• Lee Calver
  • 11 March 2013

Can one person make a difference?

If someone had asked me six months ago, "What do you do for the environment?" or "How do you help keep our planet green?" my response would have been, "Well, I don’t throw my litter on the floor and I cycle to work" (albeit because I can’t drive).

I have to be honest and say that, prior to starting at Workplace Law, I paid very little attention to how my actions could be affecting the world that I live in and quite frankly take for granted on a daily basis.

It is easy to bury your head in the sand and think that other people are doing their bit so you don’t need to worry. Alternatively you say to yourself, “Well, I know plenty of other people don’t bother so why should I?”

Half a year into my role as Content Developer at Workplace Law and I am certainly not for one minute professing to be an environmental expert now, but I can say that I have a new found understanding. More than that though, I now have respect for how my everyday actions are causing the planet that I thoroughly enjoy living in to deteriorate.

It obviously helps that, as part of my job, I post news stories on a daily basis in relation to environmental law and how businesses are required to comply with the ever changing legislation, so with every passing day I learn a little bit more.

Fear not though, I am not going to blabber on about environmental law for the rest of this blog. For one reason, I couldn’t! Yes, I am wiser than I once was, but I can assure you I am not an environmental know it all (not quite yet anyway!).

On Wednesday 6 March I attended the Ecobuild Conference at the ExCeL Centre in London and was amazed to see how many people had turned out in their masses to learn about environmental issues, explore new innovative ways of helping the planet, or pass on their wisdom to others.

I honestly had no idea what to expect when travelling to what turned out to be a fantastic venue, and in all honesty was rather overwhelmed by just how much was happening.

I expected to listen to a few speakers and produce a variety of news stories given what I had heard, but I can safely say it turned out to be much more of an experience than that.

With only one day to take in all that was on offer (the conference itself was over the course of three days), it was incredibly difficult to choose which sessions I should attend.

One session that I am grateful I did not pass up the opportunity to be present at was ‘The carrot or the stick?’ Perhaps the rather strange title enticed me in, but whatever the reason, I was glad I attended, as a few key points really stuck with me as I travelled home from the conference and made me think about a number of things I do. It subsequently made me question whether I should be doing these things.

Duncan Young, Sustainability Manager, Lend Lease, spoke confidently about how he believes that by changing the behaviour of people in the workplace can positively affect both business and the environment.

He started by explaining his company’s ‘bike buddy’ system, whereby staff can post where they are cycling from and can arrange meeting others on the way. Personally, I think this is a fantastic idea and helps promote all sorts of positive activity.

Independent research of Land Lease show that, on average, regular cyclists take 1.6 fewer sick days than those who travel to work alternatively.

When hearing these figures, I had mixed emotions. To start with, I felt a sense of smugness, given the fact that I cycled to work for three years, but a moment of self-satisfaction was replaced with guilt as I remembered that I now sit on a train as I travel into Cambridge.

In all fairness I could not cycle all the way to work from my house, but what I started to question was my method of travelling to and from the station every day.

Every morning I walk 12 minutes to the High Street where I pay £1.60 to catch a bus to the station and on the majority of occasions my journey home from the station involves me standing in the cold for 20 minutes waiting for a bus – that seems to pick and choose the times it wants to arrive – and forking out another £1.60 for it to drop me back at the High Street.

Another 12 minute walk and then I am finally home. Why I am putting myself through this every day? Surely it would be logical for me to jump on my bike (which is tucked away in the garage having not been used for six months) and cycle for approximately 20 minutes to arrive at the station in time for my train.

As well as saving myself £3.20 every day, I will be getting the physical exercise that will ensure I do not have to take time off work due to being ill. Win win? For me, my wallet, Workplace Law and the environment!

Another interesting point that Duncan Young made was the idea of preventing people from using lifts. Astutely positioned next to all lifts, Land Lease has a sign stating: 'Burn calories – not electricity'.

Further impressive figures ensued – there has been between a 9.8 and 20% increase in employees using the stairs since these signs have been in place.

Here at Workplace Law, there are 52 steps from the basement floor to the second floor (where I reside) and on average I probably head to the basement floor three or four times a day. I never use the lift down to the basement floor – that really would be the height of laziness. However, my mantra on ascending back to my desk is – or should I say used to be – If the lift is there, then I will use it, but if I have to wait for it then I will trek back to the second floor.

It is like I am justifying it to myself that it is ok to use the lift if it is there waiting for me! However, akin to my method of travel to the station, my method of transport to my desk is also about to change.

What I gained from the day at the Ecobuild conference, and what I am learning every day in my role at Workplace Law, is that one person can make a difference.

Yes, it may not alter the world on a large scale, and you may not receive recognition for your efforts, but is that any reason not to do your bit?

Rather naively and ultimately very selfishly, I can admit that my answer to that question would have been ‘yes’ in the past. However, I now appreciate that I am responsible for my actions and even by making a few small changes to my behaviour, I will be making a difference.