The sustainable transformation of companies plays a key role in fighting climate change, including reducing corporate carbon emissions, producing as little waste as possible, and generally operating ecologically. Ensuring basic climate neutrality is one thing - but when it comes to implementing major sustainable changes internally, even Climate Officers reach their limits of influence. Therefore, building an internal Green Team gives you the opportunity to join forces and to reach your goals faster and more effectively together with like-minded people.
How do you start a Green Team?
Step 1: Prepare your first moves
Anyone can initiate it! Find other team members in your company who are passionate about sustainability. Prepare the first meeting together and get a feel of the room. What kind of climate action is favored by the majority? What sustainable solutions are most important to the people there? It is important to build corporate sustainability from the ground up. Set clear outcomes for the first meeting. It is important that people feel things are moving forward in terms of business sustainability strategies. This first meeting should allow you to assign key roles such as a team leader and treasurer and assess involvement. How many people will be involved and at what levels can they contribute to this sustainability journey? It may also be productive to gauge whether there is necessity in hiring a chief sustainability officer for your business if you do not already have one. This meeting should also let people express the reasons why they want to get involved. From experience, building a climate action plan from the bottom up has a much better chance of survival.
Step 2: Start acting
You have a team, you have an idea, all that is left to do is execute. Go from easy to hard, and don’t set your expectations of sustainable business and a sustainable workplace too high. By now, at least one member of the management team should be in the know and can start providing the institutional support you need to implement these sustainable solutions. Some change is better than no change. No need to envision a grand business sustainability strategy to upend the entirety of the company at once. Radical change comes with preparation, gathering momentum, and support. That said, it is important to understand how to avoid greenwashing. Your initiatives become greenwashing only if your desire for climate action dies off before it has had the chance to make a real impact and you do not follow through with your climate action plan.
Step 3: Follow your plan, but be flexible
Keep growing and fostering a sustainable workplace. Although the climate action plan of the team should be decided on (and written down) from the get-go, a movement needs to leave space for growth. Many things can go wrong: you’ll have to accept that some of ideas you are enthusiastic about in the end won't make it into the organization (or at least only as a compromise). Either it is just not possible to organize some things, or the administrative effort is too high, or there are restrictions due to the building space itself, or you depend on external persons/organizations who don't react fast enough or don't share your opinion on the urgency of environmental action. Also the Green Team's enthusiasm is not always shared in the same way by everyone in the company: everyone can agree that climate action should be taken seriously, but when a change is due to happen, some people need more time to get accustomed and the first reaction might be negative. Don’t give up! We knew it wouldn't be easy. Diversifying sustainable solutions and replacing the initial enthusiasts who have lost momentum are among the difficult decisions that the team leader or chief sustainability officer will have to make. Thankfully, as your group grows and achieves significant, positive, and sustainable change there will be more room to expand and more roles to fill. As you begin to positively impact your team and company at large and reduce your corporate carbon footprint, you should see an incremental interest in sustainability. Green teams within companies can usually get some time and some budget to implement their sustainable solutions and grow beyond their usual role.
Who should become a member of your Green Team?
You can choose one of the following approaches, whichever fits you best: - volunteer participation: invite anyone from your company to join based on their personal interest and passion. These people will bring you lots of ideas, but sometimes these ideas may only have a small impact, so it can be hard to drive a large scale transformation of your company. - targeted invitations: invite people from positions involved in managing the biggest CO2 emission sources, as well as from each of the other key departments: facility management, office supply, business travel, HR, tech, marketing, etc. Their opinions and insights are key in getting a realistic idea for what changes can be made. - C-level influence: build a team of senior managers and executives who actually have the power and knowledge to make decisions and execute them quickly. Most likely, you can’t arrange meetings with such high-level people so often, but such a group structure accelerates change through its power of influence, access to information, and understanding of business priorities. You can also mix all of these approaches if you want.
What roles do you need in your team in order to succeed?
Teamlead, who can be a Climate Officer of your company or Sustainability Manager. They prepare strategies, do administrative team tasks, lead meetings, and keep the general overview so that the sprints align with long term sustainability & company goals. Sometimes this role can also be a flexible position, and leaders can be changed every quarter. Treasurer, if you have a budget to manage. It can be helpful if this person is related to your finance department. Over the years you can also use the budget savings that appeared thanks to your green team’s efforts. Scrum master, product owner, and project managers, if you work in sprints. Communicator, who is able to communicate any policy change and initiative exceptionally well to the rest of the company.
Learning from successful Green Teams on how to organize work effectively:
Try to use one of the agile frameworks: Scrum or Kanban.
Keep the team small and productive. In case more than 10-12 people want to participate, build smaller sub-teams. They can also have various focuses: green office, green product, green mobility, green finance etc.
Meet regularly: once per week, once every two weeks, or once per month.
Require active participation. Even for those who just want to come and listen, ask them to at least share successes, questions, and ideas with their colleagues to broaden your internal reach.
Set objective goals and keep priorities in mind: start with small, but whenever it’s possible try to implement measures that will have the biggest impact on your carbon footprint.
Ask your CEO to support you publicly within the company. They can highlight the importance of the initiative during your regular company-wide meeting.
Get support from colleagues who are not part of the Green Team:
Explain your decisions. Let all colleagues outside of the green team know your green team's plans and successes transparently and regularly. They should not only be aware of the changes that are taking place, but also be ready to support your initiatives and even conform to some discomfort in their daily work life in the office. It is important to be transparent on the decisions made. The more you explain why the Green Team wants to implement new things, the bigger the acceptance in the rest of the team. If you just decide and make changes and nobody knows why, that's not beneficial. Ask for help. Create a dedicated Slack channel where you can post calls for participation so that anyone can support a specific project without having to commit anything long-term. You can also gather ideas from the whole company in this channel. Be transparent. Build and update an intranet page that shows what you are thinking about, tracks what you've done, and the impact. Engage from the very beginning. Include information about your green team and initiatives in the onboarding process for new colleagues. Get support from shareholders. Make sure your team has the attention of the board and key shareholders as more and more influential tech investors want to be seen as "green". Use that!
We can all feel that the environmentalist movement is gaining traction. We are now millions on the streets fighting against climate change. Let’s translate this mobilization into tangible climate action by infiltrating the most significant vehicles of carbon emissions, businesses. Sustainability starts with you!
Schedule your first meeting and start your green team today!
Special thanks to Fabius from Personio, Clara from Fashion Cloud, Johann from Tourlane, Johanna from Bergfreunde, Göksu from Idealo, Christian from eyeo, and Mathias from GameDuell for sharing your experience with us. Your learnings are highly valuable for other members of our community.