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Twin Cities Business: Engaging Employees in Helping the Environment

This is an excerpt from an article in Twin Cities Business Magazine.  The article features an interview with Diane DeVon, portfolio manager for TCG Management.  

‘They have to believe in it’

Creating a culture in which employees are engaged in sustainability—from pitching plastic bottles in the right bin to sharing ideas to green the company—first requires permission or endorsement from the top. People need to know it’s not taboo.

A company’s leadership needs to communicate why sustainability is important to the company and why it should be important to employees, says Kolling. It often starts with an internal communications campaign, sometimes one with its own branding. That campaign might include e-mails, posters, online training, or kick-off events.

General Mills, for example, promotes its sustainability values in part through a volunteer week called “Think Global, Volunteer Local,” in which employees are encouraged to volunteer for hunger relief and environmental causes, including beach and street cleanups, tree planting, and community garden work. Thousands of employees participate worldwide.

Aside from education, the other piece of engagement is listening. Companies need to offer employees a venue for sharing their own ideas on sustainability—and have a system for vetting and implementing them. The answer at many companies is an employee-led green team.

TCG Management LLC, a Burnsville real estate company that manages more than 600 apartments in eight buildings, organized a green team within its property management unit in 2009. It recruited and invited managers, maintenance staff, and caretakers, among others, to join. About a dozen of the unit’s 34 employees became active members. In part, that’s because they felt empowered to share their ideas. And there were many.

Within just a few years, TCG has switched exclusively to recycled, low-volatile organic compound paint (which gives off fewer toxic fumes than conventional paint) and “cradle-to-cradle” carpet (which the manufacturer eventually takes back and turns into raw material for new carpet instead of dumping it in landfills). It also switched to non-toxic cleaning supplies, organic fertilizer, and environmentally friendly ice melt. It’s changed lights, insulated pipes, and planted gardens.

Diane DeVon, portfolio manager at Burnsville real estate company TCG Management LLC, organized a company green team that has spearheaded many changes—including switches to “greener” paint, carpet, and cleaning supplies.

“Without the employees, you can’t do it,” says Diane DeVon, TCG’s portfolio manager, who spearheaded the green team effort. “They have to buy into it. They have to believe in it.”

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