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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

The Do's and Don'ts of Being Green at Work

There are so many ways to be awkward at your office: choosing “Bubble Butt” as your ringtone, invading the personal space of your intern while you give instructions, sharing your struggles with IBS over lunch.

Being eco-friendly should not fall in this category—but sometimes, unfortunately, it does.

There’s a fine line between helping the Earth and annoying your colleagues with your habits. You want to be green in a way that says, “I’m competent and care about the environment,” not in a way that says, “I moonlight as an eco-terrorist on the weekends and rarely shower.”

Fortunately, living (and working) sustainably is becoming the cool thing to do—you just have to do it with style. To make sure your efforts are appreciated, follow these dos and don’ts of greening your office routine.

Don’t: Be Passive-Aggressive or Judgey

Rule #1: Refrain from leaving passive-aggressive notes filled with exclamation points or confronting a colleague you’ve observed throwing paper in the trash. That’s a fast way to make people never want to listen to your green ideas again. Plus, even if a co-worker is openly dismissive of a sustainable lifestyle, it’s not appropriate to let that interfere with your work relationship—especially since anything beyond recycling bottles and cans is often viewed as a lifestyle choice.

Instead, lead by example and show people how fun and easy being green can be. Bring your delicious organic lunch in cute reusable containers. Deck out your desk with plants and eco-friendly office supplies. And when your co-workers ask where you got your vegan leather tote bag or if they can have the recipe for whatever it is you’re eating? That’s the perfect time to share some of your green ideals.

Do: Get on Your Office Admin’s Good Side

The office manager is your best ally when it comes to greening your office. He or she is the one who can order small trash bins that have a recycling compartment for every desk, buy a water filter for the kitchen, and make sure there are enough plates, mugs, glasses, and silverware in the office kitchen so that nobody ever has to use disposable utensils. And he or she is pretty much the only one who is allowed to give someone who throws a water bottle in the trash the stink eye—it’s his or her job to enforce order in the office, after all.

If you’re not already friends with your office admin, drop off a cup of fair trade coffee on his or her desk. And while you’re there, mention how nice it would be to have a paper recycling bin by the printer or non-toxic soap in the bathrooms.

Don’t: Be a Health Food Nazi

It’s totally cool if you are gluten-intolerant, lactose-intolerant, sugar-free, Paleo, and vegan, and only eat raw, organic food. But there is no quicker way to be hated than to spend all your time complaining about junk food in the office. Or worse, using your influence to ban all cookies and birthday cake. Hey, party pooper.

Instead, request that—at least some of the time—something be available that you (and like-minded colleagues) can eat. For example, kale chips in meetings next to the cheese and crackers and almond milk in the fridge next to the regular milk.

Another way to sneak your food preferences in is to find the local bakery or catering service that does it well and does it cheap. If you can go to your boss or admin with the number of a delicious vegan cupcake shop or organic food truck that isn’t too expensive, he or she is much more likely to honor your wishes. And your co-workers shouldn’t be too put out about an organic dumpling truck rolling up, either.

Do: Set Up a CSA for Your Office

CSA is short for Community Supported Agriculture, otherwise known as a farm share. Each week, a box of local produce and—depending on the type and price—eggs, milk, and cheese gets delivered straight from a local farm.

Usually, you have to show up to a pickup location at a certain time, which can make a CSA inconvenient for busy people. But if enough co-workers are interested, you could convince a local CSA to deliver straight to the office. Co-workers can split a share, too. It’s always a fun midday break to look with your cubicle mate through the surprises you got that week and share recipes for squash and pumpkin.

Don’t: Demand a Green Office Overhaul

Nothing will get you ignored faster than marching into your boss’ office and demanding so many eco-friendly changes that your office could be eligible for LEED certification. Your boss has bigger things on his or her mind and, frankly, probably doesn’t have the budget.

If you’ve got your eyes on a eco-friendly project at the office—say, composting in the cafeteria or a green roof—you need to approach it the same way you would approach pitching a new business project. First, research all the options, costs, savings, and payback time. Provide research on how having a green roof improves productivity or the effects of VOC paint on the health of people exposed to it. Get some unofficial estimates from contractors who pick up compost or a local nursery who can install a green wall. By the time you bring up the idea with your superiors, you should be ready to make your case like you would to a client.

Also, try starting with small steps, and work your way up from there. It’s called the foot-in-the-door phenomenon. If your manager agrees to a small eco-friendly initiative, and it’s successful, he or she will be more likely to let you take on a bigger green project.

Now, go out into the professional world and spread your green lifestyle—appropriately, that is.

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Photo taken in Harmless Harvest's offices.