Alex Tran remembers visiting her company's headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan in the summer of 2018 and feeling discouraged. She works, remotely from Seattle, as a digital marketing strategist for logistics company Hollingsworth and visits the main office regularly. Soon after starting at the company, she joined its employee committee, a group of corporate staffers who volunteer their time to make things better for employees on the whole.
After joining the committee, Tran volunteered to teach yoga classes every time she was back in the Midwest, much to the staff's delight. She also is deeply passionate about sustainability issues, and actively urged her coworkers to use the recycling bins in break rooms.
“But when I came to the office last summer, I saw that people had been throwing plastic bottles into the garbage," she remembers.
She talked to her fellow committee members about the importance of instilling sustainable attitudes at work. Hollingsworth, she says, employs a host of sustainable practices in other operations decisions, “but it wasn't reflected in what we were doing internally," Tran says.
For the holidays, she proposed gifting employees what she called “sustainability starter kits," containing reusable chopsticks and sporks, metal straws and double vaulted tumbler beverage containers. The company signed off on Tran's idea, and she worked for months securing products from businesses that she believed in.
“I looked at local companies and minority-owned businesses," she says. “I wanted to support sustainability at every step of the process."
More than 3,000 kits had to be assembled, one for every Hollingsworth employee, across multiple locations. Tran organized that, too, recruiting around 40 volunteers to assemble the kits in less than two days.
What made her decide on those specific gifts?
“First, straws," she says. “There is so much research out there about plastic straws hurting turtles; the images online are heartbreaking. Then the spork. Everyone has to eat, why not give them something they'll reuse? And the tumbler—everyone loves the tumbler because now they can just clean it and reuse it instead of creating more waste from their water and coffee cups on a daily basis."
Consider the things your employees might use on a daily basis. [...] The more practical you can be, the more they will likely to use the gift and thereby increase the sustainability impact.
—Matt Ross, co-founder and COO, RIZKNOWS
Nearly 2,200 miles west of Hollingsworth's headquarters in Reno, Nevada, Matt Ross is another business leader thinking about gifting sustainable gifts to employees. He's the co-founder and COO of consumer product review site RIZKNOWS, and recently decided to treat his employees to a few green-friendly gifts.
“Employee Appreciation Day was March 1st, and we decided to give each of our 12 employees a set of reusable food containers and an environmentally-friendly water bottle," he says.
Why was this important to him?
“The amount of waste a company creates is simply shocking, even when compared to what a family creates," he says. “We tried thinking about what our employees might use and most appreciate, and went with these items. They really appreciated them."
There are thousands of companies that offer sustainable employee appreciation ideas and gifts. One company is Impecca, a company that sells bamboo keyboards—a gift that Ollie Smith, CEO of U.K.-based price comparison site ExpertSure, jumped at.
“I want to encourage my employees to think and act in a more eco-friendly manner," he says. “By gifting them the bamboo keyboard, I hope it instills a more sustainable mindset."
Interested in launching a sustainable gifting program at your company?
Here are a few pieces of advice to get you started.
Don't have time to look for sustainable employee appreciation gifts? Fear not.
“Find someone who is passionate about wanting to make that happen, and allow them to manage the entire process," suggests Tran. “Allow your employees to do more than what is expected of them in their roles. It will give them an opportunity to shine as leaders. Just be there to support them."
2. Shop around.
“Find companies that have a mission of sustainability," recommends Tran. “Think about buying local and from small businesses. Shop around and try to find the best deal. It's also a great idea to reach out to minority-owned and women-owned companies."
3. Think practical
"Consider the things your employees might use on a daily basis," advises Ross. "The more practical you can be, the more they will likely to use the gift and thereby increase the sustainability impact."
Photo: Getty Images