How to Engage Employees in Zero Waste Programs
Waste in the workplace makes up a significant proportion of the roughly 292.4 million tons of garbage produced in the United States every year. The good news is many businesses are looking to change the status quo, and whether running a small shop or a multinational, business leaders are beginning to introduce initiatives designed to champion zero waste at work.
As consumers become increasingly concerned with sustainability issues the same is true for employees. Introducing zero waste at work can be seen as an extension of current market trends and rising demand for more ethical, equitable, and environmentally friendly products and services in all sectors. In fact, regardless of whether or not a company deals in “sustainable” products or services, creating a zero-waste office or workplace is a viable step towards minimizing the impacts of a consumer-centric world and building a healthier and happier working environment for employees.
It is worth noting that zero waste is a journey and not a destination, so fostering and maintaining long-term engagement with employees is necessary to its success. But how can businesses ensure employees are passionate about zero-waste office initiatives? Here, we look at a few ways employees can be engaged while pushing zero waste office programs to the next level.
Instill values – Zero-Waste Onboarding
Whether hiring for a brand new start-up or adding members to a team, laying out values from the beginning can help engage both new and existing employees with zero-waste initiatives in the workplace.
Begin by welcoming new employees with a zero-waste gift basket. Include reusable water bottles, mugs, and utensils to show employees right from the start that they work in a zero-waste work environment. Layout the vision clearly and include a roadmap detailing goals, along with practical information such as how to participate in office recycling programs and the organizations the company invests in, donates to, and volunteers with, that directly improve the health of the environment.
Zero Waste Workplace Ideas — Free Coffee and More!
On-site incentives mean practical benefits for employees who are trying to reduce waste in the workplace. For example, it’s common to see dozens of employees come to work with disposable coffee cups in hand. These cups are traditionally made using virgin paper and are laminated in a thin coating of plastic, making them resource hungry and extraordinarily difficult to recycle. Cutting them out from office trash represents a big step towards a zero-waste office and can be done through incentives such as providing coffee for those with a reusable cup.
Taking this idea a step further, businesses can also engage employees with waste reduction competitions between departments, floors, or teams with the prize of zero waste starter kits or donations to a charity of the winner’s choosing.
- Mason Jar Challenge – give employees a mason jar for the week, the group with the least amount of trash at the end wins.
- Pack your lunch for the week – No takeout allowed!
- No more printing – Share files online.
Lead by Example – Long-Term Zero-Waste Commitments
When a company begins to engage in sustainable practices, the first question from employees is often “why?”. Not because they don’t believe in zero waste, but because there is often skepticism over the motivations behind such a change. Employees might only set aside this doubt and engage with zero waste at work when they see a genuine commitment by the company—which means directors, leaders, and executives must be visibly and actively engaged in zero waste themselves.
Reducing doubt also involves investing time, resources, and money into making a business zero waste – building a platform for new ideas and innovations that help make an entire business more efficient. For example, employees at a PG tips tea factory in England suggested reducing the end seals of each tea bag by 3 mm, which resulted in 15 reels of paper being saved per shift. In only a year, this employee-led change had saved roughly $57,000 and more than 10 tons of paper.
Zero Waste Workplace Ideas— Dedicated Zero Waste Leader and Team
If the resources are available, dedicate a person or a team to oversee the zero-waste program so it won’t lose momentum and employees will remain engaged year over year. This allows a business to stay focused on specific goals while also giving employees the opportunity to engage with the wider zero waste world!
Zero waste initiatives are on the rise everywhere, expanding way beyond the workplace. The dedicated leader and/or team should take time to reach out and partner with initiatives in the city’s wider zero waste ecosystem.
Grow Your Initiatives – Time and Space for Zero Waste at Work
One of the best ways to get employees to engage with zero waste at work is by allowing them to engage with zero waste outside of work. It’s important that employees feel supported when working towards zero waste goals—which means allowing both the time and space for tasks to be completed.
Businesses can offer employees paid time off to participate in green or waste-related events and activities. This could be as simple as a team heading out for an afternoon of litter collection in the local area or a single employee having the time and resources to take part in a sustainability or waste-management training program. Additionally, providing access to resources that make repair, reuse, and recycling simple is crucial to your program’s success.
Zero Waste Workplace Ideas— Employee Feedback and Idea Generation
When it comes to waste management in the office, half the battle can be won simply by creating dedicated spaces for recycling and trash collection. Most people are unsure about exactly what goes where and why, and ensuring there are dedicated facilities and clear signage that makes the process simple is key.
Make sure to standardize trash, recycling, and organics bins with appropriate and consistent color coding, labeling, and signage that is clear to any person participating in the waste program. Having proper separation practices that are clear and easy to follow will encourage participation in the program and reduce contamination.
Educate Employees – The Future of Zero Waste at Work
It’s important for employers to remember that people don’t necessarily know how to be zero waste in the office. Waste stations can be added to any workplace, but it’s education about the why and how of using them that will engage employees with these programs.
What’s more, there is room for greater engagement through related educational initiatives, such as repair workshops focused on employees’ non-work lives. Empowering people to repair their own property (such as tech, clothes, bikes, and more) is extremely valuable and has a two-fold impact. First, free workshops and skill-building can act as an incentive for employees participating in zero waste office programs. Second, it instills a zero-waste mindset, which can help drive far-reaching changes.
Businesses should start by seeing if any employees already have repair skills or knowledge and asking them to lead workshops, engaging staff on a much deeper level by leveraging your existing talent. Beyond this, external speakers and seminar leaders should be brought in to continue developing zero waste programs by offering new insight and practical suggestions.
Zero Waste Workplace Ideas – Annual Awareness
Great ideas can come from anyone and everyone. Invite feedback from employees on a recurring basis to find out what they want to see in the program. Offering small perks and the time to participate in zero waste feedback is important.
Inspire employees by reaching out to local recycling partners. Build a connection for employees that allows them to witness where waste actually ends up once it leaves the off. It can encourage employees to do a better job at sorting and de-contaminating recyclable waste in the workplace. Ask recycling partners to set up a tour for employees and invite feedback on what was learned.
Keep it Fresh – Maintain Zero Waste Office Initiatives
Creating, implementing, and maintaining zero waste office initiatives requires a substantial amount of work, and meaningfully engaging employees in these programs can arguably be the hardest part. That is why it is important to create and foster voluntary Green Groups, made up of employees, that can help empower and educate other employees in zero waste programs.
These groups can complement your dedicated leader and team, with each group focusing on a specific event, such as a national or international day of celebration or remembrance. Alternatively, Green Groups can take an afternoon off to speak to colleagues about the program, gathering valuable feedback while also offering high levels of engagement.
Leverage Environmental Awareness Days for Workplace Events
- Earth Day – April 22
- International Compost Awareness Week – Early May
- World Environment Day – June 5
- Climate Week – End of September
- America Recycles Day – November 15
There are, in fact, any number of ways to engage employees in a zero-waste journey, and as people become more involved, it’s likely that new ideas will continue to be uncovered in the workplace. However, getting started with these zero waste office initiatives today can push businesses to be more sustainable as more programs are developed.