How To Create a Sustainable Workplace and Community in 2018

Laura Kutner Tokarski

Executive Director, Trash for Peace

Like many companies, we are always trying to be more sustainable. This is a basic tenet of the benefit corporation. But what does it mean to be sustainable and to actualize the 2nd P in the Triple Bottom Line?

Chances are you are already doing many green activities, but perhaps you want to take it to the next level… you want to keep going!  There are some tangible steps you can take to make your business truly sustainable, so you can walk your talk, not just talk the walk. Here are some suggestions!

First of all, here is a bit about me and what I do. I was born and raised in Portland, OR, and after about four years in the Peace Corps in Guatemala I started Trash for Peace in 2012, a 501c3 nonprofit organization. The mission of Trash for Peace is to provide hands-on, creative experiences to encourage resilient communities.

In partnership with affordable housing sites in Multnomah County, we lead sustainability-focused, after-school programs for youth, and civic engagement and job training programs for adults. The cornerstone of our programming is developing relationships, and much of our time is spent getting to know the communities where we work.

This means that together with communities, we can collaborate to actualize sustainability efforts. But first let’s talk about the basics. The following ideas go beyond just recycling.  To become a sustainable business, here are the key behaviors:

1.    Reduce, Reuse, and then Recycle! Invest in reusable dishware for your office and staff, as this is an easy way to reduce your trash in the first place. If you have a small kitchen or offer other beverages, invest in durable coffee cups and glasses. AVOID bottled water to save money, resources, and to avoid plastic contaminates.

2.    Make sure you have an easy-to-understand recycling system at work! This means  you know how to recycle (find resources online, become a Master Recycler, or take a recycling 101 course online).  Make sure that your recycling bin and trash bin are “married” or next to each other, that you have proper signage, and ideally, that you don’t offer much that needs to be thrown out in the first place!  Have Metro’s hotline for recycling questions and business resources handy as well!  It is 503-234-3000.

3.    Offer incentives for your team: to bike to work, take public transit, adopt Meatless Mondays, and especially for conferences - telecommute if you can.  Flying and eating meat are some of the worst things we do to increase our carbon footprint. 

But if you really want to be sustainable you need to think broader to create a healthy community for all. And we are back to the power of relationships. Here are some keys to success:

4. Spend time getting to know your staff and the communities where you work. I promise, the more time you focus on relationships, the more people will feel listened to and want to interact with you and your business. The more ideas you generate, the more cohesive your team will be, and your business will thrive as a result. Treat your staff to a team-building evening out at the DIY bar, go out to lunch once a month as a team, go to a neighborhood association meeting, or just talk to people on your block the next time you’re out on a stroll.

5.    Invest time in an equity training. We CANNOT create a more just environment for ourselves and our planet if everyone is not included on that journey. In order to be inclusive, we must try to understand the biases and barriers inherent in our systems. I highly recommend The People’s Institute and their Undoing Racism workshop or a workshop by Center for Diversity and the Environment. After attending a workshop, adopt an office policy to address these issues, as well as overall sustainability goals and initiatives.

Would you like more tips or info, or perhaps a fun, hands-on sustainability training for your work group or team?  Please get in touch as I would be happy to chat on the phone or offer a short training for your business. To create a healthy planet and community, we all need to work together. Every sustainable step we can take makes a big difference.