Someone once remarked to me that the good principles you believe in should be like your personal Gospel, you have a duty to the world to preach and practice it wherever you go and win souls where you can. Even though I might not have been entirely sold on the Gospel idea, I was sold on the idea of spreading my beliefs with dedication and commitment and winning new converts.
We all have various beliefs and causes we champion and support. From libertarianism to LGBT rights, there are a whole spectrum of thoughts, beliefs and actions that we would like others to identify with and adopt. For some of these causes, like the fight against global hunger, it is not very difficult to convince people to believe and act. For some others, it can be more difficult. This difficulty in convincing people to “see the light” is often not for lack of merit. It is almost always because people often shy away from change dreading the role they might have to play in bringing about a new order. Fear of the unknown, I think.
An example of a more difficult cause to adopt is the Sustainability Movement. If you have ever tried to convince a person, maybe even a sibling to waste less or implement some aspect of the zero waste lifestyle, then you might agree with me on how difficult the process is. Now, the argument to reduce waste is very reasonable; your sibling will probably agree with you that it is better for the finances at least, if not the environment. This agreement notwithstanding, it is doubtful if he or she sees what impact the decision (however seemingly insignificant) would have in the bigger picture. What’s more, your sibling probably doesn’t see how it has become their responsibility to change the world or save the earth.
If your sibling at home is not willing to take responsibility, then think of your colleagues at the office. Most employees do not have “skin in the game” when it comes to the affairs of their offices and organisations. Have you ever had colleagues who waste reams of paper at the copier without a second thought? Or never bother turning off the lights or even their desktop computers? All these done with a shrug because it’s the company who suffers more directly from the waste, and end up paying the costs, whether that’s a ream of paper, or paying the rising electricity bill. They fail to look beyond the business and realise it’s really the earth who ends paying up the ultimate price.
So, how do we introduce sustainable practices in the corporate office? Simply set up policies and promote a company culture of sustainability. Sounds easy right?
But what happens when you aren’t the boss in the company? When you are not the one in a leadership position shaping the company culture? What happens when you are a low-level employee? Maybe even an intern?
I have come across lots of articles on how to make the transition to a “greener office” or encourage sustainability in the office. But almost all these articles are predicated on the assumption that the reader is in the position of authority to execute these workplace rules. This is not always the case now is it? Sometimes you get hired at a new job and your colleagues and bosses are really, really wasteful. Or unrepentant climate change skeptics and deniers.
So what can you do?
You can feel helpless in the face of a company culture that seems to mock your own position on sustainability, but once you stop feeling annoyed, it’s time to take action. It eventually comes down to doing your bit and turning a blind eye to the naysayers. So, out of personal experience and curiosity and research, I am writing this for the “little” guys and girls trying to change their offices and by extension, the world.
1. Show don’t tell
The Oxford Dictionary defines the word “practice” as “the customary, habitual, or expected procedure or way of doing of something”. Practices in the office exist for a reason, because people understand the guidelines that set workplace behaviour and feel safe with them. Coming into the office to challenge these practices with your words and beliefs is neither practical nor tactical and would often just end up pitting you against your colleagues. A better approach would be to show with your own practices, what should be done rather than talk about what should be done.
If your colleagues waste disposable cups, make sure to use your reusable coffee cup, and then take it upon yourself to arrange for reusables to be provided to the office. If everyone drives a car, offer to carpool and share seat space with your colleagues. In this way, you become a practical example of sustainability in the workplace.
2. Align your sustainable goals with that of the company
As an employee of a company, your first loyalty is to the organisation and rightly so. Thus, the ethical and sustainability practices and goals that you have in mind for the company should align with the overall goals of the company. If you work in a renewable energy company, you can suggest a transition to car-pooling for staff. This is acceptable as management is likely to agree to reduce dependence on fossil fuels (if nothing else) and the environment through car-pooling. An example of a failure of this alignment is where one of your goals is to reduce the use of paper when you work for a stationery company. Obviously, certain issues will crop up, but there are still workarounds, like encouraging the business to stock FSC-certified or recycled paper from businesses that have ethical practices and do not cut down wood from old growth forests.
3. Craft your own story
In convincing people to adopt a certain way of life, you can never overestimate the wonders of a good story. It is all fine and good to know your climate change facts and statistics on how our actions affect the environment, but in my experience, people react more to emotion than facts. People are more likely to change their ways if you can show how it affects them through the wonderful use of story-telling or how you have learned the lesson yourself the hard way.
You should share with your colleagues why they should care and how you got to the place you are. Share your personal journey, recommend environmental documentaries or books you’ve read on the subject matter, and you can even show off where you purchase your sustainably-made office attire. Sharing in this way serves to remove the concept of sustainability from the realm of the abstract to one that is much more tangible.
4. Think the bottom line
Companies exist for profit.
I repeat, companies exist for profit. If you read a few of my articles, you will see that I advocate that we remember this fact while campaigning for the adoption of sustainability ethics by companies. In line with this, a sure way of encouraging any company or organisation to adopt any such practice would be to show that it impacts positively on their bottom line. If you can demonstrate to upper management that they can make more money or at least save money from adopting greener practices, it’s a financially foolish company that would not take notice quickly. Even organisations that aren’t entirely motivated by profits (say perhaps, faith-based charities) would surely be interested in saving money.
Here, money made or saved need not be in the millions. For instance, if the company encourages its employees to use reusable coffee cups, money saved from the purchase of cups could be directed towards paying say the florist for the office supply of indoor office plants. Creates the impression of a serene office environment, right?
These techniques are by no means exhaustive. As my undergrad law professor would say; every case shall be judged by its own merits. I expect that in your personal environment, you choose the best approach.
No matter the place, the situation or the approach chosen, I hope that you are taking steps to preach the Gospel of sustainability and win converts to responsible consumption.
The earth is counting on it.