Tuesday, 14 September 2010

How Green Is Your Job?

image: http://london-underground.blogspot.com
Lucky Londoners endured another underground strike last week.
It was the usual routine: unions and London Transport arguing loudly, the London Mayor using language fit for the Blitz to boost commuters' morale and remind them that Londoners are made of stern stuff; nothing gets us down; let's all cycle happily to work and show them the city will never surrender.
And what better time to appeal to the perceived chin-up character of the locals than the week we marked the 70th anniversary of the German bombing campaign on London?
Scalded by previous disruptions on our loved-yet-hated public transport, I was lucky to be able to work at home and avoid the adventure of commuting without the tube.
I'm not going to comment on the rights and wrongs of this strike - mainly because I cannot find a single right to start the debate. But there is a positive outcome of a day like last Tuesday: many of us did one of two things:
a) discovered we don’t need to be at the office every day to do our jobs. On my work-at-home days, my employer gets 2 extra hours of my outstanding work, for free. I am so grateful to avoid the 36 miles and 2 hours of public transport, I gladly throw in the extra sweat.
b) reconsidered our commute to work. There hasn’t yet been a more popular day for Boris's Bikes - the so far so succcessful bike hire scheme introduced by mayor Boris Johnson. Some of us started considering car pooling. For the more energetic, the wonderful website Walkit offered the nicest walking routes to work. Being deprived of our very expensive underground trains gave us all a little push to green up our commute.

Commenting in The Guardian on the culture of home work, Edward Collier rightly asked himself: Why was your journey to work today? Collier makes the case for home working, and points out its most obvious environmental advantage: reduced fuel consumption.
There are others: you're likely to think twice before printing an 83 page document if it's your own cartridge; no disposable paper cups at home; employers have a chance to reduce office carbon costs with hotdesking and reduced energy consumption.

image: Dr No. MGM Studios.
Thankfully, we’re not yet living in isolated pods, conducting all aspects of our lives through a flicking monitor. There are still plenty of customer facing jobs that don’t really go with remote work. Hospitals, restaurants, building sites, trains or hairdressers, they all need their staff pretty much there. And we all still need to turn up to work occasionally, before we forget how to shake hands or indulge in casual office flirtation.
Could employers do more to improve their green workplace credentials?
Here’s a list of some very easy initiatives most places I’ve worked at will at least have considered:
- recycling bins next to printers.
- replacing disposable cups by real ones. You get the bonus of not tasting paper or plastic with your coffee.
- choosing certified organic coffee and tea suppliers.
- switching off monitors, computers, aircon, lights and heating overnight.
- filling the kettle with just enough water for your tea.

All good small steps. All relying on staff’s goodwill. None requiring a lot of commitment from the employer. This, I believe, is the reason why so few os us adhere to rules which we're quite happy to follow at home. After all, what’s the point of using double-sided printing, if my employer is dumping tons of electronic waste in Ghana?

A recent survey conducted by IBM on 1500 CEOs worldwide revealed that environmental issues come 7th in the list of external factors impacting their organisations. I’d guess Public Opinion is near the top, considering the recent bombardment of BP’s Greenpeace-lookalike adverts aired in America.
But wait. First of the list is Market Factors. This brings me to my favourite nag. You want companies to be socially responsible? Then spend your money accordingly. If consumers demand to know companies’ green credentials before they buy, you can bet Environmental Issues leap up to the top of CEO’s worries.

What about your job? Can you employer do more than reminding you to switch off your monitor overnight – which incidentally, saves them some cash too?
Companies that are serious about sustainability develop an internal culture of environmental awareness.
These are places that promote environmental initiatives and reward employees for showing leadership in that area – be it by running a Green Ideas scheme, or by measuring and showing decrease in energy consumption in a specific branch, perhaps offering subsidised bike purchase.
These are also places that are transparent about the environmental cost of their products - and how they go about cleaning it up - and happy to publish that sort of information to their customers and their employees.
A few examples of such companies are listed in Canada's Greenest Employer award, which recogninses organisations incorporating environmental values into their cultures. If you work in America, you can check Forbe's Greenest Companies list. In the UK, you can pick up tips for greening up your work at A Greener Office, or aim to work at the top earth-friendly employers, according to the Sunday Times 60 Best Green Companies.

As for London Underground, it is showing some effort in reducing the environmental impact of their trains. Let us just hope and pray this is not used as the next excuse for another tube drivers walkout.

If you'd like to know more about the London Underground, please familiarise yourself with the Tube Etiquette before boarding.

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