Environmental Responsibility is the New Black

Living sustainably means that we live within the natural limits of our environmental system and that our mode of living doesn’t harm the environment or the people around us, nor disrupt the natural balance within that system. Thankfully, people are becoming much more conscious of these things every day, and, every day I couldn’t be more grateful for that – it gives me hope to carry on fighting for this cause and hopefully the habit of being unsustainable will gradually be replaced with graceful and conscious living.

You know I’m an advocate for going green, which is why I started this company and am writing this blog. Environmental responsibility is in, people! If you’re reading this blog, then I take it you’ve already awakened and started actually doing something. Buying a reusable water bottle is a great first step. Carrying canvas shopping bags with you at all times is also a great step. But I want to talk about taking it up a notch. Don’t worry, it’s not that complicated.

Have you ever thought about your water use? Did you even know that there’s such a thing as water sustainability? It’s okay if you don’t, many people don’t. And that’s only part of the problem, the reason being that people rarely think about it because water is so accessible to us. You don’t have to leave your house to go get water to have for the day – for drinking, or cooking, or showering, or cleaning, or whatever. Have you ever thought about how many gallons of water pass through your toilet, for example? If your toilet is faulty, it could lead to an unnecessary waste of water, so make sure to upgrade it if you haven’t already.

Another thing you can do is take your bike out of the garage and use it. I’m sure you’ve heard this one before, but you have to understand how much biking can reduce carbon footprints! In addition to this, you can also try making your own natural cleaning solutions. Not only will you reduce the plastic waste, but you’ll also protect yourself from unnecessary chemicals which can be dangerous.

And lastly, engage your creativity and start recycling. This is one of the biggest challenges, but I’d say it’s only a challenge if you don’t give it a chance! Once you start, you’ll see that all of those unnecessary things you buy are, in fact, replaceable, and, in addition, you’ll find yourself much happier when you realize that these changes have made you a conscious individual.

Good luck, and remember: environmental responsibility is the new black!

I Practice What I Preach

The world is more in tune with my mission and likeminded people abound; but it takes a village and we need to grow our presence. Sustainability gets a lot of press and coverage on Facebook thanks to kindred souls that care as much as I do. Where do you stand? Please join me in doing whatever is possible in your limited life to take care of our planet. The consequences will be dire. Think of the ozone layer, changes in sea level and the arctic cap. Life is sacred and we can prolong the species by taking care. Even little things matter like how much energy you use at home. As for me, I practice what I preach. This means using an energy-efficient tankless water heater instead of an energy-guzzling tank model—you know those old monstrosities that take up a huge space and add layers to your electric or gas bill. I know your apartment came with one and it is a pain.

It is easy for anyone to change appliances. They are worth the cost since they save money long term. It is such a simple change to make in your life that will affect millions of others. Plus, there are other habits you can break. You can forego heating and air conditioning when the temperature is mild and avoid watering your lawn every day, not to mention your car. Believe me, it doesn’t need it. You can also recycle paper, metal, and plastic. Encourage neighbors to do the same and share trash bins for easy sorting. You can buy used appliances, clothing, cars, and the like with the same principle in mind.

Linking Compensation to Sustainability

It is one thing to make suggestions for great changes that will help your company thrive. It is quite another to offer changes that might take years and a lot of money to adopt, or could be more expensive than business as usual. So how do you get people to stick with changes that they may morally approve of but be nervous about when it comes to their bottom line?

One easy way is to hold employees accountable. Now, this can seem like parenting. How am I supposed to get the accounting department to recycle? Not invite them to the company holiday party if they don’t? Maybe. But you can also offer incentives for people to make these changes. The best way to do that is through their compensation. Everyone is concerned about their paycheck, so if you make it worth their while to enact new company sustainability practices, they are more likely to follow through.

There have been a few tech and energy companies that decided instead of giving management fat bonuses for keeping shareholders happy, they would tie some of that bonus money to environmental causes – less greenhouse gas emissions or renewable energy goals, for example. This gives people at the top more incentives to make better choices for the environment!

These incentives can trickle down, too. You can offer incentives to employees for carpooling or taking mass transit, provide compensation for things like hybrid or electric car purchases, or give discounts on health insurance for people who ride their bikes to work every day. It may cost little in the short-term, but policies that help employees reduce their global impact can really add up. Energy and waste reduction especially have great impacts on the company’s bottom line, and it is a great idea to send at least some of those savings back to the employees making it possible.

Another great way to tie compensation to sustainability is by improving workplace safety. Nobody wants to get hurt on the job but everyone wants to hit their performance goals or product quotas. By instead focusing on safety and instituting compensation goals based on safe working conditions, morale improves while workplace injuries and illnesses go down. Managers don’t push their workers past their breaking points, employees don’t stress as much about their production, and the workplace is safer for everyone.

While considering changes like these might make you worry about antagonizing shareholders, know that more and more people are investing ethically. They would rather choose a company that has sustainable practices in the long term, and invest their money into something that doesn’t treat the environment or developing countries in harmful ways. Releasing corporate proxy reports with information about your compensation packages and sustainability goals will go a long way toward establishing trust and providing potential investors with the information they need to make sound decisions.

Go Green and Save Some Green

Reducing your carbon footprint as one person is much easier than trying to form a plan for an entire company to go green. But if it is something the employees or management really care about, there are simple policies that can be made or behavior changes that can be encouraged. It all depends on what kind of company you want to be.

Believe it or not, some of these changes can help reduce waste, save money, and contribute to a better planet. Here are a few things that I have helped institute at the company I work for, and I recommend you do the same:

  1. Print as little as possible. Don’t print out minutes for every meeting, they just end up in recycling bins. Email instead of faxing (which creates two copies). Electronic memos are just as good as physical memos. People can print them if they decide they want a copy. You’ll spend less on paper, ink, and toner. You’ll also spend less time filing and copying, too.
  2. Buy smarter. First, to cut down on shipping, try to time it so you buy several products at once, not just when you are out of one thing. Or switch to an order-online, pickup in store service. Second, buy things that are environmentally-friendly: pens made from recycled materials, paper that has a PCW (post-consumer waste) designation, and biodegradable cleaners.
  3. With your landlord’s approval, have an energy audit done on the building. They may recommend all kinds of things that aren’t feasible (like new windows or insulation), but the building owner might go for it. They’ll also make recommendations on more energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs, and those might be easy changes you can make.
  4. Offer your employees incentives to use public transportation, provide designated spots for electric or hybrid vehicles, and add bicycle racks to the parking lot. We let employees submit their bus or train pass receipts and match up to a certain amount. Everyone likes the program – the employees because it is less wear and tear on their car and they don’t have to drive in traffic, and the company has less incidents in the parking lot (thefts, fender benders, complaints about lack of parking, wear on the asphalt, etc).
  5. Power down! This is a big one. There are plenty of things that can be shut off at night when there is nobody at work. From lights to computers to the coffee maker, not everything needs to be drawing power 100% of the time. Add power strips so employees can turn off everything at their desk simultaneously, and have managers turn off the lights in their offices and common areas when they leave.

Some bigger companies have been able to be energy-neutral, meaning that they create enough energy through wind or solar to match what they consume. That can be a tall order for a small company, especially those who can’t add solar panels because they don’t own their building. Being more energy efficient will still help, and you can always contact your energy company about purchasing Renewable Energy Credits, so that you’re buying someone else’s excess green energy instead!

What is Corporate Sustainability, Anyway?

When people see my business card or ask me what I do, the next question always is, “What’s corporate sustainability?” They often think that it means keeping a company afloat. That’s only part of it!

Times have changed. People want to know more about where the materials come from that make their products. It matters to them that their coffee is fair trade, that their food wasn’t made with mystery meat or by destroying rainforests, and their shoes were not assembled in some sweatshop by five-year-olds halfway around the world. In other words, they are holding companies accountable.

If you want to get a better idea of what I mean by that, there was a certain candy company who had a palm oil problem back in 2010. Greenpeace discovered that the palm oil they were using was being harvested in an awful, irresponsible manner by a company in Indonesia and was destroying the habitat of orangutans. Greenpeace first asked nicely, and then started a highly effective social media campaign to educate their base of consumers about what was going on. They targeted this particular company for a few reasons: first, brand recognition: it is a huge, well-known brand. Second, they worked with the ill-reputable supplier, and third: they were a huge purchaser of palm oil in general. The campaign forced the candy people to make a response and to implement changes.

My job is to figure that stuff out before it becomes a problem. There are a few strategies to dealing with these things.

First, you need to know and understand the supply chain. If you are working with materials, you can’t just go with the cheapest supplier anymore. You have to not only know where it is coming from but how they’re getting it. As a company, you can put pressure on suppliers to do things in an ethical, environmentally sound manner.

Second: corporate accounting. People don’t want to hear about CEOs getting billion-dollar bonuses while their products are made for 10 cents each by taking advantage of a developing nation. The money-is-everything mentality no longer applies. You can make a nice profit, satisfy your shareholders, and compensate ALL employees (whether they are in the same country as corporate HQ or somewhere else) fairly. There is a balancing act here but it is possible.

Third is branding. Let people know what you’re doing: tell them you are a company with values and then show them how you incorporate that into your business practices. If you want to be known as an ethical company, you need to make sure your brand reflects your mission. Release reports to keep people updated on your progress.

The main concept here is simple: if your supply chain is sourced ethically and responsibly, you assure access to the supply in the long term. That’s better for the longevity of your business. If you treat all employees with fairness and compensate them accordingly, you ensure their loyalty and will get better quality work. If you successfully market your brand as an ethical and responsible company, you gain public respect and trust. Then when it comes time to purchase a product, people are more likely to choose the one they trust.

With corporate sustainability, everyone wins.

Ethical Investing

Choosing companies to invest in can be hard work. Finding out that they have bad business practices can make things even harder. If you’re like me, you want to invest money in companies who are mindful of the environment and their employees, and have a moral compass that does not just point toward making more money. Fortunately, thanks to good reporting and the internet, we know more about companies than ever before.

Sometimes it can be hard to believe, but there really are companies out there who are trying to make a difference and who want to show you that they are not soulless suits looting the environment and taking advantage of poor laborers. So how can you invest both smartly for your future and in a way that doesn’t make you feel morally bankrupt? You just have to find those companies.

But how?

For starters, decide what is important to you. Do you have religious beliefs that you want companies to align with? Is being environmentally conscious your biggest passion? Are there political stances you want to avoid? Doing some research following your biggest criteria will rule out some companies and highlight good options for you.

How do you do this research? I mean, many companies are not totally up front about political or religious beliefs. Or they may not go into their policies regarding their supply chains or where they get materials from. Read the company’s mission statement – that may provide some good starting points for you. Check the donor lists for political candidates you like (or don’t). If you see the company’s name, then you know where they stand.

Also, check other sources online. There may be news archives that will let you know if the company has been involved in any scandals in the past. You may not have noticed the reports at the time, or they may no longer be relevant, but you’ll feel better after looking around. If the company lists names on their website of their board members or the heads of the company, do some checking on them, too. You might be surprised at what you find!

An ethical investment usually avoids companies that negatively affect the environment, tests products or harms animals in the creation of their products, has practices that encourages discrimination or accepts unethical working conditions. You’d be surprised at how many companies get ruled out for one or more of these reasons.

You can check any potential investment company’s portfolio and do actual market research to decide if investing in them is right for you. There are also firms that specialize in ethical investments, so you can tell them what is important for you and they can help build and manage a portfolio for you. This is especially good if you are more comfortable with funds, because you don’t know the individual companies making up each fund and could have a potential conflict.

Whatever you decide, know that corporate sustainability will help everyone in the long term, so it is worth the work you put into choosing your investments!

Really Good Day Today

It seems weird that I would have had a great day today. One of my favorite coworkers retired today. She wasn’t my direct boss, but she was one of the people responsible for creating my department and for hiring me. She served as a bit of a mentor, too. I will miss her so much. She was always so happy and enthusiastic about her job, which energized everyone around her and brought out their best work. I have no idea what morale is going to be like on Monday when she isn’t there with her hilarious stories of everything she did over the weekend and how happy she is to start her work week.

But the reason why it was such a good day was because we threw her a little retirement party at the office today. She knew it was coming even though we didn’t tell her outright – when you work somewhere for 30 years, you probably hope they do something – and she was delighted to see so many of us show up to the conference room to see her off. She is going to move north to spend more time with her daughter and grandkids. Again, I know this all sounds more sad (for me anyway, not her, I think spending time with family is a great way to occupy your retirement) than anything. I’ll just get to the good part. She gave a little speech. While I wish I could remember it word for word, I was able to remember most of the point of it (I need to ask for a copy):

“This company has been smart in who they hired and how they did things. It’s been an honor to be one of the people who have helped it grow into what it is today. You all should celebrate that. The path you travel from here forward is one that you will have to forge for yourself. There will be no signs, and nobody ahead of you has blazed a trail. It will probably be hard, because nobody is doing what you’re doing and there is nobody to guide you but yourselves. Rely on one another, on the standards and morals you’ve brought with you to this place. Lean on your work family and you’ll never be alone in that wilderness, and you’ll find a way.  Encourage one another to be responsible and forthright, to treat everyone fairly and with respect, and do business like you’re working with your best friend. Following these guidelines will not only ensure that you’ll be proud of the work that you do and the person you become, but it will help this company stay at the top of its game. Our reputation is already good. You all will make it great.”

Hearing that made me so happy. I try to make a difference every day, even if it is something little. It felt like she was acknowledging every one of us and all the small ways we are working towards a great thing. I will miss her but doing a great job will help me remember all the good times we had. I will keep moving this company forward and reward the faith she had in me!