Naturehood writes guest post for IPAC Vancouver



What could you do to reduce your ecological footprint or enhance the environment at work?

If you’re not sure how to get started, the experience of Beverly Olds, a portfolio director with the Government of Canada who helps oversee the Alaska Highway in northeast British Columbia, offers insight.

The Alaska Highway winds past small communities, over rushing rivers and through stunning landscapes. It’s a lifeline that must be safe and accessible for drivers, but that doesn't prevent Olds and her colleagues from also supporting the wildlife traversing it, the watercourses passing under it and the people living along it.

Olds portfolio includes an 11-year, multi-million-dollar highway maintenance contract. "We chose to make sustainability something that bidders are scored on. We're maintaining a highway, so it's not what you think of first when you think of sustainability," said Beverly Olds. Olds shows us that any role, even one that involves overseeing asphalt, oil and road salt, can improve its relationship with the environment.  

Here are four steps to start greening your work, whether you're in policy development, infrastructure management, human resources, or any other area.


Step 1: Look beyond the environment to address multiple benefits

Your first order of business is to get buy-in and funding for your greening. If your green action provides benefits beyond the environment, you'll be in a better position to garner support from your boss, colleagues and the community. 

"One thing that helped us get funding was presenting the project as an integrated package," said Olds. For example, they proposed restoring habitat with indigenous plants and supporting economic development by making best efforts to hire local First Nations companies to do as much of the work as possible, including the planting.

If you tackle green action from many angles related to your role—i.e. stimulate the local economy, reduce the risk from extreme weather, enhance job satisfaction—then you can leverage those benefits to gain support for your greening efforts.


Step 2: Understand other perspectives 

Sustainability thrives in and relies on collaboration. And to collaborate, we need to see things from the perspective of our colleagues, bosses and community. Olds, for one, has to rely heavily on technical experts. "I'm not an engineer or operations manager; I'm an economist. I have a strategic partnership with my operations manager and the engineering staff. The big challenge [when it comes to green action] is giving strategic direction when you're not the subject matter expert, and the subject matter expert can keep saying no to you," said Olds. 

To consider the perspective of each of your collaborators, ask yourself:

·      What core thing is this person trying to do every day?

·      What concerns will they have (i.e., safety, costs or efficacy)?

·      How can this eco-action help them do a better job?


Step 3: Consider a variety of avenues that relate to your role

If you focus your eco-efforts on issues that aren't central to your work role, such as participating on an office "green team," you can’t as easily leverage your time, expertise or funding, and sticking with your commitments will get harder as you get busy. Olds and her colleagues use maintenance contracts, infrastructure replacement contracts and funding streams to scale and embed green action into their work.

Although your methods will depend on what's available to you, some avenues for action could include: 

  • Revising contracts, procurement protocols or work processes to include sustainability principles.

  • Developing internal sustainability policies.

  • Revising job descriptions and team roles to include sustainability language and responsibilities.

  • Revising external policies and legislation overseen by your department or ministry.

Brainstorming a list of tools that you could use to leverage your day-to-day action is an effective step as you start greening your role.


Step 4: Leave room for continual improvement 

Your action doesn't have to be perfect from the beginning. "Plow trucks head out every morning and do pretty big loops," said Olds. But she wonders whether it is necessary to physically patrol the highway to investigate conditions. Her maintenance colleagues argue that this is the only way to ensure the route is safe. However, while that's currently true because of spotty satellite reception, the technology is changing very rapidly. 

"Each year, the contractor is to let us know how they’ll continually monitor the road condition. Because if at sometime they can put weather sensors every 10 km because the sensors have gotten very cheap, then rock on," said Olds. 

The lesson: don't let perfection slow you down; instead, adopt continual improvement as a principle.

Start the steps right now

The environment doesn't have to be a "when I have time" add-on to your already heavy workload. Like Olds and her team, you too can integrate sustainability into your daily responsibilities if you look at the benefits beyond the environment, consider multiple viewpoints, come up with many avenues to include sustainability, and make a plan to constantly improve.