GreenBiz Reads

How Genentech, Badger Balm and Dr. Bronner's use sustainability to improve the environment and company culture

Genentech company sign at its corporate headquarters in South San Francisco, California.

The following is an excerpt from "Green Wisdom: A Guide for Anyone to Start, Engage and Energize a Sustainability Team," authored by Nikki Pava (foreword for paperback written by Christiana Figueres, to be released Winter 2019).

Being silly (with a purpose) is an excellent way for you and your colleagues to maintain an optimistic outlook on the pressing issue of climate change, while also contributing to climate solutions. Creating programs, events and initiatives that facilitate learning and implementing new conservation steps, while at the same time encouraging team members if they make mistakes, is an important balance for all teams.

At Genentech, a small sub-team within the Energy Committee is lovingly called "The Army of Darkness." This grim-sounding, yet very effective group saves energy by turning off lights, monitors and other appliances when people have forgotten, thereby decreasing or eliminating "vampire power." Vampire power occurs when equipment is turned off, yet still plugged into an electrical outlet, slowly but continuously draining a small bit of energy. Every small bit of vampire energy adds up, and decreasing it saves money.

Employees from all Genentech offices volunteer for this subcommittee, which organizes itself online and boasts its own logo: a little cell phone with bat wings and vampire fangs. When Genentech moved, The Army of Darkness was responsible for ensuring that motion detectors and smart lighting systems were integrated into the new buildings. As sustainability departmenr "Green Genes" director Katie Excoffier notes, "They are really the boots on the ground to let the energy manager know what is working and areas to do even better."

The army’s work demonstrates that participating on the Green Genes team does not always need to be a major time commitment. As you develop your own sustainability programs, follow Excoffier’s suggestion and "try to get employees involved in fun ways and make them feel like they can make a difference."

Lunch mapping

Whether growing, shopping, cooking or eating, people love to relate with one another through food. To help employees learn about the environmental impact of the foods they eat, the sustainability committee at Badger Balm hosted a lunch that showed "how far your food traveled."

They placed food items from their lunch in proportional distance from a "home" base. The Zoli tuna fish from Thailand was placed far in the back, while the food items from their local areas of New Hampshire were much closer and items from California landed in between. Each item had a sign that reported the name of the location and the number of miles traveled. Committee members stood at each food item and shared why the Badger chefs decided to source the food for lunch from these specific areas. For example, while the tuna traveled 8,000 miles, the leaders knew that it was caught wild and sustainably.

Had the fish been procured from closer distances, it would have been caught in nets or other unsustainable ways. This type of engaging, hands-on activity can be replicated in any company cafeteria or lunchroom.

Rebecca Hamilton, a Badger family member, understands the need for a connection between team members’ and the company’s goals. "I think the value and benefit of the Sustainability Committee is that it inspires individuals to have a greater appreciation for what sustainability means and what our mission means," she says. "Then, as employees are making each decision for their job, where they have ownership responsibility and a larger impact in the company, they have this sensibility in part from the inspiration that comes from the sustainability committee."

As fun as impactful

Because sustainability teams are usually volunteer-led, activities need to be as fun as they are impactful to a company’s bottom line. This combination will help you ensure that people continue to participate and the company continues to support the team’s endeavors. Whether you’re eating burritos around a dumpster, sharing lentil recipes or cramming your co-workers into a borrowed mini-van, emphasize fun and creativity.

You’re doing more than making sustainability entertaining; you’re building an engaging culture that will change the way you do business and brighten up your workplace — even as you’re turning out the lights!

Shaping your company culture: company culture as an energizing force

Sustainability teams motivate team members to work together to reach common goals and cultivate relationships that might not usually occur. The “Dr. Bronner’s treat-each-other-like-family” ethos strengthens collaboration, trust and communication. Darcy Shiber-Knowles, senior quality, sustainability and innovation manager there, believes that these characteristics drive business initiatives forward because people feel protected. “When you pay attention to relationships, everything gets easier,” she shares.

The power of cultivating common goals is illustrated by the Dr. Bronner’s "All-One" declaration, which sets a clear path forward for their sustainability efforts. Since Dr. Bronner’s supports a wide range of social issues, the desire to decrease cost must be filtered through a higher imperative. "Our mission as a company is to create environmentally sustainable and socially just products of the highest quality and to use our profits to fund and fight for the causes we believe in," Shiber-Knowles explains. "Anything that we do to reduce the impact of our products in their creation or lifecycle that will save the company money will help us to meet our mission."

At Better World Books, "Those serving on the [sustainability] council are passionate about BWB’s mission, passionate about sustainability, and are driven to make a difference in the world," shares Holland. "They share that enthusiasm with their co-workers and evangelize the company’s mission at every opportunity. Our employees are mission-aligned, and stick with the company through the good times and the bad times."

An "environmental stewardship" orientation session is part of each new employee’s education at Self-Help Credit Union and Ventures Fund. Sessions are held quarterly via video conference so that new employees get to know each other while they are learning about the organization’s culture of sustainability. After attending an orientation, the staff receives a follow-up survey offering several options for staying involved in environmental stewardship, such as joining the email distribution list, "adopting" a compost bin or becoming a team ambassador. Knowing which aspects of sustainability are important to new employees helps to further shape Self-Help’s culture.

"I think it’s very helpful for individual staff members to be able to bring their environmental values to work — even if their job description is not directly related to environmental protection," says Malkin-Weber. "Our environmental stewardship umbrella gives a point of connection for someone who works in, for example, database administration, to be empowered to come up with good ideas for greening the organization, and also to feel connected to the sustainability work happening on other teams." This is yet another example of a cross-functional contribution that is a huge benefit not only to the employee but to the entire company.

The book highlights the Green Wisdom shared by the Sustainability Team leaders from some of the most innovative brands — how their teams originated, how they embed their work into the corporate business model, how they re-inspire members when momentum decreases and the best practices they use to promote team unity. The stories, tools and frameworks serve as inspiration for leaders to do good, to create valuable and engaging initiatives for employees, and to show the same level of commitment to their company’s social and environmental values as they dedicate to making a profit.

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