Happy Earth Day 2013

Dave Balser

Earth Day 2013: How and Why a Sustainability Program Works for Briteskies, Year-Round

Shortly after finishing Chris Laszlo and Nadya Zhexembayeva’s book, Embedded Sustainability, I proposed a sustainability program for Briteskies. The book made it clear that in order to be successful, a company should implement sustainability programs, but most importantly, such programs had to become an integral part of the company’s culture and operations. Simply bolting on a program could give the appearance of greenwashing: a practice of deceptively marketing green initiatives to sway public opinion when in fact the company is not committed to these values.

Early in 2012, Briteskies introduced a sustainability program aimed at reducing waste, improving efficiency and establishing healthy practices which would benefit our bodies, minds and environment. We saw this as a strategic initiative which would:

• Improve company culture by encouraging employees to initiate and participate in activities that make a difference in the community.
• Help create a work environment that would attract high-quality new talent and,
• Improve profitability by reducing costs.

In my conversations with managers at other small and medium sized businesses, many expressed a reluctance to introduce these types of programs, with concerns about cost and the potential difficulties of implementation. But simply designed and implemented, sustainability programs can be incredibly beneficial.

What You Can Do

First, keep it simple and cost effective. Our wellness program has three requirements to qualify for benefits from our healthcare insurance provider: 1. Sign a smoking cessation affidavit (no cost), 2. Complete an annual physical or health screening (highly encouraged and 100% covered by health insurance) and 3. Participate in one company-sponsored wellness activity. Employees can meet the wellness activity requirement by attending, either in person or over the web, presentations available free through our COSE membership. COSE – the Council of Smaller Enterprises (@COSEsmallbiz), is a chamber of commerce type organization in Cleveland who also donated the pedometers for our office wide pedometer challenge.

Our recycling program is administered by volunteers who take the paper products, cans and bottles home for inclusion in their community recycling streams. It’s typically a box or two of cardboard and paper products and bag of recycling a week.

Second, we encourage and reward employees who participate. This is critical to embedding the programs within the organization. We incent employees to participate in our wellness program by giving them the opportunity to ‘buy down’ their health insurance premiums when they complete the three qualifying requirements previously mentioned. Once engaged, participants often initiate additional programs. As an example, Gian Genovesi coordinated an office CSA (community supported agriculture) program through Fresh Fork Market, an organization with which he became acquainted while attending graduate school. He mentioned he’d like to coordinate a CSA for the office when responding to a survey we prepared about wellness activity interests.

Finally, be consistent and embed sustainability in as many daily activities as possible. If you implement a wellness program, don’t cater company events with junk food. Instead, find a caterer who provides healthier choices, preferably sourced locally. If you say that reducing waste is an objective, don’t print deck after deck of presentation slides for every meeting. Doing so may send a mixed message about your organization’s motives.

What We Accomplished

By far the most successful program we put in place has been the wellness program. For the 2013 benefits plan year, 100% of eligible employees participated and qualified for the premium buy down. And over 75% of eligible participants have already met at least one of the qualifiers for 2014. We even have employees who are not on our health insurance participate just in case they want to enroll in our plan for next year. And, although we can’t measure the savings in health care costs after only one year, studies have shown that wellness programs should reduce our health benefit expenses.

With regard to our efforts to reduce waste, our recycling program was brought up in a recent meeting with city officials on how to improve the climate for the Independence business corridor. We suggested the city consider offering business pick up in order to make it easier for companies to participate. It is our goal to not simply improve our health and our own work environments, but to encourage our friends, colleagues and neighbors to do the same. The official Earth Day may be once a year, but we prefer to enhance the quality of life for ourselves and others, every day.

Feel free to contact us if you’re interested in starting a program at your business. We’re not experts yet, but we’d be happy to share our experiences, thoughts and ideas.

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