Infusing “Green” Thinking Company-Wide

March 22, 2017: Cambridge, MA–As a small, consulting firm that helps its clients improve energy and environmental planning, Synapse is used to thinking green. But translating that professional focus into daily workplace habits is another story altogether.


Like many businesses in Central Square, Synapse leases its office space. This means we don’t always have control over factors that affect sustainability. Fortunately, there’s a good deal we can do. The trick is to combine being opportunistic about big workplace changes as they arise with infusing “green” thinking company-wide into the small, everyday decisions we all make. While we’re always looking to do better, we’ve found this approach allows us to make real and continuous progress on sustainability without too much disruption to daily work life.


What does it mean to be opportunistic about sustainability? For starters, when big decisions come up the environment must make the top tier of factors to consider. When Synapse renews a lease or looks for new office space, our checklist includes a number of requirements that affect our environmental impact: Will the office be easily accessible by public transit? Does it have lots of natural light to make us more energy efficient? Does it have kitchen access for those trying to reduce their food packaging waste (and save money, too)? Is there a place for our cyclists to safely park their bikes? Is the building itself energy efficient?


Meeting these requirements isn’t as burdensome as it seems. Pretty much every one of them has co-benefits that are good for the company–namely, quality of life for employees, lower operating costs for the company, and better productivity.


In between lease renewals, we’ve found it helpful to keep up a dialogue with the building management. They may not always be able to accommodate requests, but they might be willing to consider more environmentally friendly options when they make decisions about cleaning services, HVAC systems, or recycling options.


So what about those small, everyday decisions that we make? Synapse takes the usual steps of purchasing recycled paper, minimizing paper printing, using energy efficient light bulbs, and placing recycling bins in convenient spots. But we provide some additional green “perks.” We use a composting pick-up service (thanks, Bootstrap Compost!) and arrange collections for e-waste. We even encourage employees to bring e-waste from home. Synapse staff also get discounts for Hubway bikeshare accounts, and we’re happy to say they use the service frequently.


Perhaps more important is encouraging sustainable habits and being vocal about being green. For instance, we foster pride in the fact that less than 10 percent of us drive to work. When we switched to a paperless format to avoid printing handouts for a weekly meeting, we told staff why. Similar opportunities include sharing data on the number of pages printed each month or highlighting where we can save energy by putting lights on sensors or timers.
Synapse is fortunate that its employees are a fairly green bunch. On any given day, you can hear them discussing their home composting tips, the solar panels on their homes, or the deep energy retrofit they’ve undertaken. Many of them are also among the brave group that bikes to work throughout the Boston winter. As we look for additional ways to become more sustainable, we are proud to work in a community where so many share our commitment to a sustainable workplace.

Basil Bins and a Commitment to Sustainable Catering

In response to CLF’s “Love your Planet Month”, Basil Tree wanted to share some of our green initiatives. It has been our mission from the beginning, 30 years ago, to become a company committed to maintaining earth friendly practices.

We compost 90%+ of all of our onsite food waste and work with Save That Stuff to ensure that we comply with the most up to date standards for waste and recycling. We offer only compostable paper products to our customers, made from repurposed sugar cane and wheat fiber (don’t worry, it’s gluten-free J).

Even better than recycling is reusing!   Basil Tree created a program using storage containers that we call our “Basil Bins”. The Basil Bin allows for customers to deposit any platters, lids, serving utensils, and re-usable beverage dispensers into the container after use and we schedule pick-ups for the next day. Once the bins are back at Basil Tree, we wash and sanitize the items so that they can be used again.

We continually work to educate ourselves and improve our green efforts.  Sustainable Business Network (SBN) of Mass helps us stay informed.  One suggestion that they have made for member companies is to consider using ThinkLite to switch over lighting to more energy efficient LEDs.  ThinkLite has a system to change out the bulbs without having to change the fixtures which is more environmentally sound.  If you contact ThinkLite tell them SBN sent you.

At Basil Tree, we treat every day like it’s Earth Day.


The Planet Loves Independent Business, Too

Throughout April, we at Cambridge Local First focus on the small, the large and the unexpected strategies our business members are using to make their corner of the world a little more eco-friendly. Fortunately for all of us that support local business, the very fact that a business is independent means that it is much more likely to go easy on our environment. Why? Well, it comes down to margins and mojo.

Consider this—national and multinational companies build profit margins by focusing on the big impacts and not sweating the small stuff. A chain store keeps its costs down by ordering the same check-out counters, installing the same shelving units, and using the same suppliers for every location. It’s a very effective use of scale and one that makes a few sacrifices worthwhile. So, if you have to ship a little further to get the supplies or use your materials less efficiently at a location, the savings makes up for the cost. The same rubric holds true for a national tax preparation firm or a hotel chain. No matter how many times a CEO re-draws the corporate operations, waste is baked into big business strategy.

But the waste-making strategies that make financial sense for a national chain are dangerous for an independent business. With no national corporate safety net, your independent shop owner keeps his or her eye on every dollar, every order, and every material that comes through the door. For an independent business owner, waste isn’t just a part of doing business; it’s an expense he or she can’t afford.

But there is an even bigger incentive for an independent business to ease its impact on the environment—let’s call it mojo. All business is subject to the chaos of marketplaces; the strange trends and swings that make today’s ferociously successful business strategy into tomorrow’s dud.  But when you don’t have a national brand strategy and a seven-figure revenue stream to back you up, you put extra care into the relationships that sustain you when the unpredictable (predictably) smacks you in the profit margins.

Business mojo is that peculiar magic that comes out of the strong, long-term relationships you create. You nurture mojo by paying a little more to work with the local supplier you can count on. You feed it by passing on the cheaper product that will be next year’s landfill to sell your customers something that will last. You renew it when the neighborhood changes and you change, too, rather than letting those customers jump in their cars to take their custom somewhere else. And you earn your mojo everyday by supporting local initiatives before they become the latest eco-marketing trend. The reliance of local, independent businesses on their communities regularly places them at the forefront of environmental sustainability, even when they don’t make it into news. So, take another look around your local Square, Cambridge. The best in green business is just a pleasant stroll away.

by Amy Witherbee of Revolution Capital, CLF Board Member

April 6th in Harvard Square: “Top Ten Mistakes Employers Make and How to Avoid Them”

Join us April 6, 2017 in Harvard Square for a breakfast seminar with employment law attorney, Amy Carlin, of Morgan, Brown & Joy, LLP.

Small business owners and managers must be knowledgeable about state and federal employment laws that impact their businesses.The goal of this seminar will be to provide a practical overview of those laws through a series of fun hypotheticals, focusing specifically on how to avoid the common mistakes that employers make that could (and do!) negatively impact their growth and success. Topics that will be covered (spoiler alert!) include hiring, performance management, wage and hour issues, firing, and accommodating an employee with a disability.

The seminar runs from 9 AM to 10:30 AM, with Q&A until 11:00. Registration is Free.


Amy Carlin is a partner with the Boston management-side labor and employment law firm, Morgan, Brown & Joy. Amy’s practice includes defending employers and managers in employment cases brought by current and former employees, such as discrimination and retaliation claims, violations of the wages and hour laws, and other claims. Outside of her litigation practice, Amy provides advice on employment issues that managers, human resources professionals and in-house counsel face on a day-to-day basis. She also conducts sexual harassment and discrimination prevention training for employees of the firm’s clients, as well as trainings in the best management practices and other employment topics.