Change is hard

by Carlee Smith

Some of the changes we need to make to create a positive impact are often highlighted. These include reducing waste, reusing materials, recycling consumables. At the beginning of my architectural education I learnt that the building industry contributes to nearly 40% of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, but it was attending this year’s National Architecture Conference which inspired me to actively work to create positive change in my workplace.  

I wrote a long list of actions, it was by no means comprehensive, just the beginning. I naively thought it would be straight forward, just action each item one after the other. But it turns out that it is difficult to create change in an organisation that is over 40 years old.  

The first thing I tried to action was the removal of single use coffee cups in the office. I thought it would be simple. Find a suitable cup with lid that could go in the dishwasher. People could borrow them from the office and use them like any other mug. I was wrong. I came across the following comments: 

  • “We had keep cups in the past and their use fizzled out” 
  • “I like to use disposable cups in the café because it keeps my coffee warmer” 
  • “Are keep cups the solution? Should we invest in a better coffee machine instead?” 
  • “I only use a disposable cup when the cafe forgets to give me my coffee with my lunch” 
  • “You’ll also need to buy man bags to carry the keep cups” 
Is this the one?

This resulted in the following reflections: 

  • Education – It is difficult to change habit. However, when someone hears that 2.7 million coffee cups are thrown away every day in Australia it is harder to ignore the magnitude of the problem 
  • Discussion – Adapt the solution to how your colleagues think and act. I spoke to all my colleagues so that I am able to hold them accountable to their actions 
  • Research – Find the best solution, not just your pre-conceived idea of what the solution is. Learn to find available research , adapt it and use it 
  • Bigger picture – Is providing a better coffee machine in the office a better solution? In our case no, but it is worth considering whether you can avoid the problem in the first place  
  • Repeat enthusiastically – Accept and embrace that you will need to repeat yourself. Give everyone else a chance to catch up 
  • Find allies / champions – Find others with aligning views and encourage each other  
  • Commit – We are doing this for future generations. It was worth the sacrifice in time and money 
  • Focus – After the obstacles I encountered with the coffee cups, I only told two people about changing to more earth friendly consumables. Someone to do the research and the person who purchases the product, it was a much easier success  

In the case of the single use coffee cups, we are going to purchase a stock of reusable cups with lids for the office. We will also implement a combination of education, guilt and support to ensure that these are used.  

We have only just started, from here we will consider the products we specify; find ways to incorporate more reuse in our projects; and analyse the way we approach transport for business. Change is hard but it is worth it.  

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