (at all). They seem to be asking for suggestions for the sake of genuine concern and/or advice from the PR team.
• That said, they do seem to take this kind of thing fairly seriously. I don’t know what kind of budget is allocated for this, or how much they expect to recover in terms of image-bolstering. Dream decently large.
• I don’t know much at present about what’s already been implemented (except that they have the cafeteria napkin situation fully optimized).

Further details on request (within reason; I’m being as deliberately vague as possible without defeating the purpose).

Your mission, subject to these constraints: come up with a small-scale proposal that would have large-enough-to-be-worth-it effects on this office’s eco-friendliness.
posted by queen anne's remorse to Work & Money (31 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
  • Offer work-from-home options a few days a week to cut down on power usage
  • Offer a charitable matching initiative for social or environmental charities (like, if an employee donates $x, the company matches the donation, or if the employee volunteers 4 hours of work for a tree-planting or trash-cleanup charity, the company donates a dollar amount equivalent to 4 hours worth of that employee's time)
  • Sponsor a "somewhat hazardous materials drop-off day" a few times a year where the company makes an area available for employees to bring in things like batteries, used motor oil, housepaint, solvents, old electronics, etc and then handles the appropriate disposal methods
  • Organize local cleanup days on work days. Reward participants with a social gathering at a restaurant or pub.

  • posted by erst at 8:02 PM on December 28, 2017 [7 favorites]

    Might be more expensive than you were thinking of, but my company has been exploring buying carbon offsets for business travel in the next fiscal year.
    posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 8:48 PM on December 28, 2017

    Become a zero-waste business.
    According to Zero Waste International Alliance, "Zero Waste is a goal that is ethical, economical, efficient and visionary, to guide people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use.
    posted by Thella at 8:50 PM on December 28, 2017 [3 favorites]

    Offering paid parental leave would seem like a good investment in the future of humanity.

    Just kidding, how about an EV charging station out front?
    posted by The Toad at 8:50 PM on December 28, 2017 [6 favorites]

    Similar to the "hazardous waste drop-off", hire a confidential shredding company to come on site and shred your ten years' worth of bank statements, credit card bills, and tax returns.
    posted by TWinbrook8 at 9:06 PM on December 28, 2017 [3 favorites]

    Incentives for alternative/public transit/carpooling?

    How is the coffee cup/water bottle scenario?
    posted by vunder at 9:16 PM on December 28, 2017 [7 favorites]

    One employer of mine used the cringe-inducingly-named PaperCut to reduce paper waste. It worked well, even if the mere mention of it gives me the willies to this day.

    Echoing the dishware and transport suggestions above. Do you have a break room full of kitschy vintage coffee mugs instead of disposable Dixies? Do staff already get discounted or free transit passes? Do you brew single-serve k-cups or a communal pot of regular coffee?
    posted by armeowda at 9:42 PM on December 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

    Working from home 1-2 days a week makes a big difference. Also composting and recycling in the cafeteria are both good options.
    posted by Toddles at 9:46 PM on December 28, 2017 [4 favorites]

    Work from home option
    Electrify the auto fleet
    Build any new buildings to LEED standards
    Relocate near transit if they aren't already

    [Side rant: my opinion is that any company that takes "how we do our core activities" off the table may well be going about their sustainability initiative wrong. For all we know, you work for like, Chevron.]

    Buy recycled paper
    posted by salvia at 10:07 PM on December 28, 2017 [4 favorites]

    Encourage (with, y'know, actual incentives and support) the use of transportation methods other than the single-occupant automobile.
    posted by asperity at 10:34 PM on December 28, 2017 [4 favorites]

    re: commuting -- if your offices are in a city with reasonable non-drive alone options, my "radical" pet project is always to charge market rate (per day, no monthly incentive) for parking but give everyone a raise by the same amount, no strings attached. If you want to spend it on stashing your car, go ahead! If you carpool, you can split the parking with a bunch of people! If you bike / walk, keep the $! etc.

    Whether or not to subsidize a transit pass comes into question, of course, but I tend towards the side of still subsidizing that because transit use is desirable, both for commute and life.

    (are there facilities for people who bike / run into work? is there a subsidized transit pass?)

    I would also invest in better teleconferencing so that people can work from home and need to travel less to other offices.

    And -- cynically, this is probably the level of idea they want -- use smaller paper towels in bathroom dispensers. People take two anyway, so they might as well be a smaller two towels. If there was bottled water before, make ambient / chilled filtered water available and hide the disposable cups somewhere so people are nudged towards bringing water bottles.
    posted by batter_my_heart at 10:51 PM on December 28, 2017 [7 favorites]

    Join the Pledge 1% movement.
    posted by Threeve at 11:20 PM on December 28, 2017

    Incentivizing carpooling: better spots, leave 10 minutes early, etc. Make it easier mentally and physically.
    posted by brokbork at 12:37 AM on December 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

    Since you mentioned cafeteria, mine at work takes pride in being zero-waste — everything that comes out of it is either reusable (dishes, etc), organic waste (food bits), or recyclable (take out dishes, beverage containers, etc).

    Making recycling easy for employees — we have days set aside where employees can bring in their cardboard, etc for dumping into our work’s recycling dumpsters. But to be honest, no one appears to care if employees do that year round, but it’s only officially sanctioned certain days. Laywers, etc probably have something to do with that.

    Electric car charging stations.

    Shuttles from the office to local public-transit hubs. Discounts on public transit monthly passes.
    posted by cgg at 1:27 AM on December 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

    In public areas (hallways, bathrooms, anything but offices and conference rooms), lights on motion sensors. Developing a culture where people turn lights off when not in their office.

    Make sure everyone turns off their computer at the end of the day.

    An upgrade of the HVAC system if it's old, and belongs to you and not the landlord.

    There are programs where college/grad school students will come and do a sustainability audit and give you a list of actions, and a cost/benefit analysis, often for little to no cost.
    posted by Fig at 2:52 AM on December 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

    Assess rooftop solar. This will vary in usernames by area.
    Energy audit. How hot is the hot water, etc.
    Programmable thermostats.
    Consider 1 degree warmer in summer, cooler in winter. I hate that I have to wear sweaters in summer and short sleeves in winter.
    Landscape. Is it managed and can it be low water use in some areas, use less fertilizer. Would trees reduce AC use by giving shade?
    posted by theora55 at 3:48 AM on December 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

    Lights on motion detector switches. This can include offices and bathrooms.

    HVAC is surprisingly bad in many office buildings resulting in individuals using space heaters and fans. So, a program to find and fix these issues mightbwork.

    A review of PC purchasing policies to see if lower power equipment is feasible.
    posted by SemiSalt at 5:02 AM on December 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

    If they don't already offer it, pre-tax commuter benefits (company or personally paid) for US employees.

    Secure bike parking, lockers, showers, and other bike-incentivising amenities.

    Energy audits for the buildings - there's a lot that can be done with HVAC, lights, etc.

    Make sure there is adequate availability of recycling (and even compost) bins throughout the offices, and adequate education on what can be recycled.

    If the company provides disposable dishware (like paper coffee cups) or people often bring things in (like plastic utensils), perhaps provide reusable alternatives and a good washing infrastructure (for us, that's 4 dishwashers per floor that are monitored by dedicated operations staff so they're really functional and don't get run haphazardly).
    posted by mosst at 6:11 AM on December 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

    Also, offer superior parking for more eco-friendly vehicles (electric, hybrid, motorcycles, carpools with a pass, etc.)
    posted by mosst at 6:12 AM on December 29, 2017

    What's on the menu in the cafeteria? One of the easiest things North Americans can do to decrease their carbon and water footprint is to stop eating red meat... Can the cafeteria offer more vegetarian or white meat options?
    posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 7:25 AM on December 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

    Also, avoid ultra-bright printer paper, K-cups, and soft drinks.

    Does the company offer a smoking-cessation program for employees who want to cut down on their tobacco use?
    posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 7:32 AM on December 29, 2017

    This will vary in usernames by area. should read This will vary in usefulness by area.
    posted by theora55 at 9:11 AM on December 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

    Partner with your local Food Recovery Network chapter and see what it would take to have students come out and safely recover leftover cafeteria food to be repackaged for food banks and other hunger orgs.
    posted by book 'em dano at 9:12 AM on December 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

    Definitely reach out to any colleges or universities with Sustainability or Community Engagement offices because they already know resources and existing programs in your area.
    posted by book 'em dano at 9:15 AM on December 29, 2017

    A push to remind people to turn off monitors and cubicle lights when they leave every day. Motion sensors for individual offices. More efficient and environmentally friendly lighting throughout the building.

    A review of the efficiency of the HVAC system.

    A review of how snow is being handled, if you're in a location where snow removal is a thing.

    Our office went "paperless" a few years ago, except that there's no efficient way to transmit external documents to our internal scanning process. So we have to print external documents and submit them to the clerical team to be physically scanned. And then everything is sent to storage. It's created some efficiency in terms of file retrieval, but hasn't created the cost savings related to paper costs and storage costs that were touted at the roll out. You might ask if there are any similar systems inefficiencies in your org.
    posted by vignettist at 10:01 AM on December 29, 2017

    Each of these stickers saves up to a hundred pounds of paper every year. They could put one in every bathroom stall in the building.
    posted by aniola at 10:52 AM on December 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

    Does your company use overnight delivery services for shipments when less fuel-intensive options would be good enough?
    posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 11:06 AM on December 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

    I would try to address energy use in the buildings. Besides sustainability, it can bring a direct benefit to the bottom line by reducing utility costs, and it's something that can be applicable to all the buildings you own.

    Assuming you own the buildings and pay the bills, you've probably already got the data internally (somewhere) that will tell you which of the corporation's buildings you should start with. Look at the annual energy costs and start with the biggest one. Look at energy cost per square foot if they're significantly different in size. Look at energy (kWh and therms) as well as cost, since utility rates vary with location.

    In the US, the utilities in most major metropolitan areas will have programs that can support your effort. These range from building audits to rebates on equipment to programs where they come and install things for you. Take advantage of those programs; they can save you thousands and thousands of dollars. (disclosure: I run such programs for a utility; I don't know where you are so I have no idea if we're your utility.)

    You can use the savings on things you do in one year to pay for further measures in subsequent years.
    posted by nickmark at 11:13 AM on December 29, 2017

    Energy Star equipment purchasing policy.
    Green/non-hazardous cleaning policy.
    Zero waste / composting food waste.
    Retro-commissioning all building systems.
    Lighting and lighting controls replacement/upgrade.
    Expand work from home options.
    Incentives for walk, bike, transit and car pool commuting.
    posted by meinvt at 11:59 AM on December 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

    Battery recycling
    posted by SyraCarol at 6:57 PM on December 29, 2017

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