Six ways to tackle climate change at work

The best save-the-planet ideas from environmental protection pioneers

For Kris May, saving humanity from climate change is literally just another day at the office. May, a principal partner at the Silvestrum Climate Associates consulting firm and a member at WeWork 995 Market St in San Francisco, helped write the National Climate Assessment—the frighteningly apocalyptic climate forecast that dropped last November. The authoritative look at the nation’s near future, compiled by experts across 13 federal agencies, paints a grim picture for the United States (other recent reports revealed a similar global outlook). In the Southeast, for example, communities “are particularly vulnerable to the combined health impacts from vector-borne disease, heat, and flooding.”

It’s a sobering prediction, but one that May, who started Silvestrum to help frontline communities understand and implement practical adjustments, believes we can all work to change. She and five other WeWork members who work in environmental protection offer ways we can fine-tune our workplace habits to combat climate change.

Take a hard look at what you consume—and decide where to economize

Start by resetting your office building so that its heat, lights, and air conditioning run on energy from the sun, water, or wind. “The biggest thing is making the switch to using 100-percent-renewable energy,” says May. Unlike fossil fuels, which burn carbon and get costlier to find over time, these fuel sources cause no pollution. We’ll also never run out of them. “Every utility lets you sign up for their clean-power program. It costs an extra $5 to $10 a month, but it sends such a clear message to Congress and to utilities.”

Integrate small changes into your daily workflow

It might feel like an insurmountable problem: How can your wind-powered smart speaker undo dengue fever and tidal waves? Experts say the answer comes from changes in perspective. “When we think about small steps you can take to lower your carbon footprint,” says WeWork’s vice president of sustainability and wellness Lindsay Baker, “the change you should expect to see is that your eyes start opening.

“Let’s say you use a reusable cup instead of disposable cups,” she says. “It increases your awareness about other types of lifestyle changes you might need to make.”

WeWork’s Lindsay Baker says switching to reusable cups “increases your awareness about other types of lifestyle changes you might need to make.”

Some WeWork members specialize in training people to see those future changes. Meighen Speiser, the chief engagement officer of ecoAmerica and a fellow member at WeWork 995 Market St, coaches clients like the American Academy of Pediatrics and city and town governments to bring the climate message to constituents in ways that feel relevant to daily chores, commutes, and choices.

Speiser’s advice: carpool or bike to work. Change light bulbs to LEDs that burn out over years rather than months. Because landfills give off methane, a powerful carbon gas, reduce trash waste by purchasing long-lasting or recyclable office furniture and supplies.

These small hacks can make bigger changes seem more feasible, in part because they set a baseline on how much fuel you need to power your life. Baker says WeWork is aiming to measure its total carbon use this year to see how much energy it needs. Once that data emerges, team members can strategize ways to obtain it all from clean, renewable sources.

Connect with experts

Change can be contagious: 5 Gyres—a member at WeWork 5792 Jefferson Blvd in Los Angeles—researches, models, and advocates to reverse the spread of plastic in oceans. Its staff worked with WeWork’s community team to swap out disposable cups for steel reusable ones. “At a lunch-and-learn we gave out reusable Klean Kanteen cups, with Sharpies for everyone’s name,” says Haley Jain Haggerstone, development and partnerships director at 5 Gyres. Its latest endeavor is partnering with groups that promote greener consumer goods.

Begin with workplace training

Ann Mesnikov of the Environmental Law and Policy Center at WeWork Metropolitan Square in Washington, D.C., works with members of Congress and other activists to align laws with current science. She suggests beginning your collective action with a workplace training that shows how your supplies, commuting habits, and lunch add up in climate terms. Haggerstone and her team offered one demonstration before the holidays that showcased ways to wrap gifts in reusable, compostable paper.

“I say to people, we can change what the world looks like in 2100,” says May. “If we take action now, we can reduce the harm.”

Tap into the WeWork community

Whether fighting climate change is your business or simply a personal mission, WeWork offers community, which helps small operations spread their message. “As a nonprofit, there are things we don’t have in house, like tech support and graphic design,” says Haggerstone. “We’ve used the network of other members to look for these and were overwhelmed by the response.”

Speiser, from ecoAmerica, relocated her company to a WeWork as her business grew—in part so she could offer more services to her staff. Now that she’s a member, she plans to work with WeWork to advance climate awareness in “the daily, weekly, monthly, and annual events that all serve really well to give a feeling of community.”

Start right now

Some companies, like Delhi, India’s WeWork Platina Tower member Acclimatise, help businesses and towns adjust to the already evident physical effects of climate change. But adjusting doesn’t mean accepting—any action you take today will help lessen the devastation in the long run.

“There are those days when it’s really overwhelming,” says 5 Gyres’s Haggerstone. “But then you think, well, I can remember my [reusable] bag.”

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