Eco office: greening the American workplace
Environmentally friendly practices win broad employee buy-in – but many workers save their real diligence for home.
When employees at the architecture firm LPA Inc., in Roseville, Calif., want to throw away coffee grounds or leftovers from lunch, they head for a set of stacked circular bins, 2-1/2 feet in diameter, tucked under a desk in a corner. There an in-office composter, complete with worms, turns food scraps into compost for staff members to use in their gardens.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
A compost bin hardly ranks as part of typical office décor. But it symbolizes the serious – and richly varied – commitment firms like this are making to promote environmental initiatives. "It's just a nice part of the whole [green] push we have," says architect Paul Breckenridge.
Across the country, employers are scrambling to send an important message to workers, customers, vendors, and even the public: Green matters.
Part of that is a response to a bottom-up push. In a new survey by Randstad and Harris Interactive, 87 percent of employees say it is at least "somewhat important" that their employers offer "green-friendly" programs at work. Still, a contradiction exists: Only half of these employees conserve energy by turning off lights, TVs, and computers when they leave.
For some companies, going green involves little more than recycling soda cans. Others install compact fluorescent bulbs, use green cleaning products, and buy recycled paper. Still others upgrade heating and ventilating systems, install solar panels, and establish "green teams" of workers tasked with finding new workplace solutions.
Whatever approach companies take, three factors motivate them, says Madeline Turnock, vice president of Hill & Knowlton, a public-relations consultancy in Portland, Ore. The first involves altruism; employers know their efforts are good for the environment. Second, they realize that going green makes good business sense. Energy-efficient practices lower costs. Third, they find that green policies help them recruit and retain talent.
"People want to work for companies that have strong values and care about sustainability," Ms. Turnock says.
People also want to work for companies that solicit their green ideas. "Anytime employees make a suggestion and vote on it, and the company acts on it, that's really powerful in terms of building pride in the workplace," says Patricia Bjerrisgaard, a senior director at Business Objects, a software firm in Vancouver, British Columbia.
At Business Objects, green teams focus on one initiative each quarter. The first one established a "no bottled water" policy. "They took out bottled water in the vending machines and added filtered-water stations," Ms. Bjerrisgaard says.
At LPA, green initiatives go far beyond worms and compost. The firm saves about $5,000 a year just by using recycled toner in the copiers. And it recently installed a system that monitors the power usage of computers. Breckenridge hopes this will cut the "plug load" by 6 percent.
Other innovative measures include giving individual workers control of lighting and underfloor air systems. "Creating a healthy environment can increase productivity," says Breckenridge.
Because staff members travel frequently for clients and projects, the firm rents hybrid cars for them.
Workers in shades of green
Acting green at work
87% of employees say it's at least "somewhat important" that their employer offer green-friendly programs.
42% of those in the Northeast called it "extremely or very important," compared with 29% of those in the South.
93% of employed respondents turn off electrical devices at home to conserve energy.
50% do so at work.
77% of employees practice recycling at home.
49% do so at work.