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One of the areas of our lives where we have the most power is our workplace. Whether that’s formal power in a senior position, or informal power through relationships and daily contact with your colleagues (who can’t escape your passion for getting rid of plastic), campaigning in the workplace can be an effective tool in helping others see the value in giving up plastic products.
Call for Behavioral Change
If you’re starting to make even a fraction of effort to avoid plastics in your life, then your colleagues may have already noticed your efforts and started to ask questions. It may be that simply explaining the issues to a couple of your colleagues, giving them a few of the facts, or maybe even sending them an article is enough to persuade them to join you in giving up plastic. More likely, a bit more explicit campaigning will be required. Every workplace, even a virtual one, is likely to have some type of informal space — a bulletin board, canteen, or lounge — where people go on their breaks or catch up with colleagues. Try hanging up signs, or writing a letter for the staff mailing list, about ways to reduce plastic at work. Start with encouraging people to give up the top five: plastic bags, bottles, coffee cups, straws, and cutlery. Use a statistic to grab people’s attention about the scale of the problem and point them toward an alternative.
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Getting the tone right is crucial to persuading your colleagues to alter their behavior. No one likes to feel nagged or attacked, so when you make signs or speak with them, use language that feels inclusive and inspiring. For example, instead of putting up signs saying, “Takeout cups not welcome here,” which may lead to minor backlash, use language such as, “Let’s create a plastic-free office.” Instead of using instructional or patronizing language when you invite colleagues to a talk, such as, “We should all be doing better,” or, “Say no to straws,” try to be more welcoming than challenging. You can use questions such as, “Have you ever wanted to use less plastic?” or, “Want to find out how you could give up plastic?” Or use humor to make people smile. This way, they’ll be drawn in, and then you can let them know all the different ways they can be a part of the movement. Keeping a focus on solutions helps people stay positive and feel like they’re able to make a difference.
Offer Plastic-Free Products
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If you work for a large company, think about whether any businesses might send you free reusable products to try, or give you a discount if you bought in bulk for all your colleagues. When Sky TV in the United Kingdom made the decision to have a plastic-free workplace by 2020 as part of its Ocean Rescue campaign, it launched the initiative by giving every employee a reusable water bottle. Could your employer do the same? Speak to your office manager. Chances are they’ll be on your side, as there’s nothing office managers like less than mess, and waste cluttering up the place is probably a thorn in their side. Could they join you in encouraging employees to give up these easily replaceable plastic products?
Line Up a Lunchtime Talk
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Another way to gain interest could be to organize a lunchtime talk by a plastics campaigner or expert. Search online for a local group campaigning to reduce plastics, such as a Greenpeace group or Friends of the Earth. Before I started the plastics campaign at Greenpeace, I invited a friend who’d worked on the circular economy and reducing waste to give a talk about plastic pollution, and the turnout was brilliant; people from across the building came to hear more about the problem and what they could do to help.
Coordinate Friendly Competition
If you work somewhere with a lot of teams, think about ways you could turn giving up plastic into a friendly competition. One day a week or one month per year, run a competition to see which team can produce the least plastic waste, weighing the trash bags at the end of the challenge. If you start to generate enough interest from colleagues, then organize a bring-and-share, plastic-free lunch. Not only will it be a good chance to get to know each other better, but you can brainstorm more ways that your workplace can give up plastic.
Your Work’s Procurement Policies
Take a walk around your office and look out for all the throwaway plastic being used. Does your canteen or break room only offer plastic cutlery and dishware? Are there plastic cups at the water cooler? Wherever you see it, make a note of what the item is. Perhaps you could even do the walk-around with your office manager or a couple of colleagues. Ask questions about why they’ve chosen to use plastic in that instance. Is it convenience, or is it simply lack of imagination? Speak to those who make the decisions and ask them to look at alternatives. If they’re resistant, do some research to find nonplastic options that you can present to them.
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If they really won’t budge, or if you just can’t get their attention, think about setting up a petition at work and ask your colleagues to sign. (You could discuss how to get more signatories at your plastic-free lunch.) If you can show the decision-makers not only how to resolve the problem, but also the fact that people in the building want change, then there’s a good chance they’ll listen and respond. It might feel strange or uncomfortable to speak up at work, so think about asking for support from a union representative. Many unions have green representatives who have plenty of experience in campaigning for better working conditions, and genuinely want to help campaigns like yours.
If your building is having any refurbishment or renovation done, speak to those in charge about what environmental considerations they’re taking into account. Have they looked at using new products, such as Mohawk’s new Air.o carpets, which are entirely recyclable? (Not many people realize that most industrial carpeting is made of unrecyclable plastic, creating huge amounts of waste every time a building is refitted.) Another brilliant initiative came out of a partnership between global carpet tile manufacturer Interface, Inc. and a leading conservation organization, the Zoological Society of London. They came together to form Net-Works, an initiative working in communities and with local microfinance organizations in the Philippines and Cameroon to collect discarded fishing nets that the communities have no means to recycle, and transform them into carpet tiles. In a recent refurbishment project in the Greenpeace office, our facilities manager decided to install sound-absorption panels — a common feature in many offices — which are made entirely out of recycled plastic by a German company called EchoJazz. The possibilities for those with the time or mandate to research and invest in new sustainable building materials could easily fill an entire book.
Share the Sustainable Spirit
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If your workplace starts to move in the right direction, think about ways the office could become a plastic-free champion. Sky TV’s announcement to go plastic free, later followed by the BBC, was a huge step forward in increasing the attention of office managers around the country as to how they could also reduce the plastic footprint of the buildings they oversee. If your workplace is prepared to go to these kinds of lengths, be sure you and your colleagues speak up loud and clear about why you’re doing it, to help encourage other companies to follow suit. Consider promoting these decisions on your business’s social media accounts, or make signs that your customers will see. If you work for a bigger company, speak to the communications team about making the most of the good news. None of us likes to be left behind, and the same is true of businesses — where one goes, others will follow.
Sustainability in the Ogden Office
Ogden Publications is focused on reducing our waste, and an integral part of that process is our Sustainability Group — a handful of employees who meet regularly to identify immediate, short-term, and long-term opportunities for our office to become more eco-friendly and provide new resources to our community.
We’ve always striven to be sustainable, and we’re continuing to promote that culture across the office in new ways. We keep dishes in our break room to use in place of paper plates and plastic cups, any disposable cutlery available is biodegradable, and every employee has been given a glass cup and stainless-steel straw for their desk. We have a paper recycling bin next to every waste basket, and now we’ve also added single-stream recycling containers throughout our office. There’s even a place to recycle “special items,” such as batteries and light bulbs. Since these changes have been made, waste in the office has been reduced by as much as half.
Perhaps most successful, however, has been the composting program implemented in conjunction with the office Garden Group. As the garden expanded to a 50-by-50-foot plot behind our building, we added a 30-gallon compost container to our break room. With this indoor bin, an outdoor compost system next to the garden, and an educational campaign conducted across the office, Sustainability Group member Robert Riley estimates that we’ve grown from compiling 10 gallons of compostable materials each week up to 50. “We’re excited to supplement and build our soil, increase soil activity, and grow healthy, nutrient-dense food,” he says. “Sometimes we underestimate the power of small habitual changes, but it’s clear from our efforts that they can make a large impact.”
— Haley Casey
From How to Give Up Plastic by Will McCallum, published by Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2018 by Will McCallum