Green influence: Championing sustainability from any desk

07. 3. 2024

4 min.

Green influence: Championing sustainability from any desk
Marcela Ospina LopezLab expert

Communications and Sustainability consultant. VP of Sustainability and Culture at Both People & Comms, and Director of the Master in Communication Management at EADA Business School.

You don’t need to have the word “sustainability” in your job title to come up with a meaningful idea to contribute. Environmental problems like climate emergency or loss of biodiversity, as well as social issues like inequality or extreme poverty, are planetary challenges. Solutions will have to match the global scale, and moving forward will require widespread collaboration across the entire organization. Everyone has a role in this joint effort.

But let’s crack down the sometimes abstract concept of sustainability into concrete actions, accessible to everyone in a workplace. Sustainability initiatives are ways in which a company commits to providing solutions for urgent environmental and social issues. These initiatives can happen on any level, from something as simple as organizing carpooling to reduce carbon emissions from commuting to making relevant changes to their products, services, or even their business models.

Identifying sustainable practices in your workplace

What if you don’t see any of these happening around you? Which signs will tell you if your workplace is really committed to becoming more sustainable? You may have to look at the operations, the culture, and how the company is managed. For example, excessive waste generation or high energy or water consumption is a bad sign. The lack of diversity and inclusion initiatives, or not caring about employee well-being, could show that the company doesn’t prioritize social responsibility. Lack of reporting and transparency is also an indicator of a poor commitment. Insufficient training on environmental and social matters might also indicate a lack of interest within the workplace culture.

Every person—no matter their role or level of seniority—should understand what sustainability is, why it matters, and how their organization is approaching it. Without that information, employees may not understand how their individual actions align with the company’s strategy.

“The sum of individual commitments can help accelerate social transformation.”

Leading examples of corporate sustainability

Companies like Patagonia, Unilever, Interface, and Microsoft are encouraging their employees to become activists, fostering a culture where employees are empowered to contribute to sustainability efforts. They not only provide resources for employees to engage in environmental and social causes but also motivate them to participate in collaborative projects to tackle issues applying their skills and experience to develop solutions.

The power of individual action

I’m optimistic by default and a firm believer in people’s power. In my 14 years working for a cooperation and humanitarian NGO, and my last three years working as a sustainability consultant, I’ve witnessed how individual actions can make a difference. Sustainability is, at its core, about people and personal change. The sum of individual commitments can help accelerate social transformation. Anyone can contribute, even in apparent small ways, like sharing best practices and success stories in team meetings, or encouraging the company to engage in community volunteering.

“A shared vision and direct access to decision-making processes empower each member to propose innovative ideas and catalyze actions in support of the collective sustainability goals of the organization.”

Starting your sustainability advocacy journey

Where do you start? Are you wondering what would be the first step to advocate for sustainability? Try to identify people who have the responsibility to make significant changes and bring your concerns and ideas to them. You can also gather the support of your coworkers with petitions and share research to back up your requests.

Depending on the size of the company you may not be able to bring your ideas directly to the CEO, but you can always talk to your direct manager and other colleagues. Many companies today have a Head of Sustainability who could be the first point of contact to establish internal connections based on the same collective purpose. This position is dedicated to overseeing sustainability goals and ensuring that sustainable practices are integrated across various departments. Integration of sustainability becomes most effective when it’s a collective effort with support from top management, aligned with the company’s values and objectives.

Pablo Sanchez, co-founder of Roots for Sustainability, B Lab Spain, and Skills4Impact shares his wide experience on this matter: “Every individual holds the power to actively champion sustainability. A shared vision and direct access to decision-making processes empower each member to propose innovative ideas and catalyze actions in support of the collective sustainability goals of the organization. Yet, avoid working in isolation in this endeavor. Not only is it less fun, but sustainability inherently demands collective action. Consider joining forces with like-minded change agents within your company to craft a comprehensive proposal. The benefits of such a system will radiate across the team, the organization, and contribute positively to the planet.”

Overcoming obstacles in sustainability initiatives

But what if you receive pushback on your initiative? Try to get rid of frustration as fast as you can. Sustainability is a long and complex journey for companies. The adoption of ambitious changes depends on the level of maturity of the organization and the individuals in management positions. Try to assess the amount of resources—time, people, and money—that your initiative will take, and try to match it with the capacity of your company.

For example, if you’re interested in being trained in DEI, you can ask for learning sessions from experienced peers in the subject instead of asking for an expensive external course. You may be able to make small changes yourself at work, like reducing single-use items (K-cups, plastic utensils), or using natural light instead of light bulbs in the office, but isolated actions are hard to multiplicity and scale if there is no organizational support.

When to consider moving on

If management shows no interest in implementing the needed changes in mindset, policies, processes, and practices, or if they’re just making promises and not taking action, it may be time for you to consider finding a company that matches your values. We all want to work for a company that gives us a positive experience and serves a greater purpose than simply increasing their profit, right?

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Extending sustainability beyond the workplace

If you’ve reached this point in the article it’s likely because you have a personal motivation for sustainability, and I’m pretty sure you advocate for sustainability outside your job. If you want to do more, these ideas might help:

  • You could donate time or money to a trusted NGO
  • Get involved in your community
  • Vote for politicians that include in their programs’ concrete actions to tackle environmental and social issues
  • Try to reduce your own carbon footprint in your personal life and care about the well-being and fair treatment of people around you.

This quote from Martin Luther King Jr expresses beautifully my purpose and helps me feel connected to something greater: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

We need a global shift towards sustainability that begins with environmental and social consciousness within the workplace and in our personal circles. This transformation requires a huge level of creativity, individual tangible commitments, and cooperation. Motivate and help others to be more aware, informed, and engaged. Even if you don’t know it, you’re already part of a global movement with a shared purpose and responsibility. Welcome and bring more people in!

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

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