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Reducing employees’ environmental footprint

Howard Arndt, Vol. #16 Issue #10
 Thursday, May 10, 2012
One of the challenges to those of us who provide services to government has been the recent priority given to energy and environmental issues. For decades, the availability of cheap energy for transportation and manufacturing encouraged the creation of a throwaway culture: make something cheaply and throw it away when it’s worn out. Those days are a thing of the past.

I could argue that Saskatchewan never fully bought into the throwaway culture. The Great Depression of the 1930s hit the province particularly hard, forcing people to be resourceful in “making do” and recycling what little they had, before recycling became fashionable. Rationing and recycling activities in support of the war effort in the 1940s continued this way of thinking.

As a result, Saskatchewan Government Services has a long history of reusing and recycling materials and equipment. While much of this activity could be attributed to pursuing good business practices and reducing costs, a reduced environmental footprint and an employee mindset that encourages good stewardship have been positive byproducts.

Over the past decade Government Services has done a significant amount of work to make our buildings more energy efficient, thereby reducing our environmental footprint. A lot of that work could be considered as going after the low-hanging fruit, although the province has had an energy management program since the mid-1970s, including a commitment to design and build high performance buildings, regardless of size.

Building performance is just one aspect of our greening activities, however. Government Services is in the process of implementing several other “green” initiatives. What is most significant about these initiatives is our push to move beyond “big picture” activities such as retrofits aimed at energy efficiency to encourage all of the people who work in the buildings, or use other Government Services programs and services, to think and act with environmental impacts in mind. Initiatives underway include:

·    An environmental footprint report card that includes information on energy/carbon use, water use and waste production for our buildings, enabling people to see the impact of their activities on the environment, and more important, measure changes in behaviour that reduce that impact.

·    A comprehensive water conservation program that includes the installation of low-consumption fixtures and more efficient landscaping practices.

·    Standards for space use for each person, combined with more efficient space layouts and furnishings, to reduce the space footprint for each employee.

·    A vehicle right-sizing program that engages vehicle users in thinking more carefully about matching their transportation needs and usage to vehicle choices.  

·    A comprehensive waste recycling program.

·    Use of green cleaning products and a daytime building-cleaning program to reduce evening energy use.   

·    An awareness program aimed at encouraging tenants to take actions that will reduce the environmental impacts of their activities.

Government Services has implemented a few changes to gently nudge people to change their behaviours. For example, instead of the traditional wastebasket standing beside the blue bin, each workstation now includes a small container – made of recycled plastic – for wet waste or materials that can’t be recycled. Each work area is also provided with a waste segregation area, and it is the responsibility of employees to deposit their waste in the appropriate compartment at the recycling station. Segregated wastes are then shipped to the appropriate recycler.

It could be argued that requiring individuals to do their own waste segregation is offloading the work of custodial staff. A broader view is that this shift in responsibilities will encourage employees to examine their own actions and make changes in their behaviour at work and away from work, such as using recyclable food containers rather than plastic wrap and ensure that recyclable materials actually are recycled. In many cases, paper is the only material that is regularly recycled.

The shift to daytime cleaning reduces the environmental impacts of operating lights and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems during evening hours. In addition, custodial staff is able to spend more time with their families in the evening, which often results in less sick time. Using green cleaning products is producing better results while reducing the amount of harmful pollutants introduced into the environment.

Encouraging people to think more about how their activities impact the environment, and the move to daytime cleaning, are two examples of how Government Services is reducing its footprint. We at Government Services will be engaging the other ministries, assisting them in organizing their own green teams, and supporting them with information about what we have learned. The most important lesson learned is that there are many ways in which individuals can reduce their own footprint, and their workplace also benefits from these actions.

Howard Arndt is the director of Sustainability and Energy Management for Saskatchewan Government Services.

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