Everyday Green Heroes

Coming to a workplace near you: a growing army of everyday green heroes

By John Schofield

As a packaging designer for Toronto-based Bayer Inc., Lisa Blackburn likes to think inside the box. And Judy Paquin, a mid-level manager at a Wal-Mart store in Truro, N.S., unpacks a lot of them. But their connection goes beyond cardboard. While they’ve never met, the two women are united by a passion for the environment, and they symbolize a growing army of everyday green heroes who are making their companies, communities and homes greener places to be.

In 2009, Blackburn, director, project management, for Bayer HealthCare’s over-the-counter consumer products division, established a sustainable packaging steering committee, which reviews the environmental impact of packaging for well-known products like Bayer Aspirin, Aleve, and One A Day multivitamins. The committee puts product packaging under the microscope, examining everything from its manufacturing, transportation, in-store life, and disposal. “We look at it from every angle,” she says. “We really try to embed sustainability into our way of thinking.”

Blackburn also sits on Bayer’s newly formed Sustainability Council, which leads green and corporate social responsibility efforts across the company. In April, Toronto-based MediaCorp named Bayer Inc. one of Canada’s Greenest Employers for the third consecutive year. To top it all off, she leads a team of company volunteers who coach students in Humber College’s Industrial Design program for six weeks every year, helping them fine-tune their entries in a Bayer-sponsored sustainable packaging design contest. “I’ve always been aware of the role that packaging plays in the environment,” says Blackburn. “Also, being a mother of two, I do see this as a responsibility to care for our planet.”

Judy Paquin, for her part, has helped turn the Truro location into one of Wal-Mart Canada’s most environmentally engaged stores. Last year, the decade-long Wal-Mart employee persuaded every one of the store’s 186 full- and part-time associates to participate in Wal-Mart’s My Sustainability Plan (MSP) initiative, designed to help the company create Canada’s largest and greenest workforce. It’s unusual for Wal-Mart stores to have 100 per cent participation in the program, says spokeswoman Susan Schutta. Paquin has now incorporated her MSP pitch into the orientation process for each new employee. The program aims to convince each associate to commit to even one small act to improve the environment, like turning off the water while brushing their teeth or turning off the lights when leaving a room. “It’s all the baby steps,” Paquin says, “that can make a big change.”

Making your company more sustainable begins with leadership and education, says Paquin. “A lot of people don’t know how to do the right thing,” she says. “But when you talk to them, they realize how easy it is and how good it makes them feel.”

Awareness is essential, agrees Lisa Blackburn. Once that’s in place, she advises budding green leaders to do an audit of sustainable practices the company is already doing. Then develop a vision of what the organization wants to accomplish and start to execute it. “By thinking about sustainability from start to finish,” she says, “you can play a part in building a better world—no matter what business you’re in.”

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