In grade school, we learned that saving the Earth involved the three R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. But how does this translate to our workplaces?
A large corporation or even a small business uses up far more energy and resources than we do on our own, but just because it’s not our personal waste doesn’t mean we’re not contributing to it. As a result, we have just as much, if not more, of a responsibility to address the impact our work environments have on the earth as we do our personal lives.
In 2014, the EPA estimated that the US generated about 258 million tons of waste and less than 90 million tons of recycled and composted waste. Though many people and organizations are making an effort to help the earth, the problem persists and remains because the scale of this issue extends beyond our personal lives. It affects every aspect of life, and once we start treating it as such, we will find ourselves gaining ground.
Unfortunately, getting your company to “go green” isn’t as simple as planting a tree. However, it’s possible — even if you’re working at a company that makes 10–15 million plastic parts a month.
Andrew Brewer, 24, took one look at the injection molding facility he worked at, a major producer of plastic, and saw it as the perfect place to enact a greener system for waste management. Brewer introduced the idea of becoming Zero Net Waste certified to his company, The Minco Group, when he was still a student, working there as a participant in their cooperative education program. After graduation, he was hired full-time and took the lead on the initiative.
The goal of the Zero Net Waste program is to divert all waste from landfills and instead find ways to reuse it. “We did a bunch of projects inside the company, figuring out different ways to stream our plastic materials to a second-end user,” Brewer expresses. By selling these parts, they make use of what otherwise would have been landfill waste. His company went on to achieve notable success in this endeavor, becoming the first company of the program to become fully certified.
Now Brewer travels the country giving presentations to help other companies do the same. Here are some basic steps, courtesy of Brewer, for someone hoping to lead their employer to a greener footprint. Even if you’re not in the plastics industry, these “stages to success,” as Brewer calls them, can apply to wherever you are, whatever you’re doing.
1. Get people behind you, and then get those people involved.
According to Brewer, gaining support was a huge part of the success of his project, because it started out with people volunteering their time and effort to get a system going. “We’re a 24/7 operation running three shifts all day so you’ve got to have a lot of support,” he says. For Brewer, the way to that was by reaching out to people on the floor and asking if they were interested. From there, Brewer worked with his supervisors to put together a team to lead the green initiative and work together to discuss ideas and plans for moving forward.
Gaining vocal support from your fellow employees is important, but there’s also value in integrating them into the process, as well. By including those who are passionate about a greener footprint into the creation and implementation of the program itself, there’s a better chance of success.
2. Make yourself heard, and once you do, be ready to prove your point.
While helping the environment seems like a cause that everyone can get behind, enacting change of any kind is bound to stir up opposition. “I think that’s one of the biggest challenges,” Brewer admits, commenting on the opinions of people who have been with the industry for years. “It’s really tough to implement change.” However, Brewer argues those challenges are just a chance to prove yourself: “Show them the facts.” In Brewer’s case, the Zero Net Waste program benefitted his company by decreasing the amount of parts going to waste each month and increasing their profit as a result of the payment from their recycler.
Rallying for change is never easy. There will always be some sort of backlash. That’s why it’s important to do your research and brainstorm with your team so that when the time comes, you’re ready to defend your case.
3. Be willing to put in the work (there will probably be a lot of it).
Once you’ve gained support, there’s still the struggle of getting your system up and running smoothly. “It’s a lot of hard work. You’ve got to be dedicated to it, because it’s a never-ending thing,” Brewer says. The green initiative at Brewer’s company changed the way they streamed their waste, thereby affecting their daily operations. So though Brewer received good feedback at the start of the program, that didn’t mean it wasn’t a challenge to move it forward.
Leading a company to a greener footprint is a little more difficult than pursuing greener options in your household. There are a lot of people and outside factors involved, so it requires added effort to find a system that works for your company.
4. Keep up with it every day — sustain and maintain the effort.
Brewer’s company now achieves 89 percent diversion from landfills in their waste, but it took over a year of this program being enacted to achieve this. As time passes and the company grows, keeping up an initiative can be harder to do. Brewer attests to this challenge: “We have a lot of people coming in and out of our facility so you have to keep it fresh in their minds and teach new people about the system.” Brewer admits that just keeping up the system from day to day proves to be a challenge. Though they are successfully certified, they are far from done with the program.
A system is only as good as those who carry it out. It can only be maintained if awareness and knowledge of how it works is maintained, as well. As your company grows and changes, so must your system for approaching how to better the environment through your efforts.
Leaving a greener footprint is no small task, especially on a scale that’s larger than your own personal life.
The payback, however, is often twofold. Not only are you are guaranteed to make an impact on the environment, but your company will benefit in some way as well, whether that’s monetarily from a recycler, like Brewer’s company, or from gaining community support and acknowledgment for your efforts.
Whatever the case, the imprint we leave on this earth matters. We are both the benefactors and caretakers of our environment. Let’s do our part to leave it better than we found it.