We get it — sometimes it just feels awkward, uncomfortable, and just plain scary to address environmentalism and sustainability in our sphere of influence. What do we say? How do we start? Does it really make a difference? These are all legitimate questions, and you’re not alone in tackling them. We’re here to equip you with encouragement and practical advice so you feel ready to take on climate conversations with your friends, family, at your workplace and with your local government.
We sat down with Mia McBryde — who’s studying Environmental Conservation, certified in carbon analytics and life cycle assessment, and a public speaker on climate change adaptation — to pick her brain on how to start talking about the environment and sustainability at work.
Q: What are common barriers that you find inhibit yourself and others from talking about sustainability and the environment, and meaningful changes in those areas at work?
Overstepping Boundaries: sometimes it can feel like we don’t have the authority to bring up changes in our workplace, or that we’re doing something wrong by voicing our ideas.
Unreceptive Or Upset Superiors: it’s intimidating to bring up a new idea to our boss. If we don’t know where they stand on environmental issues, or maybe they’re very financially focused, we can assume that they won’t receive what we have to say.
Diverse Opinions: having a diversity of opinions, backgrounds and identities is extremely important in the workplace, but people may feel like that will complicate conversations related to sustainability. Not knowing a team member’s or superior’s opinions on certain topics can make us tentative to having environmental conversations.
Financial Hurdles: environmental changes often require costs. Generally, bringing forward anything related to finance at work can be difficult.
Q: Are there certain topics or actionable changes within sustainability and the environment that are taboo to talk about at work? Why do you think that is?
Political Environmental Issues: it’s extremely likely that your coworkers all have a variety of political ideologies. This doesn’t mean that you can never bring up environmental politics — maybe try introducing it as an environmental topic without the associated political debate.
High Cost Environmental Work: superiors may become quickly closed off to conversations about the environment if the discussion begins with expensive changes in practice.
Q: How can we start normalizing conversations about and meaningful actions towards sustainability and protecting the environment at our workplace?
Acknowledge Multiple Levels Of Actionable Change
There are multiple levels where actionable change can happen at work: on an individual level, within a team, or the larger workplace. For individual change, lead by example. Try carpooling, eating sustainable lunches, or reducing your personal plastic consumption.
It’s likely that others will notice these shifts in behaviour, especially if more and more of their coworkers do similar things. By creating these personal changes, you’re offering others an opportunity to make actionable change and start environmental conversations with you.
Have A One-On-One Meeting With Superiors
Book a one-on-one meeting with your boss or manager to introduce some simple or affordable ideas. Just make sure you’re prepared with clear examples, costs, benefits for both the workplace and the environment, and reasons behind the changes.
Create A Space To Talk About These Ideas
Once you get superiors onboard, build momentum and a community behind these ideas. This can be as simple as setting aside time in a meeting, or creating a community board where everyone can post ideas related to environmentalism.
If your superiors aren’t really interested, talk to your coworkers and present ideas together. There’s power in numbers!
Q: Any recommendations on how to balance the importance and urgency for sustainability and environmentalism with grace and patience with our workplace?
Make It Fun & Positive
Everyone is more receptive to making changes if the experience is positive and empowering, rather than scary and overwhelming. Focus on making environmentalism in the office fun, and part of team building. Try making environmental changes interactive, or making it into a workplace competition. If you’re able to, bring in an expert to get your workplace motivated and excited. Throughout the process, encourage and congratulate each other — the more validation and team mentality, the better.
Keep It Simple To Start
Rapid changes can be overwhelming or discouraging, so start slow. Once people are engaged and excited, start creating larger changes.
Q: What are some approachable topics or actions within sustainability and environmentalism that we could bring up or take at work to get the company warmed up to the idea of making meaningful changes?
Creating a recycling program, reducing single use plastics, reducing electricity use (which also saves money) and sustainable transportation (like carpooling or busing) are great places to start.
You can also look into buying supplies from sustainable businesses. Just be aware of the cost before you bring it up in conversation.
Q: Do you know of any resources, organizations or initiatives that could support someone looking to bring up sustainability at work?
This resource has a ton of examples of how a workplace can become more sustainable. These could be great starting points to bring up sustainability in your workplace.
The Network for Business Sustainability is a great resource to learn about communicating sustainability, building sustainability into strategy and talking about it after 5 pm.
Green Economy Canada provides a network of hubs that help businesses reach sustainability targets.
This resource has stats and information about the benefits of creating a sustainable workplace, which is great for convincing superiors to make changes. Plus it provides some ideas for how to start sustainability work.
Try connecting with other workplaces in the community that may be doing sustainability work already, or wants to. You can learn from each other and hold each other accountable to making exciting environmental changes.
Q: What are some practical tips you have around having conversations about sustainability and the environment with your workplace and meaningful changes in those areas?
Keep Things Simple
There are a ton of simple changes you can make at work that can make a really big impact, so start there. Once people feel empowered by these changes, then you can start adding newer, bigger ideas.
Do Your Homework
Before bringing forward your latest sustainability solution, make sure you’ve done your research. Be aware of cost, timelines, how realistic the ask is, and create clear goals. People appreciate when you’re conscious of their time by doing the research for them.
Ultimately, the most meaningful conversations involve creating actionable change. If you’re entering the conversation with tons of ideas and the research to support it, it’s likely to be a productive conversation.