Turn your staff and colleagues into waste warriors

Now that you’re working to reduce the waste in your business, let’s talk about getting your staff on board and helping them create new habits. Not only will this help ensure the success of your changes, they’ll be able to share your good news with your customers and even save you money!


Working with businesses, we find that many staff are already aware of and frustrated with the waste problem. But like all of us, creating changes and developing new habits takes a bit of effort. If some of your staff are still putting a straw (or two) in every drink, or putting the food scraps in the landfill instead of the compost bin, changing these behaviours can take a bit of time and effort to break.

Here is what we recommend:


Inform & educate your team


Let the team know what changes you are making and why. Some common reasons include:

  • To build a sustainable business.

  • Because our customers expect it.

  • To show that we care about our local environment (e.g. clean beaches).

Discuss your commitment to the changes and ask your staff what they think as well.


Be specific about what changes you're making and keep it simple…


Inform your employees what exactly this means for your business and let them know what specific changes you are asking them to make. We recommend you don’t introduce too many drastic changes at once. Keep it simple by focussing on your top priorities that will really make a difference. That way staff can collectively adopt a new habit, you can celebrate the wins along the way and keep motivating your team to commit to the next step.


Initial priorities could be:

  • Not putting a straw in drinks and instead only providing them upon request

  • Putting all food scraps in the compost.

  • Talking to your customers about the changes and encouraging them to actively participate.

We highly recommend you hold a staff training session where you can go through each change you are asking staff to make. Ask them to officially commit to specific priorities. Make it fun, play games, role play and have rewards for those who do well.



Something that also works well is to have someone external join your training session who can bring an outsider’s perspective and inspire your team. This could be, for example:

  • Someone from the farm where your compostables are going

  • Someone from the food rescue organisation you’re sending your leftovers to

  • A local Beach Patrol representative who can talk about the amount of takeaway litter impacting our local environments

  • One of your customers who appreciates your commitment to the environment

REMEMBER TO INCLUDE YOUR SUPPLIERS & CONTRACTORS


To successfully change your business practises, it can be absolutely essential to include your suppliers and contractors. We’ve come across plenty of businesses who managed to introduce a range of fabulous steps, just to have them undone by contractors or suppliers who didn’t get the memo. A typical example is when your staff diligently separate your waste into the right bins and your cleaning contractor pops everything into a big black bin bag at the end of the day and chucks it into landfill. Always consider ‘who else needs to know’ to make your journey a success.


Support staff to make the changes


  • Equip them with the skills and knowledge they need to confidently change a specific behaviour. For example, if you want them to talk more about your sustainability mission to the public, create a sheet of questions and answers they can confidently talk to. If you’d like them to separate your waste better waste better, hold a training session on what items go in which bin.

  • Ask for feedback and work with them to overcome challenges.

  • Use prompts to help them. For example, put a fun sign on each bin showing what goes where. Pop a cheat sheet behind the coffee machine with prompts for them to ask customers “Do you need a lid?” or "Do you need a straw? Place a poster on the back of the staff toilet door saying “Remind customers we’re BYO friendly”!


Encourage good behaviour

  1. Praise and reward staff who are doing the right thing. Offer rewards for those doing well and/or have an ‘environmental staff member of the month' award.

  2. Tie rewards to team performance. For example, if your staff meet targets you set for reducing waste, reward them with something they value. This might be free meals, a staff party, vouchers etc. By creating a team reward, those members not inclined to perform well are likely to be influenced because they don’t want to let the team down.

  3. Provide feedback on how the changes are impacting the business to show staff their actions are making a difference. For example, how much waste-to-landfill were you able to reduce this month compared to last, or how many coffee cups lids did you save from being given out.


Create an environment where the norm is to behave sustainably


By showing that this is the expected, normal behaviour, you are more likely to make lasting changes for your business.

  1. Lead by example. Make sure you are walking the talk! If you’re not demonstrating the changes on a daily basis, you cannot expect your staff to.

  2. Enlist supportive staff to model good behaviour. Studies show that people are more likely to engage in behaviours if they see others around them doing it (1)

  3. Train new staff. Incorporate sustainability training in new staff training, so they know what’s expected of them from the outset.

  4. Be consistent and patient. Many business owners become deflated when staff are not responding immediately, and then let the old ways of doing things creep in. Remain committed and consistent with your changes.


Remember, change takes time


It may take some getting used to, but once your staff have adopted new habits and your workplace culture has shifted, you’ll never look back. Many of your staff and customers will carry the changes into their lives – think of the positive flow-on effect you can have on the world!



(1) Fostering Sustainable Behaviour by Doug McKenzie-Mohr