Pro-environmental Behaviours in the Workplace: Driving Social Change

Deanne Turnbull Loverock, Associate Instructional Designer, Royal Roads University
Rob Newell, CRC Research Associate, Royal Roads University
Published August 21, 2012

Case Summary

Pro-environmental behaviours (PEBs), defined by Kollmuss & Agyeman (2002: 240) as “behavior that consciously seeks to minimize the negative impact of one’s actions on the natural and built world”, can be adopted in workplaces committed to effective workplace sustainability programs (WSPs). Implementing WSPs can lessen negative environmental impacts caused by company operations by greening its operations; however, if PEBs adopted by employees engaged in WSPs become lifestyle habits beyond the workplace, workplaces could be critical forums for addressing environmental issues in the greater community. This case study investigates whether adopting PEBs in workplaces can lead to employees integrating these behaviours in their personal lives. The study provides an in-depth review of the WSPs of four companies based in Victoria, BC: AbeBooks, Advanced Solutions, Archipelago Marine Research, and Smart Dolphins IT Solutions. Employee participation in each company’s WSP is not mandatory; however, each company employs various strategies such as role modeling, empowerment, peer-to-peer learning, and incentives to encourage employee participation.

To investigate whether adopting behaviours at work can transfer to the everyday lives of employees, this case study used Bem’s Self-Perception Theory (1972). Bem’s theory explains that people identify their beliefs and attitudes based on the behaviours they perform. In accordance with this theory, if employees are induced or strongly encouraged to engage in PEBs in the workplace, they may alter their everyday beliefs and behaviours to align with the PEBs they perform in their work lives. In this manner, workplaces potentially can act as important leverage points for government and NGOs in changing development pathways to more sustainable transitions.

Sustainable Development Characteristics

As identified by Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons (1968), relying on the majority of a community to care for the commons through an intrinsic sense of stewardship is insufficient for maintaining the vitality of common property. In addition, public outreach and communications efforts have not yet fuelled behavioural changes at a rate rapid enough to adequately address large-scale environmental issues (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005). Thus, alternative methods of behaviour change are required for implementing sustainable community development. The fastest rate of adoption of behaviour change “stems from authority decisions” (Rogers, 2003, p. 29), which, can originate from high-level leadership of employers.

Theorized by Bem (1967) and supported by others, “[i]nducing people to behave in a given manner leads them to develop positive attitudes related to the behaviour” (Ronis, Yates & Kirscht, 1989, p. 220). An action becomes habitual “[a]fter the decision and the action are repeated many times…[making] repeated decision-making…unnecessary [and the habit] relatively independent of attitudes and beliefs”. In this manner, an authority figure encouraging a PEB could influence one’s overall environmental values. Government authorities create policies and regulations for large-scale environmental issues applying to industries (i.e., industrial pollutants) and for sensitive issues such as endangered species; however, enforcing day-to-day PEBs such as composting and recycling by law is difficult because it would require monitoring private space. For these types of PEBs, a different source of authority is required, emphasizing the role of the employer and WSPs as a critical determinant.

The average person commits a significant portion of their waking hours to their occupation (based on 40-hour work week); thus, workplaces serve as key places for setting sustainable development learning and communicating innovative practices. Weber (1964) noted the authoritative influence employers have on employees, and Milgram (1963, 1965, and 1974) observed in his series of obedience studies that people follow directives from an authority figure (findings later supported by a replication study performed by Burger, 2009). The combination of the authority position that employers occupy, and people’s tendency to follow authority, positions the workplace as a potentially powerful space for teaching/adopting PEBs. Furthermore, Voydanoff (2001) observed that workplace and habitat behaviours have the potential to transfer from workplace to home life, and, although her case study does not capture transference of PEBs specifically, her observations imply WSPs have the potential to result in transference of environmentally related behaviours from work to home. These implications indicate the workplace can serve as an effective forum for social change in the environmental movement creating opportunities for environmental educators and communicators to form effectual partnerships with a powerful, influential, and innovative sector of the community. In addition, opportunities exist for companies to work in partnership with municipalities as PEBs can be promoted in the workplace and supported at home through municipal services (discussed in more detail below).

In addition to influencing lifestyles in an environmentally friendly manner, encouraging PEBs at work can positively influence social and economic imperatives, which are also integral to sustainable community development (Dale, 2001). When employees feel that a company is living its professed values this significantly influences "employee engagement, and employee engagement significantly influences organizational and financial performance" (Gomez, 2009). In addition, “[t]he more skills and values employees reported transferring from work to family, the better their mental health and the higher their job satisfaction” (Hanson, Hammer, & Colton, 2006, p. 262), and the stronger their commitment to their roles and employers. Consequently, companies implementing values-based policies and social responsibility into their business models (i.e., WSPs) are providing a higher quality work environment for their employees contributing to the quality of life to members of their respective community (social imperative) and cultivating high performance workers (economic imperative).

Critical Success Factors

The success of the companies WSPs (in this case, determined by whether employees are adopting PEBs) hinges on the theory that behaviour adoption best occurs when behaviours are performed frequently and in a stable context (Ouellette & Wood, 1998) such as the workplace. Albeit, new behaviour patterns are often supported by pre-existing attitudes and beliefs (Ronis, Yates, & Kirscht, 1989), behaviours are also heavily influenced by subjective norms. Through strong and progressive leadership, each company examined within this case study has created a workplace environment in which PEBs are encouraged (and, thus, the norm), cultivating an atmosphere in which acting in an environmentally friendly manner is natural and commonplace. Previous research shows that pro-environmental neighbourhood norms can positively affect the uptake of PEBs in local residents (Schultz, Nolan, Cialdini, Goldstein, & Griskevicius, 2007), and, in the same manner, similar norm-setting approaches can be (and have been) successfully applied to workplaces, an environment that is often more tight-knit and localized than a neighbourhood.

Whether PEBs adopted in the workplace become regularly practiced behaviours at home relies on the potential for behaviours to transfer between work and home. Tudor, Barr and Gilg (2007) observed that a relationship between work and home behaviours existed in employees at Cornwall’s National Health Service, where those with strong environmental awareness are more likely to bring these behaviours into the workplace. The companies understudy aimed to facilitate transference in the opposite direction (i.e., from work to home) through a similar process, generating a strong environmental awareness at work that could be carried over to home life. To generate an environmental awareness in employees with the strength to persist beyond the workplace, the companies used positive reinforcement techniques. Rather than imposing mandatory policies, the companies used encouragement and many of the WSP initiatives were voluntarily developed and run by the employees themselves. Such an approach is empowering for the employees in terms of adopting PEBs and thus increases the chances the employees will practice PEBs outside of the office and in the greater community. In addition, peer-to-peer learning was frequently practiced within the workplace as a method of spreading PEBs and frequently practicing this behaviour encourages employees to continue peer-to-peer exchange of sustainability ideas and practices in their home communities.

In addition to looking at how the program is successful in terms of employers exerting influence on employees and their communities, it is important to consider the incentives for companies to develop WSPs because these programs are only successful if companies are willing to implement them. One of the major motivations for the companies understudy to develop and implement these WSPs was social license, which can be defined as "the demands on and expectations for a business enterprise that emerge from neighborhoods, environmental groups, community members, and other elements of the surrounding civil society" (Gunningham, Kagan, & Thornton, 2004, p. 308). Social license is heavily influenced by customer interest, branding, and community pressure (Lynch-Wood & Williamson, 2007), and, in a large potion of North American society, the environmental movement has gained enough momentum that ‘going green’ is considered to be politically correct (Casselman & McLaughlin, 2007). Consequently, social license in the current market and set of norms is a strong driver for companies to develop and implement effective WSPs, allowing them to publicize their corporate principles.

Community Contact Information

Deanne Turnbull Loverock
Associate Instructional Designer, Royal Roads University
Advisory Board Member, School of Environment and Sustainability, Royal Roads University Chair, VIATeC Sustainability Round Table

AbeBooks Inc.
Suite 500 – 655 Tyee Road
Victoria, BC V9A 6X5

HP Advanced Solutions Inc.
Suite 2200 - 4464 Markham Street
Victoria, BC Canada V8Z 7X8
(250) 405-4500

Archipelago Marine Research
525 Head Street
Victoria, BC, V9A 5S1
(250) 383-4535

Smart Dolphins IT Solutions Inc
5-515 Dupplin Road
(250) 721-2499

What Worked?

To determine whether PEBs were being adopted by employees and transferred to home life, a survey was administered to the employee body of each company (returning 186 responses) asking the employees questions concerning PEBs they adopted at work and now practice at home (see Research Methodology for more details). Through the survey data, the current study found evidence that PEBs can become habitual if performed regularly in the workplace. Approximately 82% of employees surveyed in this study began at least one PEB at their workplace, and, on average, these employees have continued to perform this behaviour habitually 84% of the time. These findings support this study’s theory that the workplace is an effective environment for inspiring people to adopt environmentally-friendly behaviours they might not have engaged in, otherwise. It is, however, important to note that the companies understudy supported the employees engaging in PEBs through encouragement and positive feedback, and employees were not forced to adopt the PEBs. When surveyed, employees indicated that positive reinforcement and sense of responsibility were primary motivators for performing PEBs. In contrast, employees identified negative reinforcement (i.e., penalties, concerns about how their boss perceives them, etc.) as demotivating and ineffective for them in terms of adopting behaviour. Consequently, companies employing WSPs should be mindful of how the implementation is done as well as what strategies should be put in place when strengthening the integrity of the adopted PEBs.

The study also observed evidence supporting the theory that PEBs adopted in the workplace are transferred to home life. For any given PEB learned at work, an average of 67% of employees indicated they began practicing this PEB at home as well as at the office. In addition, some evidence existed to support the idea that this adoption of PEBs in home routines has altered the general attitudes and lifestyle approaches of the employees in their everyday life. Employees were asked about whether the WSP at their respective workplace had encouraged them to purchase local and ‘green’ products, think about their ecological footprint and consume less, and the average responses for all these questions were of agreement. These findings indicate that Bem’s Theory of Self-perception might be in effect in respect to the employees adopting PEBs, and employees are not performing PEBs simply due to workplace pressure.

What Didn’t Work?

Certain PEBs such as printing double-sided and recycling electronics exhibited lower rates of transference from work to home lives because these environmental behaviours are associated more with office than home environments. Because these behaviours do not translate into home activity, it is difficult to assess whether or not they affect people’s everyday lives and perceptions or if they are performed simply because they are part of an office infrastructure.

Other PEBs with low transference to home lives include composting and recycling of styrofoam, possibly due to municipalities not offering services that facilitate these processes. Readily adopting a new behaviour requires a removal of obstacles to performing the behaviour (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975), and, the infrastructure for making more sustainable choices. For example, the composting system implemented in AbeBooks allows employees to deposit their organic waste into an office receptacle without requiring employees to empty this receptacle. Thus, albeit employees might throw organic waste into compost at work, they might not have capacity (i.e., garden or municipal infrastructure) to engage in composting at home. With respect to recycling styrofoam, employees are more likely to recycle this material if the receptacle for collecting it is conveniently located. All companies in this study handle the transport and costs of recycling the styrofoam; thus, recycling it in the workplace is relatively simple and, hence, done frequently by employees. However, since many municipalities do not provide services for collecting compost and recycling materials like styrofoam and electronics, these types of PEBs have lower likelihoods of transferring to home life. This aspect of the study illuminated the opportunities municipalities and companies have in terms of coordinating the provision of services with the encouragement of PEB adoption in developing green communities.

Financial Costs and Funding Sources

Costs of the PEB programs are all funded by the companies and in-kind hours contributed by staff. Many of the office greening initiatives are expected to produce eventual financial returns due to reductions in consumption, and, over the long-term, these initiatives could be considered to procure a net financial gain (rather than being regarded as an expense).

The table below displays examples of the types of cost and returns associated with each company’s WSPs. Specific figures (in CAD) associated with the costs of the initiatives are displayed in italics in the table below and discussed in the appropriate sections of the Detail Case Background Description.

Research Methodology

The four companies chosen for this case study include AbeBooks®, Advanced Solutions, Archipelago Marine Research, and Smart Dolphins, and the companies were selected for the study because they all have progressive WSP in place. Each company’s WSP encourages a minimum of five PEBs to be practiced in the workplace by employees. Details on WSPs and backgrounds of each company were collected through interviews with senior management staff members to gain perspectives from high level decision-makers who are responsible for implementation of and fund allocation for WSPs. Information from these interviews provided insights on both the company’s reasons for creating corporate cultures that incorporate sustainability into their day-to-day operations and how their WSPs were delivered so that PEBs were effectively adopted by employees.

Online surveys were administered to the employees to measure rates in which PEBs were adopted and transferred to home life, as described in the previous section. A Likert scale was used to measure attitudes toward the environment and how their respective workplace PEB program has affected their perspectives. Adoption and transference rates of PEBs were measured by asking survey participants to indicate from a list which PEBs they adopted at work and now practice at home. The entire employee body for each company was invited to participate in the survey; of 537 employees, 186 respondents (35%) completed the survey.

Detailed Case Background Description

Companies were selected that included corporate social responsibility (CSR) in their strategic plans and company culture. The European Commission defines CSR as "[a] concept whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and in their interaction with their stakeholders on a voluntary basis" (European Commission, 2009). This integration is usually supported with 'triple bottom line' or 'full cost accounting', a method of measurement that allows companies to account for "the economic, social, and environmental imperatives of their activities" (Industry Canada, 2010). When operating within the framework of CSR, a company's interactions with their stakeholders (investors, suppliers, customers, and employees) are guided by principles of sustainability, which, ideally, allows the organization to operate responsibly and beneficial to its respective community.

This case study investigates the WSPs of four organizations based in Victoria, BC, that can be described as proactive companies in accordance with the description of CSR above. The following sections detail company overviews, history of WSPs, how the programs are supported, and the future of the companies’ sustainability programs and objectives. A comprehensive list of activities performed in WSPs can be seen on the WSP Overview Table.


Company Overview

AbeBooks is an internet-based global exchange for used books. The company’s headquarters is located in Victoria, employing approximately 100 employees, and a European office is located in Dusseldorf, Germany (AbeBooks, 2010). The company has facilitated the sale of over 110 million books and connects buyers with the inventories of thousands of booksellers. In December 2008, Amazon incorporated AbeBooks under their organization’s umbrella; however, AbeBooks has retained control of their facilities and business guiding principles (AbeBooks, 2010). The business model of AbeBooks is based upon facilitating the exchange of reused products, and thus reduced consumption is a direct result of their operations. In this manner, AbeBooks has found that “the business has supported sustainability, and sustainability has supported our business” (personal communication, March 8, 2010).

History of WSP

AbeBooks’s WSP began in June 2008 when they were in the process of moving to their current office in Victoria West, across the Johnston Street Bridge from downtown. Their executive team selected this office space keeping in mind environmental considerations such as use of recycled/restored carpeting, paint with low fume emissions so “employees didn’t have to work in a toxic environment” (personal communication, March 8, 2010), zoned climate control to reduce the need for air conditioning and heating, and a central location for employee commuting convenience. Later in 2008, the Chief Operating Officer tasked the Director of Human Resources and Administration with assembling a Green Committee. Responsibilities of the Committee included (but were not limited to) detailing the amount of energy the company used, tracking their carbon footprint, determining the effectiveness of their recycling program, and computing how much paper they used.

Program Initiatives

AbeBooks’s WSP began with basic office greening strategies, such as setting printers to ‘duplex’, replacing styrofoam cups with dishes, and maintaining electronic rather than hardcopy records. The next step in their program focused on encouraging green commuting. AbeBooks had previously covered the cost of bus passes for their employees for a total expense of $270 to $900 per month (depending on the number employees claiming a bus pass); however, they decided to increase their efforts by reimbursing employees for parking spaces at $85/month per employee if employees opted not to use them. Albeit this initiative required use of administrative resources, AbeBooks views it as worthwhile from a big picture perspective as over 50% of the staff now take advantage of it, with a large percentage of employees commuting year round on their bikes.

A unique initiative AbeBooks attempted to implement in the first summer of the program consisted of inviting local growers to creating a bi-weekly farmer’s market in their building. However, the initiative did not continue in subsequent years as suppliers were not generating sufficient revenue to maintain interest. AbeBooks is considering redesigning and implementing the initiative again with the support of the LEED-ND standard community neighbouring them, Dockside Green.

Most of the sustainability initiatives of AbeBooks focus on inclusion and participation of their 100 employees; however, interviewees noted that a sustainability program requires the support of associated companies and contractors to be successful. To exemplify, AbeBooks insisted that the building manager replace two sets of cleaners because “they would not recycle…they were just dumping it all in the same place” (personal communication, March 8, 2010). The building manager has now hired cleaners who use green cleaning products and recycle properly.

Program Engagement

AbeBooks WSP is not comprised of mandatory policies; thus, the program is supported through management role modeling, peer-to-peer learning, employee empowerment and education/outreach. On Earth Day 2009, AbeBooks asked each employee to write one green tip on a huge chalkboard. This exercise provided employees with an excellent way to exchange ideas and educate each other on new behaviours, while simultaneously empowering employees by showing their opinions and input were valued. In addition, AbeBooks is actively engaged in education as sustainability experts are invited as guest speakers during ‘Lunch and Learn’ sessions. Other methods of encouraging employees to engage in sustainability initiatives include signage and opening the floor to new ideas at company-wide meetings.

Behaviours are more readily adopted when obstacles to engaging in them are removed (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975), and AbeBooks attempts to encourage employee engagement in their sustainability program by making green practices easier. Employees are encouraged to bring in all items that the office recycles but local municipalities do not, including batteries, soft plastics, styrofoam, and compost. AbeBooks contracts private operations to regularly collect this waste from their offices at an expense of approximately $120 to $140 a month depending on the waste load. As an added benefit, the composting company returns a bag of soil with each pick up. Employees are invited to place their names on a waiting list for these bags, which, in turn, connects the employees with the ‘cradle-to-cradle’ context of composting.

Future of Program

AbeBooks is committed to continual improvement of their sustainability program, and future initiatives include the following:

  1. find an alternative to plastic water glasses for visitors to the office;
  2. more lunchtime education sessions to expand employee awareness of environmental initiatives;
  3. conduct an environmental audit to quantify actual resource use, waste produced, travel, etc., and
  4. establish an overarching framework in which to nest individual initiatives and use this to strategize next steps for the internal sustainability program and company direction.

Advanced Solutions

Company Overview

Advanced Solutions is a subsidiary of Hewlett Packard Canada that delivers outsourcing services to large governmental partners. Their headquarters are located in the Vancouver Island Technology Park, with approximately 370 employees (Advanced Solutions, 2010). The company views sustainability initiatives as a business opportunity, for example, they are constructing a ‘Clean and Green’ data centre in Kamloops designed to inform the public sector on reducing energy usage. The company also provides online revenue management and ‘image-based workflow’ services to help their partners and clients reduce printing and storage costs.

History of WSP

With the help of about 15 committed employees, Greg Conner, President (VP) of Human Resources and Communication initiated the company’s Sustainability Program in September 2008. A strong supporter of CSR, Conner believes that sustainability is both an individual and a company responsibility, and he notes “HP Advanced Solutions strives to be a model for sustainability in its community” (personal communication, May 26, 2010).

Program Initiatives

Advanced Solutions is a tenant of the Vancouver Island Technology Park. Being a tenant limits the breadth of the initiatives they can implement due to having to comply with certain standards of the complex. The company works with a tenant group (i.e., a group consisting of members of different organizations within the complex) involved in implementing and maintaining a recycling program that includes recycling of soft plastics, styrofoam and batteries at an expense of $150 to $350 quarterly. Advanced Solutions also offers a composting service that processes approximately 180 kg of waste month and costs $400 annually. The other initiatives of Advanced Solutions WSP can be seen on the WSP Overview Table.

Program Engagement

In a similar approach to that taken by AbeBooks, employees are encouraged (rather than required) to participate in green initiatives through empowerment and outreach. Input on WSP initiatives is welcomed from employees, and their ‘Sustainability Group’, an office group responsible for guiding green initiatives, is comprised of 15 employees that meet regularly to “talk about what we can, should, and are doing to make this a more responsible company”. Outreach and education to staff is conducted through methods such as peer-to-peer exchange of information and ideas and ‘Lunch and Learn’ seminars conducted by local sustainability experts.

Future of Program

Future plans for Advanced Solutions’s green initiatives focus on monitoring and measuring data relating to ecological footprint. They aim to develop systems and frameworks for comprehensively capturing data such as energy expenditure, water usage, and GHG emissions. These data collection systems will be used for Advanced Solutions operations but are also regarded as business opportunities in terms of providing assessment services to other companies.

Archipelago Marine Research

Company Overview

Established in 1978, Archipelago operates as a biological consulting firm whose work promotes responsible and sustainable fishing practices. Their 175 biologists, technicians, and IT staff assist public and private partners with managing marine resources in North America, Australia, and New Zealand. The company’s head office in Victoria employs 55 of these staff and generates approximately $9.5 million in revenue annually (personal communication, August 2, 2012). Archipelago specializes in two main areas:

  • near-shore habitat inventory, assessment, and environmental impact analysis, and
  • data collection programs in support of commercial fisheries management (Archipelago Marine Research, 2010)

Sustainability Program History

Brian Emmett, Vice President and co-founder of the company, initiated the Archipelago Sustainability Initiative (ASI) in 2003. Since consultation in sustainable fishery practice is Archipelago’s primary service, the ASI was created as a method of aligning company practices with company services. In this manner, Archipelago ‘walks their talk’ and embrace sustainability as a core company principle both in and out of the office. Emmett sums up the underlying ethos of ASI with “[I]t is not important what our competitors are doing or not – this isn’t about competitive advantage, it’s about what one should be doing” (personal communication, March 9, 2010).

ASI is led by a committee of employees who are committed and passionate about the environment. The program lost momentum in the mid-00’s after a few of the ASI Committee’s champions left the company but was revitalized in 2008 when Archipelago contracted an environmental consultant to work with the staff to develop their WSP. The consultant helped the Committee create an overarching sustainability plan for the company that incorporated previous ASI initiatives into a manageable and efficient framework.

Program Initiatives

As with AbeBooks’s WSP, Archipelago connects their employees with recycling services not provided by their municipalities. Their extended recycling program began with a wicker basket that was used as a receptacle for dead batteries in the office and, eventually, for batteries employees brought from home. Archipelago encouraged this behaviour to foster the environmental ethic of the staff. This recycling program now includes soft plastics and styrofoam, and costs of recycling are covered by the company, summing to approximately $950 per year.

Archipelago’s WSP also includes a commitment to reduce water usage. The company office is currently equipped with 7 dual flush toilets that allow the user to select a reduced flush volume rather than the full volume for every flush. Water conservation for dual flush toilets averages to approximately 26% reduction in usage compared to that of a 6 L single-flush (BC Hydro, 2012). The total cost of installing the low-flush toilets summed to approximately $2,750.

Other ASI activities include stocking their kitchen with reusable mugs, duplex printing, and in-office composting. The complete list of activities is listed on the WSP Overview Table.

Program Engagement

Emmett conceived ASI but tasks related to the program’s development and progress were delegated to the employees, knowing that in order for the program to be successful it would have to be staff supported. Archipelago uses several strategies to encourage employees to engage in ASI. Alayna Siddall, Co-Chair of ASI, designed the extended recycling program as program “for Dummies” to ensure it is easy for staff to participate. Office competitions in green commuting and waste reduction are held as fun incentives for employees to engage in environmental practices. Archipelago also invites the float-home community behind their offices to utilize their extended recycling services and this encourages staff to engage in PEBs as it positions the company as a positive (i.e., altruistic) role-model.

Future of Program

Archipelago plans to further reduce their ecological footprint by concentrating on reducing energy usage and waste production and encouraging staff to use alternative transportation. Archipelago is committed to developing a system to properly track metrics of water and energy usage. The intended uses of these metrics are to both assess ecological footprint and measure return of investment on green installations such as energy-efficient lights and low flow toilets. In addition, the ASI Committee plans to take pictures of the amount of recycling diverted from the landfill each month then post these pictures on the recycling bins to boost employee morale in recycling efforts.

Smart Dolphins IT Solutions

Company Overview

Established in 2000, Smart Dolphins IT Solutions operates as an external IT department for companies who do not have sufficient internal IT capabilities. Additional services provided by Smart Dolphins include assistance with online marketing campaigns. The company currently has 10 employees and generates $1.2 million in annual revenue (personal communication, August 13, 2012).

History of WSP

Smart Dolphins’s WSP was initiated in 2005 after moving into their present office, and their sustainability program was started by an employee who was an avid recycler and composter. This program was championed by another employee after the initiator of the program left the company, but lost momentum after the second program champion left. In 2010, Adrian Nyland, Vice President of Smart Dolphins, reignited the program by combining the different initiatives implemented in 2005 into a comprehensive action plan. Nyland identified his motivations for revisiting office greening initiatives to be a reduction of ecological footprint, increase in reducing expenditure (i.e., reduced consumption and waste), and good public relations (personal communication, March 10, 2010).

Program Initiatives

Smart Dolphins allows many of their employees to work remotely from home, which reduces vehicular emissions. Allowing employees to work remotely was not initially planned as a sustainability initiative; however, it has since been recognized for its environmental benefits and is now considered when drafting new work plans and schedules. Currently, approximately one employee works remotely per week. This system reduces greenhouse gas emissions by up to 0.7 metric tons annually, calculated based on average commuting distance in Victoria of 4.6 km (BC Stats, 2008) and emissions rates for passenger vehicles as identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (2012).

Smart Dolphins utilizes a customer relationship management (CRM) software program to allow them to efficiently work with clients. CRM provides a user-friendly method of storing/transferring virtual documents and optimally schedules on-site appointments through identifying the most geographically proximal IT tech to the client in need of service. In this manner, CRM both dramatically reduces paper waste and decreases vehicular emissions by identifying shortest driving distance between the company and their clients.

Other Smart Dolphin program initiatives can be seen on the WSP Overview Table.

Program Engagement

Smart Dolphin’s WSP is designed as an employee-driven program to share responsibility of the WSP and to create a sense of ownership for the initiatives. Nyland discusses the initiatives with staff then designates each employee as a lead for a specific initiative. Because each employee assumes responsibility for a particular initiative, office greening tactics are heavily driven by peer-to-peer learning exchanges and staff are kept committed to the sustainability program through reminders from colleagues to, for example, turn off lights or compost organic waste.

Future of Program

Smart Dolphins would like to be branded as the leading ‘Green IT’ company. However, Nyland is conscious of the fact that the company needs more operational practices in place before the company can begin advertising their environmental sustainability. To achieve their goal of being legitimately marketed as a leading green IT company, Smart Dolphins aims to both increase their environmentally friendly practices and develop a system that accurately captures the reduction in their ecological footprint resulting from these initiatives.

Strategic Questions

  1. How can workplace sustainability programs address other imperatives essential to sustainable community development, social and economic imperatives?
  2. Can these initiatives be scaled up to larger companies?
  3. What models can be created to encourage companies and government to communicate and collaborate in efforts to instill PEBs within communities?
  4. How, if possible, do we use WSPs to inform people on larger, more complex critical issues such as climate change adaptation and mitigation and over-consumption?
  5. How can agencies that aid entrepreneurs, such as start-up consultancies and micro-lending organizations, encourage new businesses in incorporating sustainability into their organization’s core principles?


We would like to thank the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) for providing funding for this research.

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First of all, great work on a well-written study. I was impressed with the initiatives these companies implemented to reduce their footprint and become more sustainable. I was particularly interested in the storage of electronic records by AbeBooks to reduce their environmental impact. There are several organizations currently undertaking electronic records management. Our organization recently undertook this task. As an organization with 1300 employees it is astonishing both how difficult this initiative is to implement but also how much paper we can actually save by doing it. Here is a good example of how electronic records have reduced the carbon footprint in the health sector with the creation of electronic medical records:…

Workplace Sustainability Programs (WSPs) can certainly have an impact on the organization’s financial success. While several of the programs listed indicated the costs associated with the programs, there are several initiatives currently being utilized that can save money. Proving that sustainability is not only for small employers, in 1999, the Ford Motor Company undertook the task of cleaning up operations at its River Rouge manufacturing plant. They implemented many sustainability programs but also eco-efficient systems to capture and treat wastewater on the property. According to McDonough and Braungart (2002), “the eco-effective approach cleans the water and the air, provides habitat, and enhances the beauty of the landscape while it saves the company a great deal of money – as much as $35 million by one estimation” (p. 163). The message that I believe organizations are getting is that sustainability doesn’t have to just cost money. In fact, in many cases, organizations are realizing savings through sustainability initiatives and improving relationships with employees and customers. In addition, decreasing water and electricity consumption in an organization not only makes sense from a business perspective but also has less of an impact on the planet and future generations as resources are not depleted so rapidly.

I believe that while governments have a role to play in creating legislative and policy framework for sustainability, organizations and individuals have the real responsibility for driving it forward. As the study pointed out, an organization is essentially a second family for many people given the amount of time we spend at work. Informal and formal peer networks can help support pro-environmental behaviours and can help make the transference from work to our home life.
Thanks again for your work on this study.

McDonough, W. and Braungart, M. (2002). Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. New York: North Point Press


I completely agree with you in respects to our government need to drive the changes with the implementation of policies and protocols. Even though we might not all agree with all environmental standards, many people need to see leadership coming from our government whether it be municiple, provinical or federal. Currently I feel like our governments are letting Canadians down. The federal government is not showing leadership in regards to environmental changes on the world stage, which I believe we are therefore letting down the world as in some cases we are world leaders.

The federal government instead has been decreasing environmental leadership, pulling funding and programs. And as a worker in the environmental sector of Alberta, our provincal government is lacking on their own policies as well. The extraction of resources seems to be a higher priority than holding industry to strict environmental standards.

I am always wondering why environmental standards and industry have to always be at odds and why our 'leadership' always chooses sides, instead of learning to incorporate them.