5 Workplace Perks for the Earth


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Bike commute. Photo: SVLuma/Shutterstock

I've recently had an opportunity to tour two new corporate campuses: The Outdoor division of VF Corporation (The North Face, JanSports, Lucy) in Alameda, California, and Clif Bar in nearby Emeryville, California. While neither of those tours made me want to abandon my freelance lifestyle, they both made me realize that being a desk jockey isn't all bad.

I was reminded of this while pursuing Outside's 30 Best Places to Work in the September issue of the magazine, and the 70 More Best Places to Work online compendium. These stories made me want to shine a light on the ways good employers can treat their one, big, common parent company. (You know,  the earth.)

Many of the companies on the list do not make products or offer services with any specific environmental bent (Ecology Project International, Wildearth Guardians, and Coast Law Group are obvious exceptions). But that should not stop them from reducing the toll they take on the environment.

So here are five workplace perks that are also easy on the earth.

Dero Bike Racks, number six on the top 30 list, gives employees $3 each day they ride to work. Of course, a maker of bike racks might not really have to convince employees to ride to work—though perhaps those few dollars are a much-needed incentive during frigid Minnesota winters. Plus, the firm wants to keep its bike racks full of bikes. Still, the gesture is an important one and something that other companies should copy. Installing showers, where possible, can also go far to incentivize employees to ditch their cars and bike to work, especially in hot climes. Alternately, paying for monthly bus and subway passes or offering perks, such as rockstar parking, to carpoolers will also influence commuting choices.

For the most part, there's no good reason for every employee to occupy his or her desk for eight hours every day. Enlightened companies know that letting employees work from home on some (or all) days of the week, or accommodating four 10-hour days, can attract good talent and help boost workplace happiness. But being flexible in terms of work hours and location can also reduce the carbon emissions employees produce during rush-hour commutes.

Carsharing isn't just for urban corridors anymore. Savvy companies such as Google and Yahoo are moving away from purchasing fleets of cars for employee use and are instead signing up for carsharing schemes. This model allows the companies to reduce capital costs while still giving employees a way to get around to meetings when they need wheels. Carsharing fleets tend to be made of small, fuel-efficient cars, and smart scheduling software means that an employee will have a car when she needs it.

Corporate campuses can be massive. Moving from one building to another can take so long as to tempt employees into their cars, lest they swindle many minutes on round-trip journeys to conference calls. But fleets of campus bikes—like the skirt-friendly beach cruisers I recently spied on the campus of Allstate Insurance campus north of Chicago—can eliminate these tedious hikes and provide a carbon-free alternative to silly-short drives.

New Belgium Brewing, number five on the top 30 list, is big on alternative energy. Its on-site solar array produces around three percent of the electricity needs at the Colorado production plant. The company's Process Water Treatment Plant (PWTP) cleans wastewater while the methane gas produced by the plant is harvested and piped back to the brewery, where it powers a 292kW combined heat and power engine.

Certainly, many firms don't have these types of intense energy needs, but any company that has the ability to influence the energy decisions and sources at its facilities should consider ways to make them clean and renewable.

Corporate catering has traditionally been hugely wasteful and generally unsustainable. The food tends to be heavy on meat, largely trucked in, and single-use plates, utensils and cups have generally not been recyclable or compostable. But the tide is changing fast.

The cafeteria at the new VF Corp Outdoors HQ in Alameda is planting a garden that will provide much of the produce served to employees. Other menu items are produced locally when possible and the company is arranging for all food waste to be composted. Adam Mott, the corporate sustainability manager for The North Face, told me that employees are issued kits of reusable plates and cups which they're encouraged to bring to the cafeteria whenever they need to grab food and go.

—Mary Catherine O'Connor