Dear EarthTalk: What are some ways that companies can encourage or incentivize their employees to live greener and promote sustainability? — Jane Bussbaum, Troy, NY
Many companies talk the talk when it comes to going green and do the minimum possible so as not to look bad (e.g. install recycling bins), but fewer actually walk the talk by actively investing in sustainability initiatives, let alone empower staffers to take action on behalf of the planet. But as employees start to demand more of their employers, some companies have begun to leverage corporate resources to help their people cut carbon footprints—both at home and at work — in various ways.
To wit, WeWork, a startup that runs some 200 “co-working” shared workspace facilities around the world with 200,000 customers, announced recently that it would no longer allow any of its own 6,000 employees to get reimbursed for meat meals (red meat, poultry and pork) on their expense reports — and will no longer serve any meat at company events. “As a company, WeWork can save an estimated 16.7 billion gallons of water, 445.1 million pounds of CO2 emissions and over 15 million animals by 2023 by eliminating meat at our events,” says WeWork co-founder Miguel McKelvey.
Another way companies can cut their employees’ collective carbon footprint is by encouraging them to live close enough to work so they can walk or bike. Facebook reportedly compensates employees who buy or rent a home within 10 miles of its Menlo Park, California campus up to $15,000 to discourage long fossil-fuel-spewing commutes. Energy bar manufacturer Clif Bar offers employees $500 toward the purchase of a “commuter bike” as an eco-friendly alternative to driving to work. Baltimore’s Live Near Your Work program matches employer grants to help employees purchase homes close enough to their jobs so they can walk or bike to work. And Make Collective, an advertising agency in Christchurch, New Zealand, recently started paying its employees who use their bikes to commute a $5/day bonus. And for workers who keep up the bicycle commuting for more than six months, the benefit doubles to $10/day, paid out at the end of the year as a bonus.
Helping employees go green on the home front is another way some companies are stepping up in terms of promoting sustainability. Bank of America offers employees $500 off the installation of solar panels on their home rooftops, as well as a $3,000 reimbursement incentive for those staffers who buy a hybrid, compressed natural gas or “highway-capable” electric vehicle.
Reinsurance giant Swiss Re’s COyou2 initiative grants employees up to half of the costs associated with shrinking their personal carbon footprints. The company makes upwards of 2,000 employee grants a year accordingly to help staffers replace aging appliances with newer energy-efficient models, beef up the insulation in their homes and switch over to hybrid and electric cars.
Likewise, staffers at the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation (VEIC) can access company funds to help defray costs associated with the purchase of energy-efficient appliances, hybrid or electric cars, home energy assessments, CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) memberships, composting supplies or anything else that will serve to cut their own household environmental impacts.
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