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The City of Portland, Oregon

Sustainability at Work

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Engaging Employees to Reduce Paper

Nicole Baber

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 campaign and share tips with other businesses.




Nicole Baber, REACH Development.

In 2009, we formed a Green Team and set a goal for our first campaign: to reduce paper consumption company wide.

5 year goal:

  • Reduce paper use by 50 percent.

First campaign:

  • We started small, with a goal to reduce paper use by 10 percent in 6 months.
  • By the end of 6 months, we had achieved a 23 percent reduction!


  • We’re almost at the 5 year mark, and we’ve reduced our paper use by 59 percent!

What helped us succeed

Leadership Support

Our previous executive director prioritized sustainability and included the goal of reducing paper use by 50 percent in 5 years in REACH’s strategic plan. We were fortunate to have this leadership, but don’t feel discouraged if your efforts are initiated from the ground up. A push from above was a great kick-start for us, but it was the green team and on-the ground staff that made it possible to reach, and exceed, our ambitious goal.

Goals and prizes

To engage employees, we created monthly reduction goals and displayed them publically using a “reverse thermometer.” As a team, we competed against ourselves to motivate employees to do more. Our Green Team then used the money saved from reducing paper to throw the office a pizza party.

Measure & track

To measure our progress, we tracked the reams of paper we purchased. It was an easy tracking system to set up since we already record our purchases. It was also nice to have the visual of the ream of paper, so staff could connect with the amount of paper being used. To account for fluctuations in paper use throughout the year, we calculated how much paper we purchased the previous year and averaged it per month. 

Paper Usage Reduction sign
Our reverse "thermometer" showed monthly paper reduction goals and publically tracked progress toward meeting them.

Give Feedback

Our Green Team created the “Green Scene,” a monthly sustainability newsletter. Through the Green Scene we told staff about the reduction goals, showed them how they could reduce paper, and kept them informed about how we were progressing towards our goal. We also sent out biweekly emails with updates, pictures and tips.

Don’t be afraid to use technology

Our Green Team worked with IT to set all printers to print double sided automatically. Changing the default made double-sided printed the easiest option, thereby reducing the amount of single sided print jobs.

We also started using new software that allowed us to scan documents and email them to clients. Previously, multiple copies of multi-page documents had to be printed. Not only did this reduce paper, it made keeping up-to-date documents much easier for staff. And it freed up an entire wall in our office that was used to store paper documents.


At the start of the campaign, our green team needed to educate staff on how to reduce paper and why. We communicated information in multiple ways – weekly emails, the Green Scene newsletter, staff meetings, and the thermometer poster showing progress.

We recognized that everyone learns differently and we wanted to connect with all different types of learners. The repetition also kept the campaign goals on people’s minds.

Maintaining momentum

Today, paper reduction is the norm at REACH. We’ve done many campaigns since 2009 - on transportation, recycling, composting - but we continue to keep paper reduction on people’s minds.

We still track paper use quarterly and continually engage employees on reducing paper and waste. Since we’ve grown in size, we now include staff numbers in our calculations. But even with staff growth, we continue to see paper use go down!