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Making organizations greener, more environmentally sustainable

Tips and suggestions for greater environmental stewardship and responsibility
corporate social responsibility, csr
Environmental initiatives are part of an organization’s corporate social responsibility agenda that HR professionals can get involved in. REUTERS/Daniel Munoz

By Brian Kreissl

I was having a bit of writer’s block a while back when I asked my wife what I should write about for my blog. She suggested I write something relating to Earth Day because it had just passed at the time. Because I was so busy, I didn’t get a chance to complete the post over the last couple of weeks, but here is my “Earth Day” post.

I thought doing an Earth Day post was a good idea because I haven’t written much on environmental issues and I do see environmental initiatives being a part of an organization’s corporate social responsibility agenda that HR professionals can get involved in. This is something I covered elsewhere in the past, but never really here in my blog.

Earth Day is a largely symbolic event held every year since 1970 on April 22, beginning in colleges, universities, schools and communities across the United States. It is now celebrated in more than 193 countries worldwide and is meant to show support for environmental causes. While I believe recognizing Earth Day is a good practice, environmental friendliness and sustainability are things that individuals and organizations should practise 365 days a year.

The role of HR

While HR certainly can’t do it all alone and needs the input and buy-in from senior leadership, finance, operations, procurement, facilities management and other stakeholders within the organization, becoming more environmentally-friendly can help improve employee retention and engagement, enhance employer branding and public image and even improve the bottom line in some cases. HR sometimes has responsibility for certain aspects of facilities and meeting management, or can at least make recommendations in relation to certain items.

I am not saying an organization necessarily needs to make huge changes in order to be more environmentally sustainable and responsible. I also don’t think we are going to be able to change our lifestyles completely overnight to one that is zero waste and completely carbon-neutral, nor am I trying to vilify people whose livelihoods depend, for example, on fossil fuels or the automotive industry (or who travel for work on a regular basis).

We all need to earn a living, and most of us drive automobiles, heat our homes with natural gas and produce a fair amount of waste that goes to landfill sites. The same is true for companies, although I believe significant changes can be made relatively painlessly.

Tips and suggestions for greener organizations

There are certain things we can all do in our work lives to make a difference. The following are a few relatively simple, low cost tips and suggestions for making your organization greener and less wasteful:

  • Consider having meetings via videoconferencing (using tools such as Skype or WebEx) as opposed to face-to-face wherever possible.
  • Deliver learning and development programs through e-learning as opposed to in-class training.
  • Institute car pooling programs so employees can travel to work together.
  • Allow employees to work from home at least part of the time.
  • Introduce flexible hours to avoid employees having to commute to and from work during rush hour.
  • Locate offices and production facilities in transit-friendly locations.
  • Consider offering transit passes to employees as a perk.
  • Install bicycle racks outside company offices.
  • Plan special events nearby or in company offices rather than off-site locations far away from the office.
  • Encourage employees travelling for business to take public transit rather than rental cars or taxis wherever possible.
  • Introduce or expand recycling and composting initiatives throughout the organization.
  • Discourage employees from printing e-mail messages; include a footer on e-mails asking recipients to consider the environment by refraining from printing the message.
  • Consider moving towards having a paperless office.
  • Use compostable coffee pods in coffee machines.
  • Ask employees to use ceramic mugs rather than disposable cups; have reusable mugs on hand for visitors.
  • Switch to china and metal cutlery in company cafeterias.
  • Purchase fuel efficient cars and trucks as company fleet vehicles.
  • Conduct energy audits on company facilities and institute measures to save on heating and other energy costs.
  • Turn the lights off at night; make use of natural sunlight wherever possible.
  • Focus corporate philanthropy and company volunteer activities on environmental causes such as tree planting, park cleanups and the preservation of wildlife, forests and wetlands.
  • Switch to less harmful cleaning products and other chemicals.
  • Incorporate environmental sustainability into supply chains, production processes and business practices in general.

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Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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