When we met with our Sustainability Advisory Committee last fall, one of the observations they shared was that we were more focused on environmental issues than social issues. Fair point! While we have always worked to build positive relationships with our employees, suppliers, and community, a focus on environmental issues has been the guiding principle of our company since its inception.

We took this feedback as an opportunity to explore how we could further incorporate social responsibility into the fabric of our company. We recognize that sustainability is all about having a net positive impact on society. The human component of this is crucial, particularly our relationship with our employees.

In addition, providing a challenging, fun, and dynamic work environment benefits our employees by enabling their personal and professional development. It also strengthens their engagement with the company, thereby increasing motivation, improving productivity, and ultimately better enabling us to work towards our mission of Zero Waste. We therefore see our culture and employee engagement efforts as investments with a huge ROI.

Employee engagement

While we do have a full-time Sustainability Maven on staff, we know that our sustainability efforts would be hollow if she was the only one engaged in making Eco-Products more sustainable. For a company aiming to be a truly responsible business, sustainability needs to be part of the culture and something every employee has the opportunity to participate in.

In 2014, we launched our Sustainability Squad – a volunteer team of Eco-Patriots whose self-identified objective is to “enable Eco-Patriots to live environmentally and socially responsible lives, both at work and beyond.”

This crew meets once a month for lunch to discuss how to bring this objective to life. And boy have they been busy! In the few months since its inception, the Sustainability Squad has:

  • Conducted a survey to set a baseline of employees’ current sustainability awareness and efforts, and identify cool ideas for the Squad to tackle. Volunteering opportunities, reducing waste, and alternative transportation rose to the top.
  • Installed a cork board in our main hallway to liven up our office. It is used for posting notices including (but not limited to): sustainability events, company announcements, “Kermit Kudos” recognizing employees who go above and beyond, news articles, items for sale, menus for new restaurants in our ‘hood, horoscopes, funny pictures, not so funny pictures, coupons, fashion disasters, party invitations, and thank-you notes.
  • Launched the Eco-Products Bike Brigade. Eco-Patriots donated bikes, helmets, and locks for employee use during the day. Now we can pedal to lunch or run an errand without growing our carbon footprint. Good for the planet, as well as our mental and physical health!
  • Started a new “Eco-Patriots are Savvy” campaign. For example:
    • A posting on our cork board helps us be Carbon Savvy with information on how to get to the ski mountains via bus.
    • Stickers on bathroom mirrors remind us to make sure the faucets are turned off because we are Water Savvy.
    • A new system to help us figure out if something should be composted, recycled, or sent to the landfill help us be Waste Savvy. (Want to know more about our waste diversion efforts? Please see the Operations section of this report.)
  • Coordinated a Hard to Recycle event so employees could responsibly get rid of things that are not welcome in the regular recycling bin. We collected over 400 pounds of electronics, 18 pounds of batteries, and 300 pounds of scrap metal. We also collected old jeans and donated them to Blue Jeans Go Green to be recycled into insulation.
  • Brainstormed other ideas for implementation in 2015, such as regular emails to employees with sustainability tips or information, supporting composting at home by finding discounts for compost bins, or holding a swap event for stuff Eco-Patriots have purchased but did not use or like.
  • In addition to the Sustainability Squad, we also do lots of other fun stuff to make the company a great place to work: summer picnic, softball team, holiday party, happy hours, fantasy football, and Friday breakfasts provided by managers, among other good times.

    Employee benefits

    We have provided our employees a financial incentive to use alternative transportation to get to and from work for over seven years. That’s a lot of bike rides, walks, bus rides, and use of hybrid vehicles!

    EcoPass logo

    To further enable our employees to minimize their carbon footprint, in early 2015 we offered our Boulder-based employees the EcoPass. This pass gives employees free access to our regional bus and light rail system. The company decided to offer this benefit, in addition to our incentive for commuting via alternative transportation, because we know transportation is often a big part of someone’s carbon footprint. It can also be a little daunting to take on the bus system if it is completely unfamiliar. Hopefully removing the cost barrier encourages increased use of public transit by our employees. The response from Eco-Patriots was extremely positive.

    Professional development

    As mentioned in Our Approach section of this report, we look to the B Corp assessment and GRI Index for guidance on sustainability opportunities. Both of these frameworks identify professional development as a means for companies to engage their employees and provide a high quality work environment.

    Eco-Products has always supported our employees’ professional development. In-house trainings on topics ranging from management to Excel; paying for external trainings, workshops, and certificate programs; and tuition reimbursement are all examples of this commitment.

    Nonetheless, given the B Corp assessment, GRI Index, and feedback from our Sustainability Advisory Committee about further emphasizing the “social value” part of our framework, in 2015 we are committing to piloting a program to enhance our employees’ professional development. Being a small, relatively flat company, we are not at the scale to provide a program that larger corporations can offer. However, we have begun to sketch out a program that is appropriate for our size and should allow Eco-Patriots greater opportunities to enhance their careers and skills at Eco-Products. We look forward to sharing how this develops in next year’s report.

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2014 Goals:

  • Review employee benefits and current engagement efforts, and identify ways to deepen employee engagement.

2015 Goals:

  • Continue to use our Sustainability Squad as a way to engage Eco-Patriots in sustainability and make Eco-Products a great place to work.
  • At least 50% of our employees will take advantage of their paid day off to volunteer.
  • Pilot a program to enhance Eco-Patriots’ professional development.