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Workplaces Offer Incentives for Green Living

We do a lot of talking about how to green our workplaces. You know the drill: energy efficient electronics, double-sided printing, hybrid fleets, the works. But what does your workplace do to green you?

This Wall Street Journal article highlights creative incentives that some workplaces are offering their employees to promote greener living. Provided the incentives are consistent with the values we're encouraging (i.e.- coupons to a big box store is a no go, but subsidies or bonuses for taking public transportation or biking to work get my gold star), I love this approach. After all, who doesn't need a little boost now and again? Even the most ideologically-driven among us is a sucker for a good incentive.

I'm curious as to what other workplaces have taken this approach, and how effective they've been. Does your office provide green living incentives for its employees? If not, what strategies would you like to see implemented?

Workers Get Incentives to Live Greener

 

Perks Help Spread
A Firm's Mission
And Foster Goodwill

By KELLY K. SPORS

 

It irked Greg James to see some of his employees roll up to work in hulking, gas-guzzling sport-utility vehicles -- often driving more than 40 miles a day round trip.

 

So in 2005 he finally did something about it.

 

GREEN GUIDANCE

 

 

 

What's Happening: Small firms are offering incentives to get employees to become more environmentally friendly, both in and out of the office.


The Perks: Incentives include bonuses for buying more fuel-efficient autos, car pooling, taking public transportation, and making energy-saving home improvements.

 

The Payoff: Such green benefits can help bolster recruitment efforts and foster goodwill. And they can be an easy and effective way to ingrain the eco-friendly mission of a workplace.

The chief executive and founder of Topics Entertainment Inc., a Renton, Wash., DVD and software publisher, Mr. James established an incentive program that offers its 55 employees $1,000 to trade in their automobiles for one with fewer cylinders in the engine. Buying a hybrid or biodiesel vehicle earns them $2,500, while car pooling at least three days a week pays $300 annually split between the ride sharers.

 

Ten employees have claimed the auto-purchase bonus so far. Mr. James estimates that by getting those new vehicles and boosting their gas mileage an average 10 miles per gallon, employees cut last year's gasoline consumption during commutes by 2,400 gallons.

 

"You don't need a big gas hog to drive one person to work in the morning," he says.

 

Big Incentives

 

Many companies, large and small, have become greener by reducing office waste and pollution or buying so-called carbon credits, which companies purchase to offset the impact of their pollution. But a growing number of small companies like Topics also are seeing value in encouraging employees to make environmentally friendlier choices as well -- at home, at work and in their commutes.

 

Among the incentives: giving bonuses to employees who buy more fuel-efficient vehicles and outfit their homes in more energy-efficient ways, as well as helping employees support environmental causes. Even low-cost measures, such as letting employees purchase energy-efficient light bulbs at the employer's bulk price, are making a difference in employees' behavior and energy use.

 

In an era when more young workers are seeking out employers with a socially responsible mission, such green incentives can help bolster recruitment efforts and foster goodwill. At small companies especially, green benefits can be an easy and effective way to ingrain a workplace's eco-friendly mission.

 








[photo]
Lindsay Collins and Melanie Jarett of Topics Entertainment, next to Ms. Jarett's fuel-efficient Toyota Yaris.

 

"I think employers are just beginning to understand that, to have an environmentally conscious work force, you need to help them in their everyday lives," says Joel Makower, executive editor of GreenBiz.com, a Web site devoted to businesses' use of environmentally friendlier practices.

 

Many early adopters are socially responsible companies that see it as a way to extend their mission and marketing. But Mr. Makower says he wouldn't be surprised to see many of the practices spill more broadly into mainstream businesses as employers realize the environmental benefits -- and good publicity -- such programs can create.

 

'World of Difference'

 

At Topics, Lindsay Collins, the company's DVD product manager, says the bonus plan prompted her to start thinking about the fuel efficiency of the car she was driving. So, she sold her six-cylinder Volkswagen Jetta and bought a four-cylinder Hyundai Elantra. Ms. Collins says the switch, which she wouldn't have done without the $1,000 assistance from Topics, has boosted her gas mileage to about 37 miles per gallon on a highway, from the Jetta's 24 miles per gallon. "It's just made a world of difference in how often I have to get gas," says the 27-year-old.

 

Loans and Massages

 

Another company helping employees switch to more fuel-efficient rides is Clif Bar & Co., a Berkeley, Calif., maker of organic energy bars, with 212 employees. Clif offers forgivable loans of as much as $5,000 so employees can buy vehicles that get at least 40 miles per gallon. With the forgivable loans, employees don't have to pay back any of the money if they stay with the company for generally five years; a certain amount is forgiven each year.

 

The company also rewards points to employees who commute by public transportation, car pool, walk or bike. The points can be exchanged for cash or rewards like gift certificates to Whole Foods Market and free massages.

 

This week, Clif is introducing two new benefits -- one giving employees as much as $1,000 annually for making energy-saving home improvements, like buying more energy-efficient appliances and home compost kits; and one offering as much as $500 to buy or retrofit a commuter bicycle, like installing a basket to hold things.

 

So far, about 75 employees have participated in some way in the environmental benefits, says human-resources manager Jennifer Freitas, and the company has spent roughly $100,000 on those benefits. Some employees have gotten ambitious by finding colleagues to car pool with on their routes to work and turning fuel savings into something of a sport.

 

Ms. Freitas says the company sees the program not only as a good employee motivator but also as helping serve one of its core missions -- "sustaining our planet."

 

At NRG Systems Inc., a Hinesburg, Vt., wind-measurement manufacturer with about 85 employees, people who buy a Toyota Prius get a $1,000 bonus each year. About 26 employees have purchased the car so far. NRG also holds monthly meetings on various environmental and alternative-energy topics. And it has a white board where it keeps track of employees who've taken advantage of the company's various green incentives.

 

Buying Credits

 

Some companies find that the participation of even a few employees can have an impact. Green Mountain Energy Co., an Austin, Texas, renewable-electricity provider, lets employees buy renewable-energy credits to offset their carbon-dioxide emissions. It also matches donations to environmental groups made through payroll deduction, up to $10 per two-week pay period.

 

In addition, the company hands out prizes like gift certificates based on points that employees rack up by finding alternatives to driving to work, such as biking or taking public transportation.

 

Though only about 25 of Green Mountain's 150 employees participate in the commuter program, the impact has been substantial, with those people collectively driving about 21,000 fewer miles in 2007, says Gillan Taddune, the company's chief environmental officer.

 

"People in general get overwhelmed when they hear about glaciers melting," she says. "I think companies can help [employees] do things in ways they can sustain."

 

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