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The City of Portland, Oregon

Sustainability at Work

Providing free tools and expertise to achieve your goals

Phone: 503-823-7037


Biggest challenges, best solutions: top takeaways from Problem Solved 2015

In March 2015, sixty individuals from a variety of organizations around Portland gathered to share challenges and advice around workplace sustainability. The crowd at Sustainability at Work’s fourth Problem Solved event was engaged, and ready to share challenges and offer solutions.

Here are some of the top challenges we heard at the event, along with advice provided by fellow attendees:

How do we get buy-in from management?

Problem Solved networking conversationsSuggest piloting a new initiative.

It's easier to get sign-off on a trial run - and then if all goes well, it'll be easier to make it permanent. 

Track complaints, issues and resolutions, and outcomes during the pilot – so that if you have a few vocal dissenters, their voice is put into broader perspective about the overall workplace

Speak to their interests.

    • Improved employee retention (through engaged staff)
    • Reduced operating costs (through reducing paper, energy, waste, etc.)
    • Marketing benefits
    • Responding to client demand for sustainability 

          How can I get co-workers to care?

          Connect sustainability to other topics they care about.

          One workplace used pedometers (free from their healthcare providers) to kick off a #steps challenge across teams. Switch to green cleaners - better for your health, and your janitorial staff’s.

          Join forces with other staff engagement efforts – safety, professional development, etc. – and reward staff for participation and leadership in all areas. This approach had great success at Pacific Continental Bank. This type of engagement gets staff talking and connecting - and builds a platform for future sustainability initiatives.

          Invite proposals and ideas from all staff, not just the green team.

          • Don’t be confined to a committee or green team as the only way to engage.
          • Solicit ideas for your next project from all staff.
          • Make it a challenge and award prizes for ideas submitted.

          Assign an annual budget to help winning proposals get implemented.

          Staff from CLEAResult (formerly PECI) had great results from their Sustainability Kickstart campaign. Try focusing on one initiative at a time – and give it time. Change takes time, and successfully engaging an entire workplace requires multiple strategies. Read about how REACH Community Development cut their paper use in half through continued education and engagement.

            Problem Solved networking conversationsWe use so many paper towels!

            Encourage staff to use “just one” with this memorable 5 minute Portland TED Talk (that’s been watched over 2 million times!).

            Buy paper towels made with a high percentage of recycled content.

            Provide staff with individual towels or have communal cloth towels that get washed regularly by staff volunteers or a laundry service.

            Looking for more ideas?

            Find more great tips and success stories from last year’s Problem Solved. Or attend an upcoming Problem Solved!

            Have a challenge you’d like help with? Contact us, we’re here to help!