Saturday, October 1, 2011

Sustainability exercise: Eliminating company-provided bottled water

One characteristic of our Green Project Management seminars that keeps them so engaging is that they all provide some level of interaction. At our September seminar, on Adobe’s journey to sustainability (more on that in the previous post), Global Sustainability Manager Meera Ramanathan presented the group with this exercise:

You are tasked with eliminating bottled water from your company’s campus in a year. Many employees are excited about the change, and an equal number are not. The CFO is not convinced of the cost benefits. How do you structure your project to ensure success?

Seminar attendees came up with these suggestions:
  • Do research, get feedback, engage people on ideas so that ideas can come from them.
  • Do a benchmark to see where you stand in relation to others, see if you’re the first or behind others and let employees know where the company stands.
  • Employees might mistakenly think the bottled water at the office is cleaner than their tap water at home. So it’s important to educate people that this is not the case -- and it could be a good idea to get deals for them on filters for their homes, so they don’t need to take home water bottles.
  • Provide alternatives: the company can provide filtered water, cups, and metal water bottles. Could provide pitchers for visitors, since some people might be concerned about how to get water to their visitors.
  • Compare costs of the alternatives to what you were spending on plastic bottles. Also think about recycling and trash costs.
  • Engage in consistent communication and education of stakeholders.
  • Think about how to roll out the elimination of bottled water. Could do it in phases, give employees metal bottles, make it a competition.
  • When the change has been made, go back to the CFO and show savings.
  • Ask for feedback from resisters.
In fact, seminar attendees noted, in many ways a project like this follows the same methodology as other projects -- but it may have a strong emotional aspect. So education and change management are especially crucial.

After we’d discussed our ideas, Ramanathan told us how was it done at Adobe:
  • One weekend, the company added water filtration systems, with a note on top of each filter communicating about their benefits.
  • Bottled water was concurrently reduced by 50%. Employees didn’t realize there had been a reduction, because they still saw some water. At the same time, there was constant messaging to let people know the change was coming. Each month, the amount of bottled water was reduced.
  • The company gave employees canisters and added cups in the break rooms. These could be used for guests and left for janitorial staff to deal with.
  • Messages were sent to all employees explaining what was being done, and feedback was solicited.
  • The company incentivized employees to make the change by stocking fresh fruit where bottled water had been. The caf├ęs provided fruit-flavored water.
  • And of course, the CFO was convinced of the benefit when he saw the savings that were realized from making this change.
Although there had been some resistance, by the first week of the program all but 15 – 20% of the naysayers were excited about it. Specific issues still had to be addressed -- for example, some people wanted only room temperature water, and the water from the filters could be a bit cold. These people were encouraged to simply wait till their water got warm enough. Before long, even they had adapted. And many employees appreciated that the company had responded to an issue that was brought up initially by employees.

An unexpected benefit was that this project led to looking at other ways to save more money in break rooms. The company is considering cutting down on sodas and is now buying bulk juices instead of individual bottles. And healthier options such as oatmeal and soups have been introduced. This is just one small example of how one sustainability project can engender others and lead to more benefits than originally expected.

Note: Although I am an Adobe employee, this posting is my own and doesn't necessarily represent the position, views, or opinions of Adobe.

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