Happy Earth Day!

As Earth Day approaches, here are seven ideas to consider tackling. These small things alone are not going to save the world.  But collectively, these small steps add up.  And they make a statement to your employees that you are walking the green talk!

1.  Engage Employees:  Ask a Provocative Question

Earth Day is the perfect time to engage employees and raise awareness of your green values.  A first step is to help employees get in touch with their values and why sustainability and protecting the earth is important to them personally.  Last year for Earth Day, University of San Francisco had faculty, staff and students answer one of two questions on white boards:  I love the Earth Because… or I take action for the Earth when I…  This year for Earth Day, Mattel will be asking employees to think about what their green superpower is.

2.  Kick the Bottled Water Habit

Is your company walking the talk when it comes to using bottled water?  This is an easy place to make a tangible, visible difference.  Work with the powers that be to eliminate bottled water at the office, events and meetings.  Genentech has reduced its use of bottled water, saving $200,000 annually by using filtered water machines and reusable containers.

One of eBay’s Green Teams was determined to phase bottled water out of the office. It invited employees’ children to participate in a poster contest with the theme “what does water mean to you?”  Winning posters were displayed around the office, along with facts and statistics to educate employees on the environmental impact of bottled water production and consumption. The team credits the poster campaign with increasing awareness and support for the project.  The City of Mill Valley, my home town, has a good model one-pager on bottled water.

Here is a plug for my friend Michael Davis’ company US Pure Water.  They have helped the City of San Francisco install water filtration units to reduce bottled water use and can help you make the switch too.  They also provide water filling stations for events.

3. Make it Harder to Throw Things Away

Diverting waste from the landfill is a no non-sense strategy for reducing carbon emissions and reducing waste disposal fees.  However, reaching ambitious diversion goals usually means getting smart, busy people to change their behavior and to think twice before they toss something into the trash.

Borrow a great play from eBay and Bloomberg and replace individual trash cans at employee desks with centralized waste stations that make it easier to recycle and compost.  eBay increased its diversion rate increased from 73.5 percent in 2008 to 99 percent in 2010 after making it harder to throw things away.

4. Engage Bellies and Encourage Eating Local Food
While not everyone is ready to become a pure vegetarian, eating less meat and purchasing local, sustainable food are easy way to reduce one’s carbon footprint. Encourage employees to pick one day a week where they will only eat vegetarian food. UCSF campus cafes, such as the Moffitt Café at the Medical Center, often feature vegetarian Meatless Monday menus.

Consider starting a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program at the office. At Bloomberg, it was so popular a lottery was required to identify the lucky 150 employees to get fresh, local produce delivered right to the office.

5. Purchase Recycled Paper

PaperIs your company or organization still purchasing virgin paper (paper with no recycled content) for the office?  Take a moment to work with your procurement folks to phase out the use of virgin paper and adopt a minimum standard of 30 percent post consumer waste (PCW) recycled content for all office supplies.  Better yet go for 100 percent.  UCSF was just able to negotiate a price for 100 percent PCW that is cheaper than virgin and 30 percent!

Choosing recycled paper has a multitude of environmental benefits, including a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and protection of biodiversity and native forests.  If you implement the double-side copying, typically you can save enough to offset any additional cost of 100 percent recycled paper.

6.  Organize a Volunteer Day at Sutro Nursery in San Francisco

Have you gotten your hands dirty lately? UCSF has a hidden community gem—the Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve. The largely undeveloped 61-acre area, just south of the Parnassus campus, provides a peaceful respite from the hustle of the City. Named for its former owner and San Francisco Mayor Adolph Sutro, the Reserve not only provides maintained hiking trails, but a nursery, which provides all organizations in San Francisco an easy opportunity to get their hands dirty.

Every other Wednesday you can volunteer with the Sutro Stewards, working in the nursery—you might get to clear invasive plants, sow seeds, weed or transplant plants. There are also opportunities for volunteers to conduct trail and habitat restoration on Mount Sutro the first Saturday of every month.  Any organization or company can host a ‘stewardship’/team building event at the nursery, on a week day, with a group of 20 or more. Contact the Sutro Stewards for more info.

7. Install Faucet Aerators

An easy and low-cost way to conserve water is to install faucet aerators for every sink in your work area. Most faucets have a water flow ranging from 4 gallons per minute (gpm) to 6 gpm. By installing a high efficiency aerator, this can be reduced to either 1 gpm or 1.5 gpm, saving thousands of gallons of water per year.

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