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Leon Kaye headshot

What is a Corporate Green Team, Anyway?

By Leon Kaye

Establishing “green teams” is an inspiring way for companies to motivate employees and shift their strategies towards a more sustainable path. This is becoming important as more stakeholders demand companies mitigate their impact on people and the planet--and shareholders and investors rightfully demand profits. In an era where both young professionals and experienced employees wish to find more meaning in their work, giving the green light to employees to find new ideas in rooting out waste, creating improved designs and finding new efficiencies can pay huge dividends.

Green teams or committees - groups of employees who are working to make their company's operations more environmentally friendly - also send a message that the company’s organizational structure is not simply one where messages start at the top and filter on down. And even if this idea to “green” a company comes from a CEO or senior executive, if he or she were smart--they will make sure these green teams, at the very least, appear to have bubbled up from the ranks.

So what are these oft-mentioned green teams and what are the right approaches to take? I start by discussing the ideas of 3p’s own Bill Roth; and then share a few examples where greening-by-committee resulted in success.

In his book The Secret Green Sauce, Roth combines his experience as a business coach and training as an economist. He encourages human resources departments to allow green teams within organizations as a tool for instigating organizational change. With the idea of doing good by “cost less, mean more” thinking, Roth sees such teams as a way to engage employees to brainstorm and research reasons for organizational change, experiment with new processes to achieve results and then spread the word by sharing success with their colleagues.

According to Roth, these eight keys make up a successful green team:

  1. Volunteers: Seek out those who are inspired to enact change because of sustainability.

  2. Start with the proverbial “low hanging fruit”: Achieve small successes first to inspire confidence. Companies, especially those that are publicly-owned, will not change overnight.

  3. Executive sponsors: Remember, numbers resonate with executives. Show the demonstrable results. And if you get Finance on board, you are set: just ask the British retailer Marks & Spencer.

  4. Brainstorm, focus, then execute: Find tactical, then group consensus on processes to find new efficiencies or designs--Roth advocates a systems-thinking approach to solving tough problems, whether they are in your supply chain or how a product is developed.

  5. Retain experts: Passion does not always equate to expertise; be prepared to bring in outside talent.

  6. Engage the supply chain: No matter how much is done within the home office or a company’s entire operations, the most significant impact on communities and the environment for most companies is within a firm’s supply chain. Suppliers must be included within this greater “green team” conversation.

  7. Celebrate success: Well, this is Employee Engagement 101. Just as sales teams have their rah-rah rallies to announce new big contracts, green teams should do the same in order to excite even more employees.

  8. Engage the senior executives: In the end, these are the folks who get paid to make the toughest decisions and their unequivocal buy-in will be crucial at some point.

So what are some companies whose green teams became dream teams?

  • AMD: If there is a green team guru, he would be AMD’s Tim Mohin. From efficient lighting to bicycles to recyclables, AMD’s volunteer green teams have instilled sustainability and responsibility at the office, on the factory shop-floor and within the home . . . from Austin to India.

  • eBay: The Silicon Valley-based world’s largest virtual garage sale has a massive carbon footprint with all that shipping and handling, but eBay’s employees participating in various green teams are keen. Whether its smarter packaging, preventing that packaging from going into landfill or helping shoppers and perusers find more environmentally sound products, eBay’s employees are leaders.

  • Hyatt: The hospitality industry has a long way to go before it can tout itself as a sustainable industry, but the larger hotel companies are taking action. One of them is Hyatt, which works to make sustainability a personal attribute amongst its far-flung employee base. The company has over 300 green teams worldwide to solve organizational and local problems; and in addition to its corporate social responsibility web platform, social media tools are also an important way for employees to pose questions and share successes. These “green ambassadors” have shared ideas to reduce water and waste while finding strong partnerships with local environmental organizations.
Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye is the editor of GreenGoPost.com and frequently writes about business sustainability strategy. Leon also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Sustainable BrandsInhabitat and Earth911. At Better4Business in Anaheim on May 2, he will join a panel discussing how companies can present their CSR initiatives to the media. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost).

[Image credit: Hyatt.com]

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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