Techniques To Steer Facility Initiatives In A More Sustainable Direction

By now, you are no stranger to the importance of ongoing training and professional development for staff. On any given day, however, even a highly-trained staff will be vastly outnumbered by the occupants and visitors to your facility. This imbalance is more than just budget cuts and mandates to “do more with less.” This can be a daily asymmetric “Battle for the Building.”

Purchasing green products that work remains a key way to reduce the health and environmental impacts of your staff’s daily cleaning activities. Influencing the daily activities of building occupants that affect cleaning may require a little more creativity.

One of the favorite techniques employed by magicians, Jedi, and parents is the illusion of choice. For example, every night with dinner, my children must eat a vegetable. Rather than picking the menu for them every night, we give the kids two or three options from which they can choose. All the veggie choices are acceptable to us (we have to eat a vegetable, too), but the kids get to discuss amongst themselves and either come to a 3-0 unanimous decision or a 2-1 split (no 1-1-1 ties permitted). Dealing with one grumpy child that has to eat a less-favored vegetable is better than trying to negotiate with all three. In a similar fashion, there may be opportunities to channel a majority of your facility’s daily inhabitants toward more sustainable behavior.

I’m sure you can come up with a list of frequent behaviors exhibited by your occupants that make cleaning more difficult or run counter to your efforts to operate more sustainably. Unlike children, I’m guessing you won’t be able to take away the occupants’ screen time as a consequence, so you’ll need to consider other strategies to influence occupant behavior. The guiding principle here is even if you can’t always change your occupants’ behavior, you can still try and change or reduce the impacts of that behavior.

Tenants ignoring the clearly marked, but same size bins for trash and recyclables? Some facilities have had luck switching to smaller trash cans and larger recycling containers. Or doing away with desk-side bins altogether and having occupants walk to a central location to deposit trash, recyclables and compostables.

Do you often find water left running in restrooms or lights left on after hours? Motion-sensing controls and fixtures may have a quick financial payback, while reducing building water and energy consumption.

Perhaps your facility generates some revenue from vending machines, but you have conflicting emotions about their contents’ impact on occupant health. I have noticed a trend toward having more vending machines with healthier choices, and less with “junk food,” so there’s certainly room to try it out on one floor or in one building. They’ll still have a variety of snack and beverage options, but the odds are tipped toward better options.

As you examine those behaviors that vex you most often, look for opportunities to improve or simplify instructional signage, change out dispensers or containers and remove redundant options. Then imagine the satisfaction of telling a tenant holding an empty beverage container, “Yes, this is the bin you seek.” 

MARK PETRUZZI is Senior Vice President of Outreach and Strategic Relations with Green Seal. He’s in his third decade of striving for more sustainable purchasing and operations by using his engineering powers for good.