Building a Culture of Approachable Sustainability in the Workplace

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At Helen + Gertrude, we’ve centered our identity around working towards a greater purpose. We even introduced a new company tagline this year to emphasize that purpose-centered, human-first work drives everything we do. Since long before our fresh new look, we’ve been proud to be an agency that cares about our people and planet.

Given the importance of these values to our identity, we founded our Sustainability Committee in 2019 with the goal of supporting our employees, clients, and the Rochester community in taking action to be a little greener. With the near-constant news about how we’re failing our planet and future generations, it can be easy to feel like there’s not much we can do as individuals or as a small startup agency to make a difference. Eco anxiety is real, y’all. 

At the same time, with sustainability efforts becoming more of an expectation from today’s consumers and employees, it can seem like “going green” is something everyone’s talking about, but it’s not always clear how to get started. A study from Unily reported almost two-thirds (65%) of survey respondents said they were more likely to work for a company with strong environmental policies, and research continues to demonstrate how consumers value sustainable business practices when choosing which brands to support. Clearly, this is a topic that deeply resonates with many of us, while often still seeming vague and overwhelming.

Therefore, our mission is to make our agency’s sustainability initiatives as approachable and realistic as possible so that people WANT to participate instead of feeling the need to simply check a box. 

Since then, we’ve made progress toward achieving our annual goals, learned a lot, and constantly brainstormed fresh ways to pursue a more sustainable future. And we’ve had a lot of fun along the way!

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How We Create An Eco-Friendly Work Culture

Last summer marked the completion of our third annual Sustainability Challenge, where Helen + Gertrude employees competed to earn points (tracked in an extensive spreadsheet created by our very own data whiz, Tegan) through tasks like going meat-free, picking up trash in our neighborhoods, and reducing plastic waste. We found a key aspect to success in the event was allowing our team to partake in challenges that were personally relevant and fulfilling based on their existing habits. For example, going meat-free if you’re a longtime vegan is less of a challenge than taking shorter showers each morning.

As a company outing, we hosted our first group trash cleanup event, organized through a local nonprofit Walking for Rochester. We split into teams to see who could pick up the most trash by weight in an hour and followed it with a happy hour. (The winners got free drinks, of course). Are you sensing a theme? It’s fair to say we thrive off a little healthy competition. We participated in a similar Beach Clean Up event last year at Durand Beach in Rochester as well, and are planning to host and attend more clean ups in the coming year.

As a group, we’ve watched and discussed documentaries (check out The True Cost and I Am Greta!), hosted group clothing swaps, brought in local speakers, created Sustainable Holiday Guides, and even set up an in-office composting system through a local organization, Impact Earth. You could say we’re not afraid to get our hands TOO dirty (or should we say, compost-y?). While our committee is still fairly new, we’ve already seen positive results in terms of employee engagement and enthusiasm, forging new relationships with local organizations, and connecting with clients who are seeking guidance around brand sustainability initiatives.

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Our Future Goals for Promoting Sustainability in the Workplace

We have some pretty lofty goals for 2023 and beyond, involving volunteering with more local groups, calculating the team’s carbon footprint, implementing in-office infrastructure to encourage sustainable habits, and eventually obtaining a B-Corporation certification. 

We’re also excited to announce that we’re a sponsor for this year’s Climate Solutions Summit, a two-day event centered around building a regenerative economy in the Genesee-Finger Lakes Region of New York.  We’re truly just getting started! We're always brainstorming new ideas and looking for simple, realistic ways to make a positive impact on the environment. 

Meet the Team!

We asked the passionate people behind our sustainability committee to share what inspires them. Here’s how they responded:

Becca Post, Co-Founder + CEO

Why I Joined the Committee:

I believe that individual action alone, is not going to make a huge difference in the current climate situation we're in. But, when individual action starts becoming collective action, and conversation is buzzing all around, there's a much greater chance for policy change.

My Favorite Project We’ve Done:

I love when we get feedback from team members that a particular learning session or activity inspired them to implement changes in their personal lives. My favorite to date was when we started in-office composting. There was some hesitation at first about whether or not it would stink, or how much work was involved. Once everyone saw how easy it was, some joined local composting programs in the area or set up their own systems at home.

My Favorite Small Way to be More Sustainable:

I recently joined our Community Solar Program in our town. We were able to sign up online and each month we receive a report of our savings and energy from the solar farm. So easy! 

A Book I Recommend:

“All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis” by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson

Ashley Mason, Senior Communication Strategist

Why I Joined the Committee:

I love being a part of the Green Committee because it's rewarding to help my coworkers be more intentional about their environmental impact. Our region has so much to offer, and I have a blast thinking of ways we can connect with our local parks.  

My Favorite Project We’ve Done:

The Sustainability challenges are my favorite because they force me to take a hard look at my day-to-day practices. A few years back, I focused on reducing single-use plastic in my home, and it was such a struggle for me. But it made me more creative with reusing plastic and containers. It was a really rewarding experience. 

My Favorite Small Way to be More Sustainable:

I pack a lunch, which cuts down on disposable packaging (styrofoam, utensils, etc.) and it's a great way to use up what's in my fridge.

Books I Recommend:

“Omnivore's Dilemma” by Michael Pollan and “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver

Sammy Boyd, Copywriter

Why I Joined the Committee:

I loved the idea that our agency was recognizing our responsibility as a small business to promote sustainability, and I wanted to get involved! As a new employee at the time, I also thought it would be a great way to get to know some of my coworkers outside of strictly work-related projects and work on something I'm passionate about. 

My Favorite Project We’ve Done:

I loved our group trash cleanup with Walking for Rochester—the competition aspect made it really fun. 

My Favorite Small Way to be More Sustainable:

I only ever wash my clothes in cold water since learning that most of the energy used by washing machines comes from heating the water. My next goal is to use my drying rack more often instead of the dryer!

A Podcast I Recommend:

It's no longer releasing new episodes, but I love the Casually Green podcast (and it's founded by two Rochester locals!)

Allison Kunz, New Media Designer

Why I Joined the Committee:

​​I believe that we have the power to better the planet as long as we are educated on how to do so. Joining the committee meant being part of the group that helps educate others.

My Favorite Project We’ve Done:

Our team trash cleanup!

My Favorite Small Way to be More Sustainable:

I love gardening my own vegetables when I can, and making sure I carry reusable bags to any store I plan to shop at.

Sammy Boyd

Sammy is a former media strategist, now copywriter, who helps clients find the right words to share their stories. Outside of work, she spends time watching reality television, planning her next weekend trip, and working towards her yearly reading goal.

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