Eight Ways National Geographic is Engaging Employees to Cut Costs

By Katie DeWitt, 2012 EDF Climate Corps fellow at National Geographic Society, MBA candidate at University of California Berkeley Haas School of Business

Organization: National Geographic Society (Nat Geo)

Opportunity: 1,307 passionate employees

Summary: Though the National Geographic Society is best known for inspiring people to care about the planet through educational materials and breathtaking images, its internal environmental activities are equally impressive…though less visible to the public. This summer, I'm getting an inside view of those activities and writing to tell you what I see.

Despite today's tough economic climate, particularly for media and nonprofit organizations, National Geographic (Nat Geo) has an exceptionally "green" workplace, an otherwise expensive undertaking that has been made possible by its GoGreen Initiative.

GoGreen is an employee engagement program that protects the environment and Nat Geo’s bottom line by tapping into one of the organization's most bountiful, though unconventional, resources – the passion and creativity of Nat Geo employees themselves.

Founded in 2007 entirely by employee volunteers, GoGreen runs at low- to-no-cost to Nat Geo, and is an imitable model – here are 8 successful aspects of the program that could help any organization "Go Green."

1)    Green Fridays: Every other Friday during the summer, Nat Geo closes its office and reduces gas and electricity to a minimum, saving about $20,000 per year. Employees still work 40 hours in the four day week, but they've said they appreciate the long weekends!

2)    Demand response: This is Nat Geo’s third year in EnerNOC's nationwide energy conservation program – we're alternating air handlers and asking employees to turn off elevators, nonessential overhead lighting and office equipment to reduce power usage during the hottest and most humid days of summer. That takes some of the pressure to supply off of our electricity provider, and it's saving Nat Geo about $19,000 a year.

3)    Signage: Every month, the GoGreen team reminds Nat Geo staff of its environmental accomplishments – and how to improve on them – with a new round of posters. This month's set focused on turning off computer monitors at night and printing double-sided, touting admirable statistics: "Nat Geo headquarters staff made 442,000 fewer copies in 2010 than in 2009, saving enough 8.5 x 11 sheets to stretch from DC to Baltimore and back."

4)    Alternative modes of transportation: Nat Geo recently increased car parking fees at its headquarters, using the revenue to subsidize Capital Bikeshare memberships and SmartTrip multi-use metro farecards for employees. It also provides bike racks and showers for employees who bike to work and participated in DC’s Bike to Work Day as a host.

5)    Dish carts: The GoGreen team worked with Sodexo, Nat Geo’s sustainability-driven cafeteria retailer, to place dish carts on every floor of the Nat Geo headquarters. Now employees can take food from the cafeteria and conveniently return the reusable dishware, reducing waste from to-go containers.

6)    Composting and recycling: To make composting hassle-free for employees, every office also has a recycling basket beside the trash can; every floor has a composting bin; and all paper towels in the bathrooms and paper waste in the cafeteria are compostable.

7)    Greenpage: As part of Nat Geo's internal "intranet," employees get green news, tips and resources for personal sustainability, and a forum for GoGreen questions and feedback.

8) Energy vampire: Every Halloween, an “energy vampire” reminds employees to turn off their lights… or else. Throughout the rest of the year, two blue and green spandex characters fill in, modeling good and bad environmental behavior for the office.

EDF Climate Corps places specially trained MBA and MPA students in companies, cities and universities to develop practical, actionable energy efficiency plans. Sign up to receive emails about EDF Climate Corps, including regular blog posts by our fellows. You can also visit our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter to get regular updates about this project.