The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.— Edmund Burke.
And it’s absolutely correct to focus on the damage large companies have done to our planet. One only has to look at the damage caused by state oil company Pemex, which managed to set the freaking’ ocean on fire, to see that there’s a problem.
But it’s not just corporations — small- to medium-sized businesses have environmental impacts too.
And what are businesses, but organizations made up of people? People like you and me?
Sure, you might not be a CEO, or in the C-Suite at all, or even at the middle-management level. But even if you’re just a cog in the proverbial machine, you do have a voice. And it’s time we all started using our voices at work.
Here are some ideas for using yours. Remember to frame your suggestions or push for changes in a way that demonstrates the benefits to the organization:
- Sit down with a pencil and paper (or your phone, or whatever) and start thinking objectively about how you do your job. Are there ways to make it cleaner and greener? (For example, if you are a courier, are you shutting down your vehicle when you make a delivery or are you leaving it to idle? What would happen if turning it off was company policy? How much pollution would that remove from the equation? How much would it save the company in fuel costs?)
- Think too, about your section, unit, division, department, or whatever they’re called in your company. Maybe your specific job is pretty clean and green, but what about the bigger picture?
- What consumables is your organization constantly having to reorder? Could they be replaced with reusables? Or done away with completely?
- What happens to stuff that doesn’t get sold at your retail job? Does it get destroyed? Is it thrown in the dumpster? Can you push to have the stuff donated? Can you tally up how much the company is wasting and send a report up the chain?
- Are you in charge of ordering supplies? Can you influence what gets purchased? Can you push for more ecofriendly versions of the things you use regularly?
- What processes routinely produce a lot of waste in your company? Can you find a way to fix the process so it generates less waste in the first place? Can you find a way to reuse or recycle that waste?
- What’s energy use like where you work? Are people constantly leaving monitors and lights on? Leaving windows open while the heat is on? What solutions can you propose at the next staff meeting that would be more efficient and save the company money? Typically, posting signs around the office doesn’t work, but maybe having, for instance, the IT department implement a computer network power saving policy that shuts things down automatically might.
So, we’ve covered some basic actions we can take to improve things. These are generally safe to do, and might even be good for your career if you’ve done it in such a way as to demonstrate initiative and a willingness to help the company’s bottom line.
What about bad companies?
But what if you’re working for a company that is genuinely a bad actor rather than being merely careless? You know the kind: flouting regulations, dumping illegally, not looking after the health and safety of its workers or its community. Or even just in an industry that’s been proven to be bad for people or the planet, even if they’re theoretically doing everything “by the book?” (Remember that old adage: Just because it’s legal, doesn’t mean it’s right.)
What you do in these cases largely depends on your financial situation, your conscience, what legal protections you have and so on.
If it’s safe for you to do so — that is, you believe you’re in a position to push for change without losing your job and imperiling your family in the process, you could make those suggestions. (Just remember that businesses might demand loyalty, but rarely give it back, so assume you’re not truly secure).
If it’s not safe for you do so, then your priority should be to find a way to leave the job. Yes, leave it. You don’t have to be part of the problem. (And if you’re a young person just joining the workplace, don’t sign up to work for bad actors or industries in the first place.)
That might mean sacrificing evenings to attend night school and reskill; or if you already have transferable skills, start applying for new jobs; and getting your finances in order so you won’t be bankrupted (which is just a good idea anyway) by a change in, or complete loss of salary.
In other words, find a way to get off the treadmill that forces you to accept a status quo that is endangering us all.
Pulling in big bucks and being able to afford that house or nicer car won’t help you when your town sets temperature records and then burns to the ground, or when there are food shortages because you have a record-setting plague of mice.
And while I would never suggest that anyone break the law, I will say that whistleblowers are key to getting corporations and systems to reform. Fortunately, for anyone contemplating blowing a whistle on the activities of their organization, there are lots of articles freely available online on how to do so and protect yourself.
There are even search engines like DuckDuckGo that don’t track your activities, or special browsers like Tor, which helps you stay anonymous online. And there are a lot of news organizations that have anonymous tip boxes available too.