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Sustainability at Work

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Phone: 503-823-7037

Email: sustainabilityatwork@portlandoregon.gov

Green Teams: Words of Wisdom from Nicole Baber and REACH Community Development

Since introducing sustainability into their strategic plan in 2009, REACH’s green team has been engaging employees and building a workplace culture of sustainability. We sat down with REACH’s green team leader and sustainability professional Nicole Baber to learn more about their green team and share tips with other businesses.

Nicole Baber

Nicole Baber, REACH Community Development

How it started

We first formed our green team in 2009 after a visit with Paul de Block from Sustainability at Work. Our starting team had 12 members (out of 65 total staff) and we quickly got to work grabbing all the low hanging fruit of office sustainability. Over the course of 5 years, we used the Sustainability at Work checklist to guide our sustainability actions.

The re-boot

When we ran out of low hanging fruit, out team started to fizzle out so we decided to dissolve the green team.  I stayed on to focus on sustainability in operations. After a few months, I decided to re-form a smaller green team. The new green team is five people, representing different departments, and we meet quarterly.

What our green team does:Green Scene sample page

  • Organize yearlong sustainability initiatives
  • Write and send out the “Green Scene,” our sustainability newsletter
  • Organize quarterly Green Days
  • Support participation in the Eco-Challenge
  • Plan Earth Week activities

Our green team picks, plans, and carries out yearlong sustainability campaigns. We found that focusing on one thing for a year gives us time to truly engage employees, change behaviors, and make a lasting impact. Each year when we add a new area of focus, the older ones continue alongside it as part of the status quo.

Paper reduction

Our first campaign was paper reduction. We started small with a goal to reduce paper by 10% after 6 months. The campaign was so successful, that by the end of 6 months we had achieved a 23% reduction! We decided to continue this campaign alongside others. It’s been almost 5 years since the initial campaign, and we’ve reduced our paper use by 59%! Learn more about REACH’s successful paper reduction campaign.

Highlight: 59% paper reduction over 5 yearWe found that focussing on one thing for a year gives us time to truly engage employees, change behaviors, and make a lasting impactTransportation

Our second campaign focused on transportation miles. We tracked mileage driven by each department before setting department specific goals. Since different parts of our company drive more than others, we decided that each department should compete against itself.

  • Highlight: learned structural ways to reduce transportation miles, like getting a company Zip Car membership.

Compost

We wanted to start composting, but some staff were concerned that it would smell bad and be messy. So we proposed a three-month trial: if it didn’t work well, we’d stop.

Through our newsletter, we let staff know about the new composting program, and identified “go-to” people who could answer questions.

Not only was composting a great success (we produce over 40 lbs. of compost each week!), but it increased our recycling rate by 36%! As people paid attention to what doesn’t belong in the trash, composting and recycling went up while garbage went down. It went so well, there was no discussion about stopping the program.

  • Highlight: produced over 40lbs of compost each week and increased recycling by 36%.

In the face of resistance, a short-term pilot allowed us to try something new - in this case composting. Once it was up and running well there was no resistance to keeping it going.

Waste Reduction

We’re now piloting, “Kicking the Can” - getting rid of desk-side trash cans. We’re also working on buying in bulk and reusing to further cut down waste. We send out tips in the Green Scene and include outside of work events, like swap meets, to encourage employees to take sustainability home with them.  

  • Highlight: reduced garbage by 51% over 3 months.

Where we are now

Over the last 6 years, sustainability at REACH Development has become the norm. What started as a project of passion, is now a key component of our operations. Today, I’ve gone from sustainability minded employee to sustainability professional. With sustainability as my full time focus, we’re able to take on bigger projects and grow our culture of sustainability.

Key Takeaways

  • It’s okay to stop your green team when enthusiasm fizzles and then start a new one.
  • Sustainability at Work and other organizations have checklists that your green team can use to identify low hanging fruit and more in-depth sustainability initiatives.
  • Not every initiative will go well, and that’s okay. Don’t get discouraged and try something else.

To learn more about Sustainability at Work or to contact a sustainability advisor email sustainabilityatwork@portlandoregon.gov

Sustainability at Work, a program with the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, provides free assistance to businesses wanting to improve their sustainability. Advisors are available for on and off site consultation and are a great resource for green teams or a dedicated employee. Sustainability at Work also certifies businesses using a checklist of sustainable actions, behaviors, and programs. Checklists are available online for offices, restaurants, retail stores and groceries. The Checklist is a great resource of actions to take to improve workplace sustainability.