How To Encourage Coworkers To Cut Plastic Waste Without Being The Office Killjoy

July 19, 2018

Calling yourself an environmentalist in a sea of like-minded folks is one thing, but how are you when you’re a fish out of water? Have you perfected the art of persuasion amongst those who don’t see eye-to-eye? Like in, say, the workplace, for example?

The office can be a challenging space for a plethora of reasons. It is here that teamwork is mandatory for people from all walks of life. This exchange cultivates our empathy and open-mindedness, if we let it, but communicating our ideas can – at times – feel like an uphill battle. And if you’re wanting your coworkers to be as passionate about the planet as you, I encourage you to keep this motto in mind: work smarter, not harder.

This thinking really applies to anything in life, but when it comes to encouraging more environmentally-friendly practices amongst those who don’t prioritize the planet in the same way you do, it’s absolutely key. As I discussed here, lasting change comes from leaving a lasting impression. It stems from being able to read people and build rapport. Trying to force your ideology upon someone who isn’t quite on board will only ever end in ugliness.

I know you’re passionate and that’s excellent; keep embracing that! But rather than take umbrage at colleagues who don’t share that same fire, ask yourself what you can do to shift their thinking. There’s no denying that we need to act quickly if we are to prevent plastic outnumbering fish in the seas by 2050, but how can we make haste without overwhelming everybody? As urgent as it all feels, how can we get creative so as to a) make change feel fun b) make change feel subtle and c) make it feel like a group effort rather than ostracizing anyone?

We’re in the thick of do-gooder hashtag #plasticfreejuly and while it might sound a little intimidating, much like the all-or-nothing approach that “zero-waste” and “vegan” can make many fearful of, I’m sharing some tips today for how to promote the waste-free lifestyle in a seemingly conventional workplace. Be the inspirational light that guides the way for others just beginning their journey with these powerful suggestions.

Look at the trash policy.

See how the trash is dealt with in your workplace. What recycling facilities are available? Is there composting? Are there any incentives to reduce waste? If not, do some research and pitch some suggestions to your boss or corporate. How can things be improved? If you can look into the costing and pitch a more environmentally-friendly solution in a way that shows the company they can save money, even better. You tend to find that the highest regarded employees are those that don’t just voice a concern but also offer a solution. Show you’ve done your research and watch things improve before your very eyes.

Find alternative consumables.

If your workplace provides beverages like coffee, tea, juice or water for employees, could you look into more sustainable alternatives to suggest to the decision maker? Maybe you could switch out wasteful coffee pods for a filter brew instead? Or swap tea bags for loose leaf? Could you do fresh juice instead of cartoned? And could you ditch the little plastic cups by the water cooler and encourage everyone to reuse their own glasses instead? Make it your goal to question those parts of the day that are routine, because this is where some of the most impactful changes can stem from.

Share the love.

Healthy eating is a priority for most, so why not see if there’s a group you can create that all want to chip in to sign up for a weekly fruit box delivery? This is loose, local and seasonal produce that’s package-free and good for you. You could also buy loose nuts, seeds and other snacks in bulk, keeping the cost down and ensuring healthy foods are to hand when the mid-morning hunger strikes.

Lead by example.

Many of us spend more time with our coworkers than we do our partners and families during the week, so the influence we have on each other is profound. Most of it is subconscious, of course, so use this to your advantage! The first time I saw a charcoal water filter was on a coworker’s desk. She came in every day with this beautiful glass bottle filled with water, within which I could have sworn was a huge hunk of charcoal. After a couple days of walking past her desk and probing, she revealed that it was a completely plastic-free alternative to common water filter brands. Since then I have used them religiously and have convinced numerous friends and family to give them a whirl too. It’s a ripple effect, remember, so your actions can influence more people than you’re ever likely to anticipate. Use those reusables and watch the trend catch on.

Eco bulletin.

Chances are that somewhere in your building is a bulletin board with ads on it, useful information, etc. Could you introduce a section that you voluntarily manage that has a rotation of useful tips for living a little more waste-free? What about coupons and discount codes you could share to some of your favorite bulk stores? For those who are exhuberant but perhaps a little timid, this is an excellent way to unabashedly spread the knowledge without the slightest hint of conflict.

How To Encourage Coworkers To Cut Plastic Waste Without Being The Office Killjoy

There are countless ways of inspiring others in the workplace. You just need to spend a little time exploring the options and getting creative. Is there something you could do to encourage others to try the #plasticfree thing today?

Also by Kat: Ugh! Air Pollution Hurts Mental Health. How To Protect Yourself Without Moving

Related: Think Eco-Friendly Lifestyle Is Out Of Reach? 12 Easy Ways To Be #TeamEarth

Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Plastic Household Items

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Kat Kennedy is an Arizona-based physiology doctoral student and holistic health advocate writing about science, health, and her experiences as a third culture kid and global nomad. She's @sphynxkennedy everywhere.


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