IMG_20130717_122717 copyBy Amy Dinh, CRB Program Manager

In mid-July, I had the pleasure of collaborating with the Haas Green Team to hold the first-ever Green Week at Haas, a week’s worth of events aimed at engaging faculty and staff.

Thinking about how the Haas School of Business can adopt greener practices was a great exercise in practicing what we preach.  In the busy day-to-day work of the Center for Responsible Business, helping individuals and companies make the business world more sustainable, it can be easy to forget that our own place of work also has complex operations and a carbon footprint to be managed.

The first event of Green Week was Clean Up Day (July 16).  Employees were encouraged to clear their offices of old, unused files and equipment.   What made this a green event?  The Facilities Department set up recycling and e-waste bins alongside the trash cans.  Having options to reduce, reuse, and recycle helped people to make conscious decisions about continuing the life cycles of their discarded products; throwing something out does not automatically mean it must head to the landfill.  In fact, some of the items ended up at the next Green Week event on July 17:

Freecycle [free-sayh-kuh l]: An event during which Haas staff bring unwanted personal items from their home and offices to give away (although why anyone would want to give up a Darth Vader Mr. Potato Head is beyond me).

Instead of unwanted products being thrown into the garbage, they were picked up by new owners and given new value; leftover goods were donated to nonprofits.  Helping people clear out clutter, save money, and divert products from the trash: win/win/win!  To emphasize the green nature of the event, the Green Team and UC Berkeley’s Compost Alliance set up some sustainability educational displays, surveyed staff about recycling and composting, and a raffled off “smart” power strips that automatically turn off unused electronic devices.

The final event of the week was the Greening Your Events workshop (July 18), which drew 30 Haas event planners.  Seven caterers, educational organizations, and vendors came to showcase their green products and services—everything from organic food, to recycled printing products, to composting services.  Lisa McNeilly, UC Berkeley’s Director of Sustainability, introduced the campus’s Green Event Certification process and Evin Guy from the Center for Nonprofit and Public Leadership (CNPL) introduced the Green Events Toolkit.  Attendees left the workshop with creative and actionable tips for reducing the environmental impact of the hundreds of events hosted by Haas each year.

For others engaging employees in sustainability initiatives, here are a couple of takeaways from the week:

  • Don’t assume.  Find out your audience’s knowledge, values, and practices, and tailor your outreach accordingly.  Of the few dozen people we surveyed at Green Week events, no one was aware that nearly all of the takeout containers and utensils provided by Haas caterers are compostable.  (Hint: if you are unsure, check for the words “compostable” or “plant-based product” printed discretely on the bottom/side of the product.)  We would have missed a great teaching opportunity had we assumed that our audience was familiar with this trick.  Instead, now you will see more Haas staff peering closely at their empty takeout containers after lunch!

  • Walk the walk. After spending time promoting sustainability practices at other organizations through my CRB role, it was really informative to work on the issue at Haas.  Whether you are a manager encouraging your team to recycle or a large company setting standards in your industry, doing yourself what you ask of others sets a good example, and helps you to better understand the challenges that they may face.