How to Talk About Sustainability in the Workplace

Many of us have become increasingly passionate about sustainability and environmental preservation. We understand that the climate crisis, and related concerns over plastic and organic wastes, are very real. And we want to do our part to turn the tide, even if that simply means using our sphere of influence to get other people on board.

But in a politically polarized era, simply opening your mouth to talk about the environment can seem scary, awkward, or embarrassing.

So how can you overcome these fears to start a meaningful conversation about environmental issues, particularly with your coworkers and colleagues?

Identify the Barriers

First and foremost, it can be helpful just to articulate some of the reasons for hesitation. Common barriers to discussing environmental issues in the workplace include:

●      A fear of overstepping boundaries. Many of us simply feel like we lack the authority to institute real change, or to voice big ideas, while at work.

●      Concerns about the boss’ reaction. The thought of bringing up, say, an office recycling program can be daunting when we don’t know where the boss stands on such issues.

●      Recognition of diverse views. Knowing that your team encompasses a diversity of political and cultural backgrounds can make any kind of environmental conversation seem complicated and fraught.

●      Financial concerns. Finally, if you’re proposing any kind of change to existing company policy, you may have well-founded concerns about the financial limitations you might face.

Avoiding the Minefield

Certainly,there are ways to bring up environmental topics without running afoul of common complications. There are two particular landmines to avoid:

●      Politicization. In a diverse work environment, it’s critical to steer environmental conversations toward the practical, not the overly political. Citing specific politicians, legislation, or controversial advocacy groups is usually not the way to go.

●      High-cost programs. It’s also important to recognize that some initiatives may have really hefty price tags. Start with something small-scale, ideally a project that could actually help your business to save money.

Focus on Meaningful Measures

Even after you acknowledge potential obstacles, and as you steer clear of common landmines, there are still meaningful ways to introduce environmental topics, even eco-friendly initiatives, at your workplace. Some tips:

Recognize Multiple Levels of Actionable Change

Environmental change can happen on the team level or the company level, but if your workplace isn’t ready for that, maybe start with change on the individual level. Lead by example: Ride your bike to work, start using reusable lunch supplies instead of disposable plastics, etc.

Start with One-on-Ones

Enacting environmental change doesn’t necessarily mean you have to give a big presentation to the entire office. Maybe start with a low-pressure one-on-one with an immediate supervisor, presenting some minor and low-cost ways your company can start shifting toward a triple bottom line mentality. At some companies, these conversations may begin with HR.

Create a Designated Space

Once your ideas gain some momentum, create a shared space within the life of your company where you can talk about these issues more directly. An environmental committee or advisory board may be a good place to start.

Make it Fun

Finally, avoid making environmental advocacy feel like homework. Look for ways to turn your action into a fun team-building activity. Maybe you can gamify your non-disposable-plastics-at-lunch endeavor, offering a reward for the employee who minimizes their plastic use the most.

These are just a few ideas for introducing environmental conversations at work. We’d love to talk with you further about starting an office program for recycling or waste management. Reach out to the WasteXperts team at any time!

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