How to be a sustainable employer

GREEN MACHINE: Sierra Nevada's alternative transportation program encourages employees to bike, walk, skateboard, take public transit or carpool. Courtesy of Sierra Nevada Brewing Company

Whichever way employers define “sustainable,” incorporating the effort into the workplace requires creative thought and effort.

Let’s start with this definition: “able to last or continue for a long time.” For employers to maintain long-term success, their employees must be representative of their entire diverse community. To achieve these ends and encourage staff retention, Deborah Miles, executive director of the Center for Diversity Education at UNC Asheville, highlights three crucial areas of focus:

• Examine hiring pipelines: How companies advertise and who is aware of job openings determines who applies. Keeping in mind that 70 percent of all jobs are gained through some sort of personal connections, pipelines may be broadened by establishing relationships at historically black colleges and universities, or sending announcements to a wider friendship circle.

Mentor: Identifying staff for leadership potential, learning employee aspirations and providing special opportunities for skills to grow are key in establishing diversity in higher-level positions.

Take accountability: In addition to performance in the above areas, are employers selecting diverse hiring committees, screening from conscious bias, providing a welcoming climate and monitoring how co-workers are getting along in the office?

Then there’s definition number No. 2: “involving methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources.” Eco-friendly benefits and services help make employees’ lives easier and encourage the long-term health of the world around them.

Provide free bus passes: In Asheville Transit’s Passport program, employers and schools pay one monthly bill that allows employees and students no-cost bus rides when they show a corresponding ID. According to City Transit Projects Coordinator Yuri Koslen, Green Opportunities, UNCA, the OMNI Grove Park Inn, Buncombe County and the city of Asheville currently provide this benefit to full time employees.

Encourage car pool networks: UNCA also offers the Zimride ride-sharing program to its students, faculty and staff for daily commutes and carpooling to destinations such as Charlotte and Raleigh. “Any time we can convert a few would-be drivers into multi-passenger commuters, we can reduce [the] amount of emissions, parking and traffic on the roads,” says John Ridout, transportation coordinator for UNCA. “It is a win-win for the user and the university.”

Create incentives for alternative transportation: Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.’s Green Machine program requires a pledge of five round trips per month for work, errands or another non-recreational purpose via bicycling, walking, skateboarding, public transit or carpooling. “We really wanted to make sure the program was encouraging employees to rethink their transportation options and ‘step out of the car,’ if you will,” says Mandi McKay, sustainability coordinator for Sierra Nevada. All participants are entered into quarterly drawings for various prizes, and a party is held each April with grand-prize drawings for two new bicycles.


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About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA). Follow me @EdwinArnaudin

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5 thoughts on “How to be a sustainable employer

  1. Drinker

    How easy/difficult is it to bicycle, walk, skateboard, or take public transportation to the new Sierra Nevada brewery? Though a laudable company in many aspects of sustainability, I am under the impression their new Mills River facility is remote and accessible only by car (or boat I suppose!) for the vast majority of visitors and employees.

    • Edwin Arnaudin

      Cycling, walking and skateboarding there isn’t very feasible or safe, so the Green Machine program (which even in flat, bike-friendly Chico, CA had bike for fun, bike for errands and bike to work options) was amended to include all forms of alternative transportation so that employees at both sites could participate.

      Though it’s not technically public transportation, Sierra Nevada will be offering a shuttle service from the Asheville airport (a public transit stop) to its facility. McKay anticipates that this service will mainly be used by the public, but says employees will most likely be able to take advantage of it as well.

  2. boatrocker

    7:43pm, March 23, 2015 AD posting time.

    -Offer a living wage commiserate with the highest cost of living in NC out of 100 counties?
    – Stay in business here (employers), and don’t move to the flatlands when you discover operating costs are cheaper?
    -Buy local, and don’t ‘cheat’ when your favorite outlet store moves in and sells discount North Face gear?
    -Vote the Galactic bOnehead emPire out of office?

    Oh darn, there I go again, being such a Karl Marx.
    Sorry. Yay, hotels and microbreweries. Raise my rent.

  3. Jason

    How to be a sustainable employer? Have a huge bank-roll before you declare you’re a sustainable employer

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