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Rethinking Waste One Bag at a Time

By Alexis Limberakis and Cheryl Hagedorn (Sustainable Brands) - February 15, 2012

The importance of sustainability is more than just changing your products and manufacturing, it is essential to inspire and engage employees in the process, ensuring that sustainability becomes embedded in the business decision process.

A culture of continuous improvement in sustainability needs to occur at all levels of the organization and become part of employee’s daily routines. The key is to leverage the “Power of Passionate People” and partner with them to drive sustainability throughout the organization.

At Clorox, a group of passionate volunteers started the Eco Network to identify sustainability opportunities, both internally and externally. The passion of the Eco Network is contagious and helps motivate other employees to think more about sustainability within the building, for their brands and, ultimately, the consumer.

The best impacts happen when employees experience sustainable initiatives first hand, get to participate and see the results. In June 2009, Clorox started “dumpster dives” at manufacturing facilities. The dumpster dives start by literally emptying the contents of a dumpster and engaging employees to sort out the items that could have been recycled. When employees physically connect with the trash and see the amount of waste that could have been diverted, it increases awareness and commitment to recycle and impacts their long-term behavior. The result has been dramatic, with waste to landfill reduced more than 50% on average for all the Clorox sites that have participated so far.

Another employee effort at the Clorox Headquarters in Oakland, CA, was launched by The Glad Brand to engage employees with the launch of its One Bag Campaign. The One Bag Campaign is an effort launched in the fall of 2011 to help consumers reduce waste at sporting events, parties and other events with the ultimate goal of ending with only one bag of waste going to landfill and the rest diverted to recycling and composting. Prior to this the campaign, the Eco Network and Glad collaborated on other waste diversion activities such as signage by waste bins and distributing reusable coffee mugs to employees, all with the goal to help the building divert 90% of waste by 2013. This specific campaign challenged to employees at the headquarters was to produce the least amount of trash with the goal of only one bag of waste per week for their floor. It turned out that many floors were able to meet this “unreachable” challenge, and the floor that was able to produce the least amount of trash for the week was rewarded with a free “eco-friendly” lunch for everyone. The location had already reached a strong 70% landfill diversion rate, but it had been a struggle to improve beyond that. This One Bag Challenge netted an additional 10%, or an improvement to 80% overall diversion, by engaging employees first hand and adding a competitive aspect to the mix.

Here are some tips to help engage your employees around sustainability and start creating an eco-friendly waste reduction movement at your company:

* Hold a dumpster dive to engage employees with their trash

* Set a goal and measure progress over time

* Remove waste bins at desks to keep waste diversion top of mind

* Create “waste diversion” stations in key locations throughout the building with graphical signs to help people sort items properly (trash/recycle/compost)

* Color code the bins with colors that are associated with each stream in your area (e.g., blue for recycling, green for composting, black for landfill trash)

* Place landfill waste bins next to recycling and composting bins and make sure they are not the first or easiest to access

* Get your “passionate people” together to form a sustainability team to help educate and drive awareness

* Create contests and unique engagement tools to make sustainability initiatives fun

* Celebrate big and small improvements

* Communicate and involve employees to let them know that their actions are making an impact for the company and for the community

Start to integrate one tip at a time. With small changes you can help ensure that sustainability becomes part of the day-to-day business. At Clorox and Glad, employees are demonstrating that “Every small step makes a difference” to create a lasting impact.

Cheryl Hagedorn is a Marketing Manager for the Glad Products Company (a Clorox Company) with a focus on implementing and advancing sustainability for the brand.

Alexis Limberakis is a director in the Clorox Eco Office, a dedicated group responsible for driving the environmental sustainability strategy at The Clorox Company.