Right now there are giant ditches, huge piles of dirt, and two backhoes taking up most of my backyard. We are rebuilding our garage, which was essentially a shed. The goal is to get ready for electric vehicles, add a south facing roof for solar, and if the grid goes down, provide water, power and heat in a second floor space for as many people as can fit for up to a week.
This week the surveyors had to redo the stakes and as I went out for a quick break, we started chatting. They were two men, one younger, one older, covered in dirt, wearing boots and hard hats. The older one’s first question was what we were building. I guess no one ever told them - so I explained. Both of their eyes lit up as they heard the plan. “That’s so cool! We love that environmental stuff” and he went on to tell me about some sustainability changes he was making to his home.
Inspiring sustainable choices
Then I pointed to a pile of fresh cut quarter sawn oak and maple. I asked them if they remembered the two trees that had to come down despite many design efforts to keep them. They did. I told him that we brought in a portable saw mill and would be using those trees to do all the interior wood of the building. They started taking pictures of the wood. The older one explained his son was “super into the environment” and always asked him about his day. He couldn’t wait to get home to tell him about this cool, grid resilient garage that he was helping to build and then show him how we are using our own trees for the project.
Given what I do for a living, it was his final line as I went back into the house that made me smile most. “You know, most days my job is just a job. Today I feel like it’s really important because we are helping you build something that is so inspiring and interesting and that when a big storm comes, could really help you and your neighbors.” I wish I had captured him on video. He brought to life the whole idea that when people feel their job is making an impact, they are more engaged and more motivated. You could tell the whole conversation made them happier. The whole conversation made me happier.
Building sustainability awareness
There is a saying in corporate sustainability circles that we need every job to be a sustainability job. That we need every employee to see their role through a set of sustainability lenses to find opportunities for their company to embrace sustainable choices, innovations and practices. It’s a giant effort to build awareness and help people understand what the goals are, what the obstacles are, and how they can contribute to the solution.
Our research shows what I saw live in my backyard with our surveyors. When people think their job is making an impact, they are more likely to recommend their company and their career choice. If every new building going up were “super green”, our garage wouldn’t be perceived by those surveyors as an exception or novelty. Surveyors would know that they are an integral part of transitioning to more sustainable houses and buildings, which, given the built environment contributes 40% of carbon emissions, is key to solving the climate crisis. Maybe we’d have a lot more people wanting to go into surveying. Maybe we’d get more surveying done faster and better because the employees know how critical their work is.
Sustainability innovation has the power to inspire more than anything else I’ve seen in my career. So look for opportunities this week to do something sustainable, personally or professionally. Share your story. And watch what happens. You might just help someone feel that today, their job is more than a job. You might convince someone that they too can make a difference. Behavior is contagious. Today and every day, you have the opportunity to catalyze the impact we need. I can’t wait to hear what you do.