Engaging Co-Workers to Go Green

Mon, Jul 20, 2009


An occupancy sensor was installed in the bathroom, which is several doors away from my office. Prior to the installation of the sensor, the light always got shut off after the bathroom was used. Now that the occupancy sensor is there, the light will frequently get left on. Drives me nuts!

I have no clue why this is. Maybe people don’t know how to shut off the occupancy sensor. Maybe they assume the light will go right off. (It has a 15 minute delay.) Maybe they are allergic.

You know what I do about this? Nothing. I complain about it but have been apathetic about a solution.

Shame on me. It would be very simple to solve this. I could put a sign up. I could spend 2 minutes showing people how to turn the light off. I could remove the occupancy sensor. I could solve this in so many ways if I upgraded my commitment level just one notch.

By the way, the users of this bathroom are not only from my company. Most of the users are from another company.

Why does this matter? The users of this bathroom are not people that work for me. I can’t mandate that the light get shut off. But that does not mean that I am powerless to affect this minor change? Of course not. The issue isn’t that I lack authority, it is that I have an excess of apathy.

And just as I can influence the actions of these energy wasters, I think that there is an opportunity for all employees to help their employer become more green, resulting in a better workplace and a better bottom line.

I run into this all the time. There are countless days where middle managers tell me that without management’s support they can’t effect change. I disagree. Everyone can have an impact. Management helps make these changes easier and allows for a bigger impact but everyone can make a difference. You just have to care enough to get creative.

How? There is lots of information out there on how to manage when you lack power. Even without power you have influence. As long as you seek buy in and handle this in a (somewhat) tactful way, you can have an impact. Here are some things to try:

  1. Model the act that you want done. If you want a light off, keep turning the light off yourself. If no one else is recycling, just make sure you keep doing it.
  2. Address your issue at your next staff meeting.
  3. Send an amusing email.
  4. Praise people for modeling the behavior.
  5. Start a ‘Catch ‘Em Doing Something Right’ campaign where you leave anonymous green smiley face stickers on the desks of people who also model the behavior.

To make a difference, start by defining what you want to accomplish. Start very simple. Once your goal is clear mobilize the team to get this done. Identify 2-5 tactics that will get you to your goal. Then the most important thing you can do is follow-up relentlessly.

Now, if I can just convince myself to do something about that bathroom light…..

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