Upon first glance, the idea of a corporate green team may seem fairly simple—a small effort that allows a subset of employees to gather around a shared interest. In practice, however, green teams can be much more powerful than that. They can inspire, activate, and engage employees to create meaningful changes within a company.
From Genentech to Applied Materials, employees at many major companies, across a variety of industries, have helped start and grow green teams. These groups take on everything from removing Styrofoam cups in break rooms to influencing energy management at the corporate level. While some might begin as extracurricular, hobby-like activities, many green teams can evolve into formal programs within corporations, capable of producing measurable results and contributing to company-wide goals.
Striking a Balance between Top-Down and Bottom-Up
Some green teams start off top-down in structure, but the majority is launched by a handful of motivated “intrapreneurs,” people mobilizing their companies’ workforces from the bottom up. As green teams grow in size, however, one of the hardest things to do is maintain the grassroots nature, entrepreneurial spirit, and the sense of inclusion within the group—some of the most basic elements why they attract employees in the first place.
Global companies like HP and eBay have found success overcoming this challenge by using a chapter model, where employees at the corporate center provide oversight for the program, but volunteer team leaders at the local level pursue projects that are relevant and interesting to their groups. This structure helps foster companywide initiatives and the sharing of best practices across sites, while also giving local teams the space to innovate.
Finding the Right Allies within Your Organization
This won’t come as a shock to most people, but individuals within a company often start or join a green team because they want to help reduce their organization’s impact on the planet. Whether at the corporate or local level, forging partnerships with key stakeholders is critical to making the kinds of operational changes that can be the most impactful on the company’s footprint. In particular, facilities, procurement, and internal communications can be great green team allies. The facilities and procurement groups generally own a lot of the issues that employees tend to care about most: energy, consumables, and waste disposal, to name a few. Internal communications own the best channels to discuss both opportunities and project results, which raises a key point about the importance of communicating how and why things happen in addition to actually doing them.
Identifying a few win-win projects that hit the objectives of the various groups involved can build momentum and support for the green team. Changing printer settings or transitioning away from disposables in break rooms, for example, can help both the environment and the bottom line. At Levi’s, eliminating bottled water on their corporate campus saved the company $40,000 a year, according to Net Impact’s recent guide. Levi’s reinvested some of those savings into the purchase of reusable water bottles, an added measure that no doubt helped make the transition more seamless for employees.
This brings us back to an important aspect of communications. Perception is a huge element for these kinds of initiatives, and it’s essential that employees understand the rationale behind green team initiatives that impact their day-to-day experience at work. In large companies, the internal communication teams can provide new channels for green teams to reach employees. As teams grow in size and scope, two-way communication vehicles like discussion boards and wikis can also help surface important issues and continue spreading the techniques, strategies, and success stories from across the company.
Bringing Renewed Purpose to Work
Ultimately, the rise of corporate green teams represents a significant shift in the way businesses engage with their employees. Green teams offer a personally meaningful way for employees to contribute to both their companies and to their broader communities. Whether they are tackling large supply chain impacts or creating simple programs that people can feel a part of, they can have a powerful impact on how a company and its employees operate. At their core, they are empowerment mechanisms. They provide a new level of ownership—an understanding that a corporation and its employees can work together to create positive change.
Lorin May manages eBay’s employee Green Team, a group of more than 2,000 employees in 23 countries working together to improve the environmental performance of its operations. Visit www.ebaygreenteam.com to learn more about this and other green programs at eBay.