Eco-bricks, effective recycling and green gifting are just some of the concepts that employees in our company’s “green team” are applying in their quest to make their homes, workplace and communities more sustainable.

Our Employees Creating Opportunities for Sustainability (ECOS) group was formed several years ago with encouragement from our leadership and some guidance from Gina Murphy-Darling, founder of Mrs. Green’s World.

The group includes 200-plus employees who are working to promote resource conservation, recycling and waste reduction in order to preserve the environment and reduce costs.

One of the group’s first initiatives was to partner with graduate students at the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management to brainstorm ways to save resources and reduce costs at our company’s headquarters building. Their solution was simple and effective.

“We set the default settings on our shared printers to double-sided and black-and-white to save on paper and replacement ink cartridges,” explained Alisha Hurst, TEP Sustainability Analyst who serves as the ECOS Steering Committee Chair. “Driving sustainability is one of our corporate values and ECOS brings together like-minded employees committed to sustainability who want to learn from others and share their ideas.”

The group also established designated recycling bins in employee break rooms and organized volunteers to help coordinate the Tucson Zero Waste Sustainability event. The event brings community organizations together each spring and fall to collect and recycle or responsibly dispose of various items, such as medications, books, electronics, batteries and computers. The groups also provide respectful retirement for American flags and offers free shredding services for paper and documents.

The next Tucson Zero Waste Collection event is scheduled Saturday, April 15 from 9 a.m.-1 p.m.  at 2700 E. Speedway Blvd.

To keep employees engaged, ECOS hosts quarterly presentations focused on living greener. Topics range from proper recycling and eco-friendly cleaning products to water conservation and green gift giving.

“We try to bring in local experts to present on topics that ECOS members have told us they want to learn about,” Hurst said. “We look for sessions that will be practical and actionable so they can apply what they learn.”

For example, Jacy McGuire, Project Control Specialist in TEP’s Information Services, became a recycling warrior after learning how to recycle the right way at one of the presentations. Now she recycles as much as she can.

“There’s so much more to recycling that I never knew about, such as some plastics – but not all – can be recycled. I also never knew that items need to be empty, clean and dry before tossing them in the recycling bin.”

Employees also are invited to participate in fun and engaging challenges, such as Sustainability Bingo and the Carbon Reduction Challenge. By completing sustainable measures, employees earn eco-friendly swag or a small gift card to a local business.

That’s how IT Project Coordinator Brianne Mitchell learned about eco-bricking, which she started doing with her four-year-old daughter last summer. They’re tightly packing plastic scraps into large plastic bottles to form “bricks,” which they hope to use to build a bench for their back yard.

“We’ve only made about 5-6 bricks, mainly because we rarely buy disposable plastic bottles,” Mitchell said, “but it’s helped me teach my daughter about how we don’t throw trash on the ground outside. It also made my family realize just how much trash we produce, so we’re trying to reduce our footprint.”

Hurst said these individual actions, taken together, have a ripple effect.

“We all have a sphere of influence that we can use within our circles to make an impact. Little things can make a big difference if we all pitch in. The power for change can be exponential,” Hurst said. “When you care about something, it’s easy to take action if you know what you can do.”

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