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by Derek Loosvelt | September 25, 2019

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By all accounts—save those of a few deniers—we’re no longer facing a climate change problem but a full-blown climate crisis. And according to climate scientists, the window is closing on the possibility that we can stop the earth’s temperature from rising beyond a point of no return. This means we all need to do our part, immediately and however small, to fight the crisis. To that end, here’s what you can do to start that fight, right now, at work.

1. Get totes. 

Plastic of any kind—straws, cups, bags—has a significant carbon footprint. It takes oil and natural gas to manufacture plastic, and a lot of it at that. In fact, plastic has been called “another fossil fuel.” So, the first thing you need to do when fighting the climate crisis at work is stop using plastic. Stop using plastic bags, utensils, cups, and plates. Instead, bring a few canvas tote bags to work, bring some metal utensils from home, and bring your own reusable water bottle. If you do all this, you won’t ever have to choose paper or plastic, you won’t ever have to take away a plastic fork with your lunch, and you’ll never have to buy another bottle of water again (provided your company provides you with filtered water).

While these actions might seem like small steps, they can be very contagious. That is, if you undertake them, maybe your cubicle neighbor will also undertake them, and the next thing you know you’re whole team is undertaking them, and then your whole company. That’s a giant leap all caused by your tiny step.

2. Green the company canteen. 

After you’ve sorted yourself out and stopped using plastic, the next thing you can do is check out what’s going on in your company’s kitchen or cafeteria. Are there plastic cups, utensils, and straws for people to use? Is your company using a coffee machine with those little plastic pods? Are appliances (toasters, dishwashers) old and devoid of “energy-efficient” designations? Are napkins and paper towels not made from recyclable materials? Is there not enough green-friendly soap so everyone can wash their own plates and utensils and water bottles (nice-smelling natural soap will encourage people to bring their own bottles and utensils from home)? Are items going in the recycle bin that can’t be recycled?

If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then see what you can do to change these poor practices. Try setting up a meeting with an HR manager to see if you can enact some changes to the company canteen. Maybe see if your company could sponsor all employees buying their own reusable water bottles (with company logos!), or pay a few extra dollars for compostable cups, or start a composting program for food scraps, or buy a new toaster oven or coffee maker. And, by all means, make sure that only recyclables are going into the recycle bins (for example, if you work in New York City, here is where you can find information on what you can and can’t recycle, along with official signage to put up near the bins in your office).

And keep in mind that you don’t have to do all this alone. It’s likely that many of your colleagues would be on board for these moves as well, so get them involved. Maybe a group of you could meet with HR to propose some green programs. Even one program would be a step in the right direction. Then one program leads to two, and two to three, etc.

3. Unplug—whatever and whenever you can.

You’ve likely heard of Vampire Weekend (they’re touring right now, in fact) but how about Vampire Power? If not, you need to be in the know. Thing is, vampire power—the term for the electricity wasted when electronics are plugged in but not in use—is draining tons of energy, especially on the weekend (when we’re not at work). So, make sure to unplug all electronics in your office when you’re not using them. Unplug appliances, printers, phone chargers, laptops, everything you possibly can. The amount of energy saved by doing so can be astronomical. Consider that, every year, vampire power costs Americans $19 billion dollars a year. And since electricity is created by things such as coal, gas, and oil, that means tons of CO2 is being emitted into the atmosphere unnecessarily. So, please, unplug and encourage your colleagues to do so as well.

Also, speaking of energy efficiency, chances are your office already has gone LED, but just to be safe, make sure your office is outfitted with energy-efficient LED light bulbs. If not, see what you can do to upgrade to LED ASAP. The energy saved might astound you.

4. Check your commute.

How do you get to and from work? Do you drive—alone? Do you Uber? Take a cab? Your daily commute can be a major energy suck (in addition to a time suck). So make sure you’re not wasting energy (especially energy created by oil and gas) by unnecessarily using passenger cars when you could be using mass transit options like trains and buses. If you have no choice but to drive, see what you can do about carpooling and ridesharing. Using less gas will greatly lessen CO2 emissions, and fewer cars on the road means better air quality (not to mention the carpool lane will save you time commuting).

Another question for you: how are you getting to meetings during the day? Instead of Lyft-ing it, try taking the subway. Instead of a cab, take a Citi Bike or MoGo (or whatever your city’s bike share program is called). And for meetings further away, if you can train instead of fly, that would be a huge reduction in carbon emissions. (Of course, if you have the time to sail, that'd be even better!)

All of these slight changes in your commute can make a massive difference when it comes to fighting the overuse of fossil fuels. So make sure to do a thorough review of how you commute and travel, and change your transit habits accordingly.

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