Organizing a constructive and progressive green team or sustainability committee within your company can be one of the most empowering and valuable moves on your sustainability journey. Sometimes though, it can be a bit daunting to get one started, especially if you don’t have a serious focus on sustainability within the business yet and commitment from all executives.  Today, despite the early challenges, most companies that are serious about becoming greener have a productive green team or sustainability committee  that is making a real difference.  This green team is often leading the charge internally in creating a green culture and becoming a more eco-friendly, safer, caring and efficient business.

What Is A Green Team?

It is important to first understand exactly what a green team is (sometimes referred to a sustainability committee) and what it can look like depending on your specific situation. A green team is a group of employees that either volunteer or have been designated (usually volunteered) to get together periodically to identify opportunities that improve the sustainability of their organization and to develop actionable solutions for these goals.

This team of like-minded employees typically focus on two main areas of responsibility: operations and culture. The operations focus covers developing strategies to change policies and processes that protect the environment and potentially improve the efficiency of the business. The other focus, creating a green culture, covers employee participation and educating employees about the why’s and the how’s of sustainability, ultimately encouraging engagement and participation. This second aspect of a green teams’ responsibility is paramount to ensure a lasting culture of sustainability and a program that successfully drives change. Take a look at this earlier article from the GBB that goes in depth on how to create a green culture as well as the importance and value of employee engagement.

Business Value of a Green Team and Sustainability Committee

The more tangible business value of sustainability stems from improving operations through on the ground observation that otherwise may be overlooked or go unreported. This can range anywhere from facility efficiency, energy efficiency or operational process efficiency and can provide a strong economical return on investment.

Cultural Value of a Green Team

A green team encourages a sense of open communication and collaboration across levels and departments. When barriers like this are broken down and a sympathetic outlet for observations is established, those employees that interact and observe the processes or operations almost daily can create valuable insight into improving the company.  Take a look at this example of how Toyota used this concept of frontline suggestions to promote employee engagement and improve operations. This same concept can be applied to all areas of the business, including providing valuable suggestions and open discussion with the Green Team. First you will need to create one.

Tips to Get Your Green Team Started

1. Get Management Support

Executive and management support is a critical aspect to the success of your green team. Start off the process of creating a team by speaking with management to explain the significant benefits that will be associated with a sustainability committee.   Focus on increased employee engagement and satisfaction, operational efficiency, increased collaboration between departments and the overall “good” of being a green business. If you are able to,  get someone from the management team to join the team as this shows a level of seriousness and a sense of accountability. Executive membership also has the benefit of streamlining any decisions that must be made by the executive management team. It is vital to ensure that management is prepared to seriously consider and act on some of the suggestions provided by the green team because if not, this can be a serious hindrance to motivation and participation.

2.Keep the Team Small and Diverse

You want your green team to be representative of the various departments and levels within your organization but still productive in discussions. If a group is higher than 12, many times it can make it more difficult to achieve results. Having individuals from various departments ensures all areas of the business are being taken into account and it invites open collaboration of ideas and resources.

3.Identify and Invite Passionate Employees

Employees passionate about sustainability and saving the planet can be a significant driving force within your green team.  Their passion and understanding drive progress, encourage participation and lead to better results. When forming a green team, keep in mind that all members do not need to have an expertise in sustainability, as long as they are motivated about learning and making a positive impact. Send out an email to employees that explains the teams mission and allow volunteers to self elect themselves. If you find an overabundance of employees wanting to participate, consider the formation of additional department specific green teams, with their respective green team member as liaison. This could present a fantastic opportunity to create a sense of friendly competition between departments in showing who is improving more. This would be a significant boon to the promotion of a green culture.

4.Create an Agenda for the First Meeting and Communicate It

Creating and sending out a meeting agenda well ahead of the first meeting will give participants the chance to understand the meetings purpose and begin to consider ideas and topics they would like to bring up. In addition, the agenda will assist in keeping your meeting on track and productive. The agenda should include topics such as:

    • The purpose and benefits of a green team
    • A discussion as to how often and where to meet
    • Potential ideas and goals to strive for
    • Ideas on how to encourage employee participation

5.Evaluate Where the Company Stands

Benchmarking where your company currently stands can be a challenging and complex task. Still though it is a very valuable step in setting goals and recognizing achievements. There are multiple ways to benchmark, for example a solid waste and recycling assessment. This article will provide you some guides on how to complete a solid waste assessment for your office. Another useful step in understanding your current sustainability level of maturity is conducting an energy audit to identify areas of opportunity. This article can give you some insight into conducting your own energy audit, though a professional service may be required to further improve. The Green Business Bureau EcoAssessment is the most comprehensive yet easy-to-use assessment tool for benchmarking your company’s sustainability performance and validating your completed green initiatives. If you are a GBB member, use the EcoAssessment tool to gain an understanding of your company’s sustainability as a whole.

6.Prioritize Initiatives and Goals

After a comprehensive assessment has been completed, you can begin to identify and prioritize initiatives that make the most sense for your company to tackle. Many companies choose to tackle a multitude of “low hanging fruit” initiatives so that they can get the momentum needed to tackle larger and more challenging initiatives. One great first step can be to create an office recycling policy and implement a program.  If you are a GBB member, you have the ability to break down our 450+ initiatives into categories like “Low and Medium Effort” and “Low Cost”. These quick and early achievements can be extremely valuable.

7.Keep Things Simple at First

It is important not to overwhelm the office employees but also your green team with unattainable goals or too complex of initiatives early on. Any individuals that are on the fence regarding sustainability likely will be pushed over the edge in the wrong direction for good if things are too complicated or time consuming. Likewise your green team will lose heart if their first initiatives get drudged down or require unrealistic commitments and resources right off the bat.

8.Encourage Project Ownership but Keep it Fun

Designating ownership to certain sustainability or department champions and their sub committee’s can ensure that nothing falls through the cracks. Asking for volunteers to focus on an area such as recycling or community outreach can capture the individuals specific sustainability passion. Most importantly though do not forget to keep things light hearted and fun. These are serious issues but you are more likely to get the entire office involved when the typical business rules are a bit relaxed. This can be done with unique programs or office events like this Recycling engagement article or this list of Recycling oriented events. Allowing this light hearted green culture to become a part of the office culture will have a multitude of positive benefits. Check out this GBB blog article for Employee Engagement and Green Culture tips.

9.Be Sure to Hold Regular Meetings and Communications

You’ll want to establish a regular schedule of meetings after your first meeting as it will provide members a reliable cadence to expect and plan to. Whether broken down monthly or quarterly, you can highlight your year end and year beginning meetings to highlight members, achievements and events but also to look forward to the coming years plan and set of goals. It is also advantageous to establish times for communications to be sent out to employees for example at the beginning of each month.  Be sure to publish agendas and goals for each meeting and track action items.

10.Celebrate Successes and Achievements

Celebrating even minor achievements is vital to the success of your green team. No matter how insignificant, each achievement reached and communicated goes one step further to showcasing the effects and support for sustainability within the organization. This also shows that the members’ efforts are being appreciated. Whether it be events or personal shout outs, don’t overlook this aspect of your green team.  For example, if you are a GBB member, when you reach the GBB Gold or Platinum level, be sure to celebrate. You’ve earned it!

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