Possibly one of the most under-utilized strategies for embedding sustainability in your business is the establishment of a green team.
A green team increases employee engagement and focuses more minds on tackling tough problems and coming up with creative solutions, thereby gaining more buy-in from employees and creating a stronger culture of sustainability.
Yet for many of the people I work with, how to start a green team – or how to best leverage it if they already have one – still remains a challenge.
Starting a green team will take some work initially, but it will be worth the effort!
What is a Green Team?
I hear this question a lot, and it’s a valid question. What exactly is a green team?
A green team consists of a group of employees who are engaged in advancing sustainability within an organization.
Green teams will often focus on two broad areas. One focus is on the company’s own operations, on examining the sustainability opportunities within the organization. The second is on educating employees on sustainability and engaging them in actions that they can do at home.
In some companies it might be called by a different name – the sustainability committee, for example – but its function is effectively the same.
Why You Need a Green Team
There are several reasons to have a green team.
Perhaps the most important reason for having a green team is that it’s an effective way of engaging employees at work. Less than one-third of employees reported being engaged at work in a recent Gallup poll, and research shows that engaging employees in sustainability increases overall engagement rates.
Another reason for having a green team is that you’ll get a greater diversity of ideas and support for your sustainability initiatives. Rank and file employees have insights into what is happening on the front lines of customer service, production, and other key areas and can identify opportunities that might otherwise go unnoticed.
Lastly, while having an internal champion is important, sustainability efforts may fall apart when that individual leaves. Having a green team will ensure that any work that is done will be maintained – in short, it will help to embed sustainability within your organization.
In effect, if you don’t have a green team, you run the risk that you’ll be promoting top-down directives that will not have buy-in from your employees – and that is a sure-fire way to see your sustainability initiatives fail.
Who Should Be On the Green Team?
One of the most common ways of recruiting members for the green team is simply to let people know that your company is starting a green team and ask for volunteers.
Allowing people to self-select is a great way of empowering your employees! Many people will welcome the opportunity to do something that they are interested in and that aligns with their values.
If you’re not getting the responses that you want, you might need to recruit more actively. One organization I worked with used a “bring a buddy” strategy to get more people to join the green team – people who showed up at the first meeting were encouraged to bring someone new with them to the next meeting.
As you’re recruiting, be sure to seek out people who will be champions and bring a positive attitude to the team. They may not be in the upper echelons of the company, but their enthusiasm will be infectious. Gaining momentum at this early stage will help set you up for a successful launch.
Lastly, make sure that you have representation from throughout the company. Sustainability cannot be run from just one department, so make sure that facilities, HR, finance, purchasing, marketing, and production are all represented. Depending upon the size of your business, it might be helpful to ask for one or two volunteers from each department.
What Should Your Green Team Do?
Green teams may engage in a wide range of activities, from organizing projects for employees to making recommendations to management about the company’s overall sustainability efforts.
Some projects that green teams I know have worked on include:
- Organizing brown bag lunches on topics related to waste & recycling, climate change, water conservation, etc.
- Identifying and organizing volunteer opportunities for the staff
- Working on Green Business and B Corp certifications
- Organizing activities for Bike to Work Day and Earth Day
- Setting up green purchasing policies and evaluating the company’s purchases to identify more sustainable alternatives
- Setting up channels of communication to solicit ideas from other employees, such as posting information on the company intranet or sending out a staff newsletter
- Establishing sustainability policies for suppliers
- Doing waste audits to identify items that are still going to the landfill and evaluating recyclable/compostable options
This is just a short list of some common green team projects; the actual projects will vary, depending upon the unique needs and culture of each organization.
The team should establish a regular meeting schedule; monthly or quarterly are most common. And of course, share successes and celebrate wins!
Your First Meeting
You’ll want to get your green team off to a good start. Two elements for a successful meeting, as you well know, include food and an agenda so don’t overlook those! Providing food at your meeting will create a welcoming environment, while an agenda ensures that you’re respecting everyone’s time.
At your first meeting, it can be helpful to discuss two related topics: why you’re setting up a green team and why sustainability is important for your organization.
One organization I know has used short video clips to spark conversation, which is a great idea. Two clips that I recommend are from Ray Anderson, one of the first business leaders who clearly understood the need for sustainability and one of my personal sustainability heroes: his spear-in-the-chest realization about sustainability (4 minutes) and this one about the business case for sustainability (5 minutes). These are just two to get you started, but there are many other sustainability videos that you can share with your team.
You can also use your first meeting to brainstorm possible areas of focus for the green team. Some might be self-evident, such as if customers are already asking for green features in your products or services or if you already know that your facility is in need of a lighting upgrade.
If there aren’t any obvious areas of focus, your team can use the Green Business and B Corp certification questions as a starting point. Both provide excellent frameworks that will help you to evaluate your company against established best practices.
Trying to figure out how to start a green team at work can seem to be a daunting task, but it can be fun once you actually get started.
If you don’t already have a green team, use the ideas in this post to brainstorm about how you can introduce a green team in your organization. Discuss those ideas with colleagues, get approval from management, and begin recruiting for your team.
If you already have a green team, you can still use these ideas to consider new ways to engage employees in your sustainability initiatives. Sometimes green teams need to be reinvigorated, and a new approach can help.
Be sure to download the Green Team Launch Checklist and Projects List below to help you get started building your team.
Free Green Team Checklist
Get a complete checklist along with 50 green team projects so that you can successfully launch your green team today!