U.S. Green Building Council

7 steps to a greener (and smarter) workplace

December 14, 2012: 11:09 AM ET

Helping the planet can also boost the bottom line, says an executive at super-green -- and highly profitable -- Patagonia. Here's how.

A Patagonia factory

FORTUNE -- Dear Annie: My company is putting the finishing touches on our plans and goals for 2013, and my boss, who runs the division where I am a brand manager, has given me a big, vague assignment: Make our business run "greener" in the year ahead. This will be on top of my regular job. I'm pretty excited about the possibilities (in fact, I sort of volunteered to do this), but I'm also not sure how to proceed.

We've already done most of the easy stuff, like switching from incandescent to LED lighting and recycling as many materials and supplies as we can. So my boss says he wants me to "take it to the next level." The thing is, previous efforts to shrink our environmental footprint have fallen by the wayside because people here seem to be all gung-ho at the beginning and then gradually lose interest. Do you or your readers have any suggestions for keeping coworkers engaged in going green? — Call Me Kermit

Dear Kermit: Interesting question, and one that Vincent Stanley has pondered for the past four decades. A vice president of outdoor-gear maker Patagonia, Stanley has been with the company since its launch in 1973. He is co-author (with founder and CEO Yvon Chouinard) of a book you might want to check out, The Responsible Company: What We've Learned from Patagonia's First 40 Years.

"Even in our company, some people are more strongly committed [to protecting the planet] than others," Stanley says. "But we've found that the most skeptical or resistant colleagues eventually get won over by seeing other people stick with it and succeed at making real change."

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Stanley suggests tackling the process in these 7 steps:

1. Don't create a bureaucracy. You have a lot on your plate but, by giving you this task on top of your regular job, your boss is following Patagonia's model (inadvertently or not). Stanley says that the greening of the company has been successful in large part because "we wanted the reduction of environmental harm to be part of everyone's job" — rather than give staffers "a reason to make environmental considerations secondary because someone else would handle them."

2. Start with your natural allies. "In any company there are always a few people who are already interested, or who are more committed than others to making change happen," notes Stanley. It sounds as if you're one of these, so maybe you know a few others. Once you enlist their help, he says, "you'll find you get more allies as you go along."

3. Quantify the benefits of going green. "It's a myth that taking better care of nature is at odds with business excellence, but what if your peers, or higher-ups, believe that? Concentrate first on taking steps that clearly save money," Stanley suggests. More

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