Further down the road, the group may undertake projects like offering an electric or fuel efficient company car for bikers and carpoolers to use for off-site meetings, installing a renewable energy generation system at their offices, and getting their facilities LEED-certified. BJG's projects go beyond in-house efforts to include outreach to clients as well. Kulesza said the group is developing a list of 10 free green improvements for each project.

Common challenges

Green teams find that they encounter common challenges. Some challenges include:
  • Companies exist to make money vs. being green as an objective. Unless the leader of the company see being green as a priority, programs may be slow to evolve.
  • For teams that are comprised mainly of employee volunteers, people can be over committed in their full time jobs and then struggle to try to squeeze out extra time to participate in green team activities.
  • It takes time and effort to research alternatives to current practices. Often, solutions are iterative rather than final.

Easy Tips for Successful Teamwork

No matter the differences between these teams or their companies or the challenges they encounter, several ideas emerged that are applicable to almost any situation:

Be inclusive. Green team leaders stressed that involving stakeholders who may be directly affected by green initiatives (e.g. facilities or purchasing) in the early planning phases is very important for success of any initiative.

Choose projects wisely. It's important to tackle projects that are most impactful and whose success can be quantitatively measured.

Make green goals part of the job. Participating in Green Team efforts is often an opportunity for the employee to develop and enhance leadership and teamwork skills. Having Green Team goals written into team member's quarterly goals will help support the employee in their development process.

Bigger is better for green teams. Since teams are mostly voluntary and time availability will vary with members depending on what work projects are going on, engaging a wider network of people to do activities is a key factor in keeping the momentum going.

Make sure communication channels are appropriate. As teams grow in size, email distribution lists may become unmanageable and teams should consider using other communication technologies such as blogs, digital dashboards, wikis and other tech tools to share information.

Small-scale focus can lead to more productivity. Having a single group when your company is dispersed nationally or internationally is unwieldy. Local issues will vary (for instance, water conservation for the Southwest) and different countries will have different practices. It's good to have local teams for each region and then an overarching team structure that unites local teams together for company wide initiatives.

Making it fun works to engage people in green team initiatives. Among the successful goals some teams have used to energize their companies include: Giving away fun incentives like CFL bulbs, free mugs, or gift certificates is an effective way to recruit new members and keep the energy fun amongst existing members; Sustainability Movie Nights; Funky Mug Contests; Office competitions to spur impact, for instance measuring how much each project team is actually recycling vs. throwing away trash with a free BBQ party reward for the winning team.

Green Teams: A New Twist on an Old Idea

Harnessing the creativity of employees to learn through sharing and collaboratively developing best practices is not a new practice among corporations: One of the most successful results from tapping employee ideas is Toyota, who follows the Kaizen Ideas Generation process.

As part of the Kaizen process, managers and supervisors encourage and even require employees to come up with ideas for improvement and then work to finesse and implement most of the ideas. Since the mid-1970s, Toyota plants worldwide have averaged some 20 to 30 ideas per employee per year, of which more than 80 percent were implemented. This has contributed greatly to Toyota's success as an innovative car company.

An article from the April 2008 issue of Entrepreneur magazine urges companies to "make your employees part of the solution by tapping them for environmentally friendly ideas.” Green Teams are an excellent vehicle for companies to tap into employees' passion and creativity and harvest innovation.

Here are some resources for starting and evolving your company's green team efforts:


Portland, Oregon's guide to setting up a recycling program for your business.

What Makes a Green Team Thrive, a presentation from the Sustainable Silicon Valley Educational Forum.

Incorporating Sustainability into Corporate Culture, an article by Leo Pierre Roy.

And case study presentations of all three of the companies profiled here are posted online at the Sustainable Silicon Valley website.

Quynh Nguyen started Adobe's Sustainability Catalyst employee group and is a student at the Presidio School of Management Sustainable MBA program.

Story photo licensed under the Creative Commons by lumaxart.