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How To Make Your Workplace More Sustainable

One of the most impactful ways to take action on climate change is to encourage your workplace to be more sustainable. Here’s a handy toolkit of ideas and resources to get started.

Being sustainable at home is a great step. From composting food waste to switching to eco-friendly toothpaste, to shopping for ethical clothing, and everything in between, there are myriad ways to be sustainable in our own lives.

However, if we want to create greater change and help reduce climate change on a larger scale, then we have to step outside of our own individual bubbles. One incredibly impactful way to do this is to encourage your workplace to be more sustainable. With many people currently returning to the office, it couldn’t be a better time to collectively organise and ask your organisation for change. Doing so can create far greater positive environmental change than might ever be possible in your own life.

Sounds like a mammoth task? Don’t worry, here are some ideas to break it down, and help make your workplace a greener place to be.

How to Encourage Your Workplace to Be More Sustainable

Image of a workplace sustainability team, with a blue text box that says how to make your workplace more sustainable

All types of employers, regardless of what sector they operate in, can reduce their carbon emissions and help encourage and support their employees to lead greener lives. Some workplaces may be more willing than others. And some workplaces may find it trickier than others. However, it’s imperative that all workplaces get on board with reducing carbon emissions.

To help your own workplace start on its journey to becoming more sustainable, here are some ideas to get the conversation going.

Set Up A Sustainability Action Group

If you work in a large organisation, then in order to encourage the management of your workplace to make sustainable changes, consider setting up a sustainability action group. Invite other colleagues to join, so that you can collectively work together with management to suggest environmental changes that can be made.

Workplace sustainability action groups work best when you have a cross-section of people from different departments. Therefore aim to have a representative from as many departments as possible.

It might be that you are able to meet as part of your working day. Other organisations might stipulate that you have to use your lunch hour. Whatever your workplace’s stance, aim to meet regularly to discuss priority areas.

Groups tend to work best when they have a structure in place. One that focuses on creative brainstorming, identifying company leverage points, and instigating collective action. Sounds overwhelming? Project Drawdown has a great resource on climate solutions at work for employees, that shows how to make every job a climate job. This resource talks you through the whole process of setting up a sustainability action group.

This post from Leaders For Climate Change is also a useful resource in setting up a sustainable action group at work.

Find Out What Your Sustainability Team Is Doing

Depending on the size of your organisation, you might have a sustainability team or a sustainability officer. In many workplaces, these might be the only people/person with a direct remit for sustainability. However, it doesn’t have to be this way.

If you set up a sustainability action team, talk with the sustainability team or officer to see how you can support their work. It might be as simple as talking with colleagues to help bring them on board with sustainability changes at work. Or it might be more involved – from helping to add voice to proposed sustainability changes that need clearance from higher up.

Encourage Your Workplace to Look At More Sustainable & Ethical Pension Schemes

One of the most impactful areas to make a difference in the workplace is to switch to a more ethical pension scheme. This is because, like with day-to-day banking, many pension schemes are used by financial institutions to fund undesirable activities. From funding fossil fuel extraction to fracking and more – our pensions unwittingly fund climate change.

According to Make Your Money Matter, in the UK £2.6 trillion is collectively invested in pension schemes. By diverting this money from funding fossil fuels, this money could power a green economic recovery – through investments in renewable energy and more.

However, the stumbling block is that many pensions are run through workplace schemes, organised by your employer.  This makes it difficult for people to switch providers. What you can do is tell your employer to consider switching to an ethical pension scheme. Make Your Money Matter has a handy email template that you can copy and paste, or edit, and then send to your employer.

For more impact, encourage your colleagues to do the same. The more of your colleagues that ask your organisation to switch to an ethical pension provider, the harder it is for management to ignore.

Suggest Ideas That Make A Difference In the Workplace

a workplace green team brainstorming sustainability ideas

As well as the bigger ideas of setting up a sustainability group and encouraging your employer to switch to an ethical pension, there are other ways to encourage your workplace to be more sustainable. Shift Tools is a useful online resource full of guides on greening organisations that might help with the following points.

Food Waste

At an old job, we set up a simple food composting scheme. The local council didn’t collect our food waste from us. And being a small team working at an environmental charity, it was cost-prohibitive to set up a private food waste collection for relatively small amounts of food waste.

Instead, between the six of us, we set up our own system. Every night somebody who was able to, took the composting home to put in their kerbside compost bin. It was nothing clever, nothing fancy – just sharing the load. ⁣

A setup would only work like this in very small workplaces. In larger workplaces or for those that work in catering, you would need to work with the sustainability team or management to put something in place. However, given that food waste is a massive contributor to climate change, it’s a really important area for workplaces to get onboard with to drastically reduce their carbon footprint.

Procurement

The suppliers and products your organisation chooses can make an impact on climate change. Switching from regular printer paper to recycled printer paper, for example, can reduce the need for trees being felled. Switching from paper or plastic coffee and water cups to reusable cups can make a massive difference on a organisation-wide level.

Of course, these are just two small examples. A close examination of the products your organisation buys in is a useful exercise. From this practical sustainable (and often cost-saving) swaps can be made that can really help make your workplace more sustainable.

Travel and Transport

In the UK, employees can claim 20p per mile, tax-free, for any work trips made by bicycle. This wouldn’t cover commuting to and from work. However, cycling to and from a work meeting would mean some money in your pocket to cover the running costs of your bicycle. If your workplace doesn’t offer a workplace mileage rate for bicycles, ask them to consider it.

Other things your workplace can do to promote sustainable travel and transport are to offer season passes for public transport. Secure cycle parking is a must. And a tax-efficient way for staff to purchase bicycles is useful to have in place. Having priority parking spaces for staff who car share is another easy win. Even extending work from home policies helps promote sustainable travel, by eliminating non-essential trips.

Sustrans has some great starting points on greening your workplace’s travel if you’re not sure where to start.

Heating & Lighting

Heating and lighting are likely to account for a large percentage of your workplace’s carbon footprint. Ways to make this more sustainable are to ask your employer to consider switching to LED lighting across the whole workplace. Motion-sensitive lighting could also be installed in areas that aren’t continually utilised to cut energy usage and bills.

Considering renewable sources of energy, such as solar panels, are larger investments worth considering. This may not be suitable or practical for all organisations, but could lower their carbon footprint dramatically.

Final Thoughts

No matter what your job is, or which industry you work in, you and your colleagues can play a pivotal role in making your workplace more sustainable. From setting up or joining a green team, to supporting sustainability colleagues, to pressing for more ethical pensions or sustainable work practices, there are infinite ways to engage with your employer.

As Project Drawdown says, every job should be a climate job, regardless of your job title or remit. Let’s do this!

Resources

How To Organise A Community Litter Pick

Here’s everything you need to know to organise a community litter pick, including a free risk assessment, insurance advice, and more.

A community litter pick is a great way to get people involved in looking after the environment. For many people, picking litter is the very first step they take towards thinking more about the environment and even taking action on climate change. In fact, here’s a little eight or nine-year-old me, picking litter! This was the very first environmental activity I’d ever taken part in, and I guess, you could say that things took off from there.

If you are looking to organise a litter picking event in your local community, then let me talk you through some of the key considerations you need to make. There are a few important things you need to have in place to make sure your litter pick is well organised and safe for volunteers.

Whether it is a one-off event in your local community, or you are an established community or voluntary group, I’ve got top tips on risk assessments (including a free downloadable risk assessment), insurance, safety, equipment, planning, and more.

How To Organise A Community Litter Pick

Image of people collecting plastic bottles with a blue text box that says how to organise a community litter pick

Pick Your Area

If you want to arrange a community litter pick in your area then your first step is to identify a suitable area to pick litter in. For most people looking to pick litter, it is probably the case that you have an area in mind that is particularly prone to litter.

There are many spots that you should avoid. Working beside fast roads – anywhere where the speed limit is above 40 mph – isn’t a safe place to pick litter. If litter is a problem beside fast roads then inform your local council about this. Their operatives will be able to remove this litter in a safe, organised manner.

Picking litter near steep slopes, cliff edges, riverbanks, building sites, and anywhere similar isn’t recommended either. The risk assessment, below, will help you identify other dangerous areas to pick litter.

In any case, the location should be accessible for everyone who wants to take part. Do bear in mind that not everyone will have access to a car, so keeping the litter pick central to your community is generally the most accessible option.

Finally, check who owns the land where you want to pick. This is because if the land is not public land, you will need the landowner’s permission.

Inform Your Local Council

Your next step is to inform the waste department at the local council of your intention to organise a litter pick. Some councils will be able to help you by providing clean-up kits. These may include litter pickers for adults and children and hoops to go on bin bags, to make it easier to put litter into the bags.

Many councils can also remove the litter that has been collected by your community litter pick group. They will give you a location for the litter to be left and a collection date. Most councils require sufficient notice. As such, aim to give your local council at least two weeks’ notice or more, depending on their policies.

Fill In A Community Litter Pick Risk Assessment

Before your litter pick goes ahead, it’s important to fill in a risk assessment. If you are not familiar with risk assessments, then a risk assessment is a document that sets out the risks associated with an activity, and the safeguarding controls you have in place.

Risk assessments are important because they help keep everyone in your community safe. If you are seeking insurance to cover your litter picking activities, then the risk assessment may also need to be presented to the insurance company. This could be in advance of the activity, or should you need to make a claim.

When you inform your local council about your litter pick, it may well be that they have a litter pick risk assessment that you can use.

If not, then over the years, working in community-led climate change projects, I have written many risk assessments for a variety of different community events. Therefore, I’ve put together a free editable community litter pick risk assessment that you can download here.

I’ve tried to cover all eventualities. However, as with any risk assessment, it’s important to think about the particular area that you will be picking litter in. Before your litter pick, take a walk around the area that you plan to cover. Look out for any additional hazards not covered in the risk assessment template. Add these in, and think about the control measures you will need in place to help mitigate these risks.

Please note, if you have children attending your litterpick, then you may need additional controls in place.

Insurance for Litter Picking

people picking litter

When community groups organise a litter pick, often the landowner or your local council will require that the group has something in place called public liability insurance. This is a type of insurance that can cover any legal costs and compensation payments if your litter pick is, on the very off chance, found to be responsible for injury of a person, or causes damage to property.

Some insurers might include the liability for volunteers in a public liability insurance policy.  Others will require you to have employer liability insurance too, as even though you are working with volunteers, some insurers class volunteers as employees. This type of insurance would cover costs associated with the injury of a volunteer on the litter pick.

If you are part of an existing group, it may well be that you have this kind of insurance in place. If not, I’d recommend asking if another formal group with insurance already in place for their existing activities could take your litter pick under their name. For example, a local community council, environmental charity, or church might be able to run the litter pick under their name. This would provide cover for your litter pick under their policy, at no additional cost to them or you. Otherwise, it is recommended that you find appropriate insurance for your litter pick.

Equipment

For litter picking, I would recommend having:

  • high visibility vests
  • grabbers
  • gloves
  • bin bags
  • bin bag hoops
  • shovel
  • fork
  • dust pan and brush
  • cardboard box for bulky items

If your local council doesn’t have equipment that you can borrow, then ask around. Your local community council or environmental charity may have equipment that you can borrow. Alternatively, ask if any litter picks have recently taken part in the area. If you can find out who organised this, then you may be able to borrow their equipment.

If this isn’t successful, then one option would be to ask local businesses to sponsor your litter picking activities. This would enable you to purchase litter picking equipment. In return, you could print their logo on your high-visibility vests.

Another option would be to apply for grant funding. Awards for All would be one such place to try – where you can apply quickly and easily for small amounts of funding. Do note, there are separate Awards For All Programmes for England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales. There may also be local funds that you might be able to tap into.

Rubbish Disposal

As mentioned previously, many local councils will uplift the litter collected by your litter pick. If not, then you will need to consider how best to dispose of the litter collected. Depending on the volume of litter collected, you may be able to fit this in local community bins. Alternatively, volunteers may be able to take a bag of litter home each to dispose of in their own bins. Alternatively, a volunteer with access to a large car or van may be able to take the litter to your local recycling centre. If practical, you may wish to sort the litter into recyclable and non-recylable items, to ensure that no recyclable litter ends up in landfill.

Recruit Volunteers for Your Community Litter Pick

Finally, the last thing you need to do is to recruit volunteers for your community litter pick. If you have a local Facebook group then it’s often effective and free to recruit volunteers there. Not everyone has access to the internet, so do also consider placing posters (where allowed) in your local area.

Encourage people to come along dressed appropriately – wearing thick-soled closed-toe shoes (i.e not sandals or flip flops). Long sleeves and leg coverings are also important.

And before you start your litter pick, collect emergency contact details for your volunteers, and send over a safety briefing for them to read.

Whilst it sounds like a lot to consider, making sure that your litter pick runs safely and successfully, in a well organised manner is key to getting people to give up their time and come back again to help.