Sustainability At Work

Earlier this week, a new co-worker on our team noticed I had gotten my food from the cafeteria. Being new, she was asking how the food was, etc. During our conversation she said, “and they give it to you in a bowl, that is really nice — or did you have to ask for that?” “Oh, I asked for it, I try to avoid things that would create waste.” In which she responded, “I could tell that about you.” I am telling you, this moment made my entire week.

You might be wondering why this simple statement was so important to me. In a past post about defining sustainability, I shared some tips to consider as you start your own sustainable lifestyle journey. One being, “reflect on your behavior: if someone observed you for one week, would they be able to tell others what you believe in? More importantly, would they want to?” Over the past few years, I have slowly started making more conscious decisions — most of which impact my personal life [e.g., electric car, pescatarian diet, bidet, reusable grocery bags, etc.]. As my interest in sustainability has continued to expand, I started becoming more deliberate in how I show up to others. — especially while I am at work.

Co-workers tend to be naturally curious — why are you drinking out of a mason jar? Oh, you have your own silverware? Why did you order your food for “here” instead of “to-go” when you are taking it back to your desk? Their questions and/or comments open the door for me to share information about sustainability practices [in hopes that it will help change their own behavior, too].

Practicing sustainability can seem difficult — especially when you don’t necessarily have control of your surroundings. Here are a few sustainable workplace behaviors I try to practice.


Bring your own coffee, glass and utensils. Last year, I calculated how much I spent on coffee at the Starbucks in our office. I was spending $1,200+ each year. Not only was I spending way too much, I was using 200+ plastic straws and coffee cups annually [and this was just while I was at work]. Although I still frequent one of my favorite coffee shops for coffee during the week (COMA), I now bring my own glass. I also try to balance this with bringing my own cold brew from home. Fortunately, my plastic utensil utilization rate wasn’t as high [I typically don’t eat at work or when I do, it’s a grilled cheese]. You don’t have to own a set of bamboo reusables, just bring your metal silverware from home — it’s really that simple!


When I do make my way to the cafeteria, I noticed that when asked, “for here or to-go?” I would say “to-go,” because it was true, I wasn’t eating in the cafeteria. Or if someone asked, “would you like a copy of the agenda?” I would say, “sure.” And at times, I would find myself standing in front of the recycle and the landfill waste baskets unsure of where to throw my waste — and this uncertainty almost always led to the landfill. And what about all of the times I use paper towels instead of the energy efficient dryers because, “they just aren’t fast enough.”

I realized I needed to start answering and acting responsibly. If I say “for here,” I don’t produce waste. If I start saying “no I don’t need it” or “please send electronically in advance,” people begin to stop printing. If I educate myself on what can be recycled, I can make better decisions. Maybe, I could slow down just enough to dry my hands with an electric dryer instead of paper towels. The key is to step out of your daily routine and identify where you can be more intentional — self-monitor your own behavior.


Last year at work, I had to meet with the members of our senior leadership team either in small groups or individually — there are over 30 of them. Before my first meeting, wanting to show up well, I ensured that I had all of my materials ready to go in advance — this included printing them. I walked into the room, I went to pass out my papers and to my surprise, each officer had his or her laptop/iPad out and ready to go. No one needed the paper. Okay, this must be a fluke, I thought [I work for a utility company — very conservative and not very technologically advanced]. The next meeting occurs - and guess what? They didn’t need my paper copies either. I learned something here — all I have to do is plan ahead. So, my next meeting rolls around. This time, I send the materials in advance and in the email state, “I will not be printing copies. If you would like a hardy copy of the materials, please plan accordingly.”

Catered lunch — another plan ahead moment. Two things always happen to mere here — 1) I forget to let the meeting organizer know that I prefer a vegetarian option OR I find all of the food has been delivered in single-use plastic. Plan. Ahead.


75% of appliance energy
comes from when the appliance is shut off or on standby mode. How many of you leave the office every day and shut down your computer AND unplug it? What about your phone charger? Leave it plugged in too? At home, I have gotten really good at unplugging when not in use. Now at work, it has taken a little time to get there. Mostly because I normally have 20 documents, 15 tabs, 10 emails open at any given time, so shutting down and unplugging my computer requires some work.

Too often I see organizations focused on sustainability as it relates to the external community or environmental operations (e.g., decreasing carbon emissions, green supply chain, etc.). While that is GREAT, I do believe there is an opportunity to focus inward on employee education and individual behavior. So, I am curious, how are you practicing sustainability at work? Does your organization encourage environmental workplace behaviors? Is sustainability a part of your organization’s competency model? values? mission? Sorry this went corporate, real quick — really, I just want to hear from you!

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