Many of us who are aware of the environmental crisis we now face would say that we care about the environment.
We might recycle and use reusable bags or cycle to work instead of drive. But at work, mysterious as it may seem, we often put on a different hat.
If we are giving a group presentation, we might print a copy of it for everyone attending. If we are proofreading a document, we might choose to have a hard copy. When purchasing supplies, we might pay attention solely to quality and price, with no regard to the method of production or how the item is transported to us.
All too often, we pay more attention to being professional than we do to being environmental. For some reason, the moment we walk through the office doors in our professional attire, we place our job at the pinnacle of our lives, believing that our duty to our work is the highest we have. This can also be seen in the way so many sacrifice time with their family for more time at work.
But if we truly understand that the impending environmental crisis is all too real, then we should place the solution above most, if not all, other things. This means that our duty to our jobs must be superseded by our duty to the planet—because if we destroy the planet, we naturally destroy or diminish the opportunity to toil on its soil and earn a living.
So, the real question is, why do we continually place professionalism over environmentalism?
At our jobs, we work within guidelines and standards which are meant to be followed to a tee. Being a “good worker” often equates to ticking all the boxes and being thorough and diligent. In many cases, our conscience is not called into action; we are simply asked to follow the prescribed processes.
The goods or service we provide are meant to be of the highest quality possible, meaning the focus is usually on customer satisfaction—our energies are devoted to pleasing the consumer. As Dr. Mathew King points out in this article, companies often do this without thinking of the environmental consequences, which then places the ecological responsibility on the consumer’s purchasing power.
Our aim should not be to satisfy the consumer or blindly follow a set of work standards divorced from conscience. What we need to do is to place ethical values at the core of our work standards—the environment being central to those values. Then, in practicing these ethically-grounded standards, we do not place the immediate satisfaction of the consumer at the top of our priorities. Instead, we try to satisfy their needs as much as possible without compromising our values or harming the environment. We find ways to work within sustainable parameters while keeping the customer in mind.
For instance, I work as an ESL teacher and one of the ways I try to practice sustainability is by minimizing my use of paper. Conventionally, teachers in developed countries photocopy copious amounts of handouts for their students because that is what a “responsible” teacher does—a teacher devoted to the educational needs of their students. To not do this would be to compromise their professional standards, to offer a substandard education, right?
Wrong—because the way I see it, my students and I are all living on the same planet with the same ecological constraints. Regardless of how many thousands of dollars my students are paying to attend college, they have no right to consume materials that harm the environment. Teachers and students need to work within a set of constraints and figure out ways that learning can take place without harming the planet.
There are many environmental practices we can put in place, even if they may, at first, conflict with our notion of professionalism:
To save paper, we can keep digital records, use recycled printing paper, print on both sides, have a tray for used paper, and have a paper-only bin for used paper to be collected and then recycled.
To save electricity, we can use energy saving settings on computers and shut them down at the end of the day. Devices that are only used occasionally can be left unplugged. We can turn off lights when not in certain rooms, use the stairs instead of the elevator, and dress down in the summer and up in the winter to minimize the use of heating and cooling systems.
To reduce waste, we can use a mug or reusable cup instead of using disposable cups or plastic. We can make coffee in a machine that doesn’t use coffee pods or just use a French Press. We can opt to bring lunch in reusable containers instead of single-use plastic, which saves us money as well. We can also choose to buy pens that use ink refills.
And since most people have to travel for work, we can choose to carpool, take public transport, or even better, bike, run, walk, or skip. And whenever possible, we can work from home.
Making these changes may not be easy or feel comfortable at first. Some may feel that keeping digital records or printing documents on already-used paper could be seen as sloppy. Others might think that dressing down is too casual or that arriving at work all sweaty after running or biking is unprofessional.
But as humans sharing one planet, we can’t let our suit and tie dictate our approach to work. We need to work for the planet and not against it. And we need to redefine professionalism so that it is driven by environmentally conscious practices.
Author: Peter Gyulay
Image: Fausto Coppi drinking coffee during race on Imgur
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Catherine Monkman