"We chose to make sustainability something that bidders are scored on. We're maintaining a highway, so it's not what you think of first when you think of sustainability," said Beverly Olds.
Olds shows us that any role, even one that involves overseeing asphalt, oil and road salt, can improve its relationship with the environment.
Here are four steps to start greening your work, whether you're in policy development, infrastructure management, human resources, or any other area.
Step 1: Look beyond the environment to address multiple benefits
Your first order of business is to get buy-in and funding for your greening. If your green action provides benefits beyond the environment, you'll be in a better position to garner support from your boss, colleagues and the community.
If you tackle green action from many angles related to your role—i.e. stimulate the local economy, reduce the risk from extreme weather, enhance job satisfaction—then you can leverage those benefits to gain support for your greening efforts.
Step 2: Understand other perspectives
Sustainability thrives in and relies on collaboration. And to collaborate, we need to see things from the perspective of our colleagues, bosses and community. Olds, for one, has to rely heavily on technical experts.
"I'm not an engineer or operations manager; I'm an economist. I have a strategic partnership with my operations manager and the engineering staff. The big challenge [when it comes to green action] is giving strategic direction when you're not the subject matter expert, and the subject matter expert can keep saying no to you," said Olds.
To consider the perspective of each of your collaborators, ask yourself:
Step 3: Consider a variety of avenues that relate to your role
If you focus your eco-efforts on issues that aren't central to your work role, such as participating on an office "green team," you can’t as easily leverage your time, expertise or funding, and sticking with your commitments will get harder as you get busy. Olds and her colleagues use maintenance contracts, infrastructure replacement contracts and funding streams to scale and embed green action into their work.
Brainstorming a list of tools that you could use to leverage your day-to-day action is an effective step as you start greening your role.
Step 4: Leave room for continual improvement
Your action doesn't have to be perfect from the beginning. "Plow trucks head out every morning and do pretty big loops," said Olds. But she wonders whether it is necessary to physically patrol the highway to investigate conditions. Her maintenance colleagues argue that this is the only way to ensure the route is safe. However, while that's currently true because of spotty satellite reception, the technology is changing very rapidly.
"Each year, the contractor is to let us know how they’ll continually monitor the road condition. Because if at sometime they can put weather sensors every 10 km because the sensors have gotten very cheap, then rock on," said Olds.
The lesson: don't let perfection slow you down; instead, adopt continual improvement as a principle.
Start the steps right now
The environment doesn't have to be a "when I have time" add-on to your already heavy workload. Like Olds and her team, you too can integrate sustainability into your daily responsibilities if you look at the benefits beyond the environment, consider multiple viewpoints, come up with many avenues to include sustainability, and make a plan to constantly improve.