Work life isn’t just about punching a clock with a bunch of strangers. Smart employers know their people are happiest and most productive when they can live their values while they make their living. Though not all employers can or will take initiative to create a workplace green team or climate support group — you can!
Solving the interconnected climate and biodiversity crises requires transformational change. Let’s build solutions wherever we have influence. For many, that’s in workplaces, where there are skills, expertise, built-in community and opportunities for deep dialogue.
Activism is a lot like work — people coming together to figure out how to apply what they’re good at toward building a better world: organizing meetings, taking minutes, writing letters, planning events, leading training, brainstorming ideas, designing projects, and providing services and care for one another.
Why not start where many of these activities are already happening — at work!
A green workplace is good for the planet — and the bottom line
Creating a workplace green team that inspires climate action at all levels has many economic, social and wellbeing benefits.
- Reduce operating costs by spending less on fuel, energy, materials and waste management.
- Improve operational efficiency and profitability.
- Lower insurance costs by demonstrating effective risk management.
- Make the most of government tax incentives and rebates for businesses adopting green practices.
Improve staff morale and productivity
- Create a healthier, more comfortable workplace.
- Attract and retain people who want to work for an environmentally responsible organization that shares their values.
- Create a sense of purpose beyond job tasks.
- Motivate staff and increase communication across departments.
- Reinforce organizational values and foster brand integrity.
Enhance community and public relations
- Get involved in climate action in the wider community.
- Demonstrate environmental leadership to employees, customers, suppliers, competitors and the public.
- Boost brand visibility.
Grow your business
- Access new markets.
- Anticipate regulatory changes by going beyond compliance.
- Attract new customers, clients and investors.
How to start a workplace green team
A workplace green team can be a driving force toward a greener, more just future. By uniting passionate individuals, setting achievable goals and collaborating with all departments, it can ignite positive change and build community.
Formation of an effective workplace green team doesn’t have to be bound to an enterprise that operates primarily from an office. You can adapt these steps to fit everything from retail and health care to food service and construction.
Build your team
Let’s be real — people don’t check their values at the door when they leave home for work each day. Once you start asking around, you may be surprised how many people enthusiastically share your interest in sustainability.
Aim for representation from all organization levels and departments. That way you’ll have eco-champions everywhere and your workplace green team with benefit from a diversity of direct experiences and expertise. Custodial staff, for example, might have the best ideas for properly sorting and disposing of waste. IT specialists will know about computer efficiency. Operations staff can help source green suppliers.
Buy-in from executive and senior management is crucial for the growth and long-term success of your plan. In most organizations, a senior manager is responsible for developing and implementing sustainability programs. If your team doesn’t have a sponsor, put together a green plan and approach a leader or senior staff person for support. They can help add legitimacy to your team and give you the authority to meet goals that require larger changes to workplace processes and habits.
Set up regular meetings to discuss plans and goals, so everyone can take part. They can be weekly or monthly, in person, virtual or hybrid. You know the culture of your organization best — do what makes sense for your group.
Define your vision
With your team, start imagining and discussing what sustainability might look like in your workplace. This will help connect the small steps leading to the bigger picture and drive you toward your large goals. Share the vision with your workplace on a broader internal communication channel to inspire participation.
Assess your organization’s needs
Going green is a journey, and it helps to know where you’re starting from. Begin by asking if your workplace has sustainability or climate goals and initiatives. If so, what’s been achieved or put into action? If not, or if existing goals and initiatives aren’t active or ambitious enough, start here.
These audits and surveys can help you gain valuable insight into current performance and help develop your workplace green team’s sustainability strategy and goals to get where you want to go.
- Get an energy audit (or design your own). This will identify areas of high energy use and potential energy-saving opportunities.
- Conduct waste and recycling audits. A workplace’s waste generation, disposal practices and recycling efforts can reveal opportunities to reduce waste, increase recycling rates and implement composting programs.
- Get a water assessment. This will assess the workplace’s water use and potential leaks. It will identify opportunities for water efficiency improvements and promote water conservation practices.
- If you work in an industry that deals with supply chains, encourage operations staff to conduct a sustainable procurement audit. This will provide a detailed look at your organization’s supply chain sustainability and where improvements can be made.
- Have staff participate in a transportation audit. A simple survey will suffice. This will give the workplace green team an idea of employee commuting habits and business-related travel protocols.
- Examine your organization’s role in advocacy and its connections between climate and capital. Find out if your organization lobbies or makes political contributions and where it banks, invests and donates.
- Assess staff awareness with an employee engagement and education survey to gauge interest in participating in green programming and potential sustainability-related training.
Regular assessments will help track progress over time and foster a continuous improvement mindset in the pursuit of becoming a greener organization.
Choose your goals and develop an action plan
Using the results of audits and surveys, your workplace green team can brainstorm and implement achievable goals.
In the early stages, build motivation by choosing easy, fun activities that have a good chance of succeeding. Accumulated successes will help further the business case for workplace sustainability.
Examples of short-term workplace green team goals:
- Get on-site compost bins.
- Minimize food waste.
- Promote better recycling habits.
- Replace toxic cleaning products with eco-friendly alternatives.
- Trim waste.
- Go paperless.
- Reduce energy use by 20 per cent.
- Implement a smart transportation plan.
- Conserve water.
- Send a monthly newsletter with sustainability tips. (Subscribe to ours for inspiration or invite colleagues to subscribe!)
- Plant pollinator habitat or grow a food garden in outdoor spaces.
Over time, the workplace green team may want to aim for more transformative change by setting long-term goals. These will likely require support in all levels of the organization.
Examples of long-term goals:
- Retrofit buildings for sustainability (e.g., install low-flow faucets and water-efficient toilets).
- Introduce a designated sustainability adviser role. Or, better yet, create pathways for every job to be a climate job.
- Onboard only vetted suppliers, partners and stakeholders that match core sustainability values.
- Partner, collaborate with and give back to local communities to build trust and contribute to a resilient ecosystem that can address the climate crisis and withstand its impacts.
- Divest from fossil fuels and invest in climate solutions (renewable energy, for example).
- Launch a corporate philanthropy or volunteer policy that supports climate initiatives.
- Get your workplace LEED certified.
- Prioritize low-carbon products and join the circular economy.
Create an action plan for each goal that outlines the steps to achieve it. Assign responsibilities to team members based on their expertise and interest.
Need help developing the action plan? Consult Project Drawdown’s Climate Solutions at Work employee guide.
Regularly track progress toward set goals and celebrate achievements. Recognize and reward individuals and teams for their efforts.
How to handle challenges and resistance
If some colleagues seem to be resistant to change, invite them into the conversation. (If this is difficult, our CliMate chatbot coach might help.)
Here’s a list of common resistance statements you may encounter, and some suggestions on how to respond:
Solution: Much of what you can do consists of small steps, such as turning off your computer at night. Lots of green choices don’t require additional technology or time — only awareness.
Solution: Many ideas that are good for the environment are good for the bottom line and many products that seem more costly in the short-run often save money in the long-run.
Solution: Make it fun! Gamify your goals by running challenges and creating incentives.
Solution: Try to stay away from crisis messaging. Climate anxiety, eco-grief and eco-guilt are valid psychological responses to the current climate emergency. Focus on the steps you CAN take. (Action is the antidote to despair!) Keep the messages positive. People are attracted to hope and reasons to be hopeful abound.
Solution: If you’re meeting resistance from managers and key stakeholders that can support and institutionalize the workplace green team, find out why. Prepare a pitch with examples of outcomes that benefit everyone. Engage doubters and ask them to be responsible for one part of the campaign. This often dissolves resistance.
Solution: Recognize people who make changes and celebrate success stories. Find ways to get people meaningfully involved — ask them for advice on what activities they think would be most valuable.
Solution: Start with pilot projects rather than immediately pushing for massive change. Track progress and results and share these regularly. Once people see results from small projects, they’ll be motivated to do more.
Solution: Think of activities that involve changing how you do things around your workplace, like unplugging your tech before leaving the building. Then build systems with your workplace green team to encourage others to participate, such as sending a weekly bulletin to colleagues on how to recycle less. Being green doesn’t always mean buying specialized products. It can be as simple as providing educational tools to inspire change and leading by example.
How to start and support a remote workplace green team
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many employees worked from home to support public safety measures. Although many workplaces have mandated return to work policies or adopted hybrid models, others have switched to having people work remotely full time. But this doesn’t mean you can’t start a workplace green team!
Use the tips above to recruit participants, identify your workplace’s green needs and define goals. Adapt the rest for a remote and/or hybrid workplace.
Set up virtual meetings
Schedule regular virtual meetings for the workplace green team to connect and discuss your goals and objectives.
Encourage eco-friendly home offices
Share tips and resources with remote colleagues on how to create eco-friendly home offices. Provide guidance on energy-efficient equipment, reducing waste and environmentally friendly office supplies and furniture. Here are 15 top tips for everyday sustainable living.
Host virtual green challenges
Organize virtual challenges to engage remote colleagues and encourage them to adopt green practices. Have participants conduct home waste, water and energy audits.
Start a workplace climate support group
Want to build community and inspire climate action where you work? Start a climate support group!
You may be asking, “How is a climate support group different from a workplace green team?” Good question!
A workplace green team is a great way to take collective action, but it’s not always feasible, depending on your organization’s size, culture and capacity. A climate support group is a great launching point for eventually developing a workplace green team, or as an alternative or companion group.
Let’s face it. Caring about the climate crisis can be isolating and mentally draining. Climate support groups are typically designed to foster meaningful conversations and build community. They can provide a safe, encouraging space for colleagues to come together, share experiences, grievances and ideas, and get involved in climate action.
Identify potential participants
Reach out to colleagues who’ve expressed interest or concerns about the climate. Write a short blurb about the intent of your climate support group and put a call-out on your internal communications system for participants.
Start small and informal
Begin by organizing informal gatherings during lunch breaks or after work hours, biweekly or monthly. Keep initial meetings casual and open to everyone interested. This approach can make the group feel more inclusive and encourage hesitant individuals to join. It will also curb any potential resistance from management about gathering during work hours.
Define purpose and values
Establish the group’s purpose. Discuss and agree on shared values and goals. This will help create a cohesive vision that ensures everyone understands the group’s focus. It could be as simple as “this climate support group serves as a safe space to share experiences, grievances and ideas on how to adopt green lifestyle practices in and outside the workplace.” Need inspiration? Use The All We Can Save Project’s circles to help build and guide your sessions.
Plan engaging, accessible activities
Organize activities that align with the group’s purpose and values. These could include hosting or attending zero waste workshops, film screenings, book clubs, climate rallies or nature outings. This will foster community connection, climate action and potentially inspire other colleagues to join.
Allow for growth
Workplace peer support groups have risen in popularity because of the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on employee mental health and wellbeing. If there’s group interest or consensus to expand beyond climate-related conversations into mental health and wellbeing topics like eco-grief, eco-anxiety and eco-guilt, allow for it. But be mindful. These topics can be complex and heavy. Consider following a model like the Good Grief Network.
Accelerating climate action requires collaboration
By building a trusting, resilient community at work, you can identify climate solutions and sustain climate action inside and outside the workplace.
Sign up for Living Green emails
Get tips and resources to live sustainably. Join the growing green living community.