Friday, March 18, 2011

Being "Eco" at Work

Work.... although it would be nice, blogging is not my day job :)

Ecological questions and life changes truly become much more than a few things you do at home to make life better. Once a person realizes that our current destructive way of living, consuming our resources until there are none left (which scientific genius and leading researcher Dr. William Rees informed us we were consuming 1.6 planet Earths currently... ) we realize that our children and grandchildren's lives are at stake.

Not to be all fear mongering, but when all scientific evidence points to climate change, lack of resources and explosive population growth on a finite planet we really can't deny that the human race is in peril.

So. This acceptance is kinda a big deal for many. Not really the same as saying: "Well, Yoga isn't for everyone, no biggie". This is why becoming an Eco-Yogi(ni) really does mean more than changing a few things at home, it means bringing this realization and passion to every part of your life. Including where we spend the majority of our waking hours.... work.

Work is hard as so many decisions are beyond our control. For example, cleaning agents, paper use, recycling facilities, light and computer energy usage. Although every place is different, I have worked in three separate sites over the past two years and have tried several different things.

1. Recycling. At my former site the building itself had recycling bins placed for patients throughout, but our clinic cleaning staff (not our employees, but contracted out by the building) refused to recycle anything except paper. So, after chatting with colleagues I volunteered to bring plastic, cardboard and metal home for recycling. It involved a few chats with the cleaning staff as well, some signage with pictures and a few minutes every two weeks bringing the bag home and sorting.
I think the hardest part was the convincing a few specific staff members that I wasn't trying to make them feel bad, or guilty. In the world of corporate life direct conversations can be tricky...

2. Paper usage. I have figured out how to print all my reports double-sided. WOO. Also, our organization has many of the filing components that are paperless which is fabulous. At the same time, there are certain things beyond my control. Like use of weird little paper forms to communicate tasks.

3. Light, heat and computer usage... this one is tough. Our staff room light is always on during the day, even when no one is in there. I think it's ridiculous and was shutting off the light during my first few weeks... until I noticed that someone was going right behind me and turning it back on. So. This is a long term goal for me. I do turn down the heat in my office every evening and have asked co-workers to do the same (which I wouldn't have done if they weren't open to the idea).

4. Group site events (i.e. meetings). This was a huge success recently as my friend J. helped organized a meeting for all three sites. When she sent out an email stating we should all bring our reusable mugs for coffee/tea I responded with a supportive email... as did a few other of my site's coworkers. Thank goodness, as we found out later that one of J.'s colleagues was extremely against the idea. J. also had a compost bin she brought from home (and had to take home herself) and although she was forced to buy bottled water- the plastic was post-consumer recycled content. Yay!

5. Leaky Tap in the public washroom. I started to panic when I noticed that the tap in the public washroom at work was *ALWAYS* dripping whenever I went in. This was because the taps needed to be pushed back forcefully to stop the dripping. It was mind blowing the amount of water that was wasted over the course of a day. Just because people were too lazy to give it a bit of a push.
So... I made a little sign that says: "Please push taps, I leak!" with a picture of a leaky faucet.

Now. I can't say that it is never dripping now... but it's gone down to about 30-40% (from 100%). I say that is a success.

What I have learned in this process of bringing ecological mores to my work environment:

Lead by example.
People really don't want to hear your go ON about how they are terrible people and you are awesome (even though we all know that you are). I've found that people will notice when you bring in your really cool stainless steel lunch box (or glass containers) and reusable mugs. They ask questions and you can give a few reasons why it's so important.

The best thing was when I came back from Pete's Frootique with my salad in my reusable tin. That got lots of discussion going about how their salad containers aren't recyclable or compostable.
Turn off the lights as you leave a room, turn the heat down in your office and if there isn't any recycling in your office building consider bringing your own container to bring home every so often. People will notice.

Make a few comments.
This is key. Although a coworker may appear to be interested in the environment, often a heated political debate isn't exactly empowering. They will undoubtedly compare what you're saying "should" happen with what they haven't been doing.

Instead, make a few comments here and there. For example, a colleague of mine leaves her office heat on all the time. A few times I've entered in and commented on how hot it was... and asking if they forgot to turn the heat down over night.

Last week we were talking about coffee filters and I commented on how I though cleaning the reusable filters was easier. My colleague indicated she used paper towel... and I responded with how paper towel was no more in my household. With a caveat that it was very very difficult to decrease my paper towel addiction. This led to sharing ideas on cleaning at home. She now uses a spoon to scoop out her coffee grinds.

Be compassionate and empathetic to different situations.
Not everyone is able to follow through with similar changes at home. My colleagues all have several children. I may be able to make changes that are much more difficult for them at home.

For example, I was so excited about the new farm fresh glass bottled milk I bought at the farmer's market. My colleague asked the milk fat percentage- about 4%- and the amount in a bottle- 1 litre. She has two boys and typically buys 8 litres of skim milk a WEEK. Boys drink a lot of milk.
Instead of trying to convince her of alternatives or to try it anyways, I nodded, agreed that it would be almost impossible and let it go.

Accept that some things are beyond your control....
and begin the process as to how you can change them from a management level. This applies to the toilet paper used in the bathrooms, cleaning agents (we had scary chemical laden H1N1 killer wipes that we were forced to use on all our toys and books... that children chewed) etc. If you feel management is open to these types of discussions, request a meeting for further possibilities while approaching management as a site instead of as an individual. These things take time and a lot of calm clear headed chats. Acceptance is key.

Avoid politics.
And religion. lol. Such a common sense thing for work, but there are many political aspects of being ecological (as the only real change will happen by voting and letting the big decision makers know what we want), but work really isn't the place for these discussions to take place.

Actually, I only talk politics with the closest of friends. Not everyone has the same ideas that I do and I know from experience that my discourse and heated passion won't change their minds. Again, small comments here and there are the way to go.

Think cultural change-not behavioural change.
Once being wasteful, mindless consuming and polluting no longer becomes socially acceptable or "cool" that's when we start to get social and cultural change. Which leads to people demanding and voting for government change as a given as opposed to something special.

This means being a bit more calm and matter of fact about things that just no longer fly. I guess I'm also young enough (barely!) to say things like: "That is so not cool" (although maybe that dates me too?? lol).

When you think of it that way, the above strategies to fall in naturally.

Do you have any eco-work change ideas to suggest?


Article copyright of EcoYogini at


  1. I'm so glad I discovered your blog a few weeks ago! I totally agree with your post--leading by example, not by nagging will get more "converts" in the end. I am a teacher, and although we teach about environmental responsibility, I'm appalled daily by the real practices of many of my colleagues. The amount of waste is criminal, from both an environmental and financial standpoint. And I have noticed that those that make the most noise about being eco-friendly, are in reality the LEAST responsible. Reminds of the adage, "if you talk the talk, you need to walk the walk."

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  3. Great post and awesome suggestions for folks that want to do more at their work, school or other organizations!

  4. @Nicole; Yes it's been so wonderful seeing your comments lately :) Welcome! I agree with you, the one colleague who kept feeling guilty was constantly claiming she was Uber "eco" at home... but further chatting revealed that she really wasn't even recycling appropriately. Her guilt and resentment was paralyzing her in making better choices and changes. It's sad really.

    @Gia: thank you! Will do :)

    @prAna: thank you! It's all a journey right?

  5. Well you are an eco-hero (though I've always known that)!

    I think you are RIGHT ON on everything here. The "lead by example" is truly huge. I didn't even realize it until recently, when an acquaintance of mine said, "You bike mostly, don't you?" I had no idea anyone actually noticed, and she said it inspired her to start biking more, too! (As I was inspired by Rachel at Suburban Yogini.)

    Also, I have seen that H1N1 thing you mentioned - I think it's so common in kid-centered workplaces, unfortunately. One of our state universities sponsored a workshop for kids about two years ago where they would visit students in the classroom and teach them how to prevent H1N1. I was subbing during this event one day and was horrified when they brought in buckets of bleach and a huge bag of paper towels! They wiped down every desk with straight, undiluted bleach, using one towel per desk and explained that this was the only way to kill the virus. No rags - it had to be disposable paper towels so the virus goes in the trash not the washing machine. And they encouraged kids to do this at home, too. Ugh! I'm all for sanitation, but really....

    Anyway, I digress. These are fantastic points and way to go!!

  6. this one is so hard for me! working in a dental office generates a ridic amount of garbage. i'm slowly introducing new ideas and one of my co-workers even got inspired and started us recycling the paper half of the sterilizing pouches once we open them! definitely a challenge.

  7. This one is so, so hard for me. I spent two years working in courthouses in Arizona, and I had to carry a jacket to work . . . in the summer! The A/C was ridiculous. Recycling? Food waste? Paper towels? I started by saying nothing, and then as I got to know my colleagues (yes, judges) better, I started talking about the easy stuff, like recycling paper. I also told them about having grown up in CA during the drought and in the 80s/90s and how we were indoctrinated. I thought that if I approached it from what I was taught by people their age living in a place where resources were scarce, they would understand that I knew they just did not have the indoctrination I had. I joked about it, and that kept it from being a discussion about how I'm good and they are bad. I actually believe that. My experience is simply that most people just do not even think about these issues, so if we approach it from "guess what I learned" instead of "see how you're bad," we get a different reaction.

    I also had not thought about half of the ideas you just posted, so thanks! I will definitely keep these in mind when I reenter the work for in January (currently back in school, but in New Zealand, where they waste differently than North America).

  8. I attempted to see if we couldn't use re-useable plates and silverware in our office rather than plasticware and paper (or styrofoam!) :o plates for potlucks or for when someone brings cake in. It just seems so wasteful to be using one paperplate for "a" piece of cake.

    I was shot down by a co-worker who claimed that the water wasn't hot enough in the bathrooms to wash the plates to her satisfaction. She confessed she is a germophobe and wouldn't touch a plate that she didn't know how it was washed.

    I can kinda see her point, but the water is plenty hot which doesn't mean I still can't bring my own and quietly keep trying...

  9. Inspiring, as usual! I wonder if there is a way to have a sensor put on the staff room light switch, so then it will stay on if people are in there, and shut off automatically if it is vacant...

  10. i wrote a really long comment and blogger ate it. basically, my suggestion is for people to try to start sustainable operations committees at their offices (affecting policies on recycling, lighting, electricity usage, paper usage, procurement of office and kitchen supplies etc). i tried at my former job and was shot down, but i wished i had tried harder. i think if i had backed up my case by asking around to find other employees who would agree to join the committee, that might have helped. my current organization does have a sustainability committee which i just joined (and we are trying to get composting going in our kitchen!) but of course we do, because our organization's mission is to make sustainability mainstream!

  11. @Julia- OH! what a fabulous idea!! LOVE the committee idea. Thank you!

  12. Many great insights and suggestions--I especially like your separate thoughts on the overall topic at the end. It can be difficult and there do tend to be a lot of things to have to let go, as much as we really don't want to. In Louisiana where I worked, there was NO recycling whatsoever in the offices on the installation but we could recycle at home, so I had an extra bin next to the garbage in the kitchen for recycling. I didn't tell anyone they had to do it, but everyone did. People also used paper plates and plastic cutlery so I bought regular ones that could be reused and put them out to share.


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