Rooted in Sustainability: Climate Action at WillowTree

The Global Climate Strike – a week dedicated to demanding climate action from lawmakers around the world – kicked off last Friday to the tune of an estimated 4 million demonstrating on all 7 continents. The effort was led by passionate youth activist, Greta Thunberg, in her mission to expose the risks posed by global warming.

Trees from both our Charlottesville and Durham offices participated in the strike. In Charlottesville, Trees joined hundreds of strikers at the Freedom of Speech Wall in front of City Hall.

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Durham Trees carpooled to Halifax Mall in Raleigh, where they positioned themselves in front of North Carolina legislative buildings near the state capitol.

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As awareness of climate change increases, we as individuals are called to take bold action. However, the support and action of both business and government is imperative to making a difference as well. At WillowTree, we are always working to increase our sustainability practices and decrease our carbon footprint.

In late January, our Durham team moved into its new office on the Golden Belt campus. Since the move, our office management team has continued to make strides in sustainability and adopt habits that help alleviate our environmental impact. A few of our efforts include: :

  • Installing three 13-gallon compost bins through CompostNow, who donates the compost produced to community gardens
  • Making the switch from plastics to reusable and compostable plates, straws, and utensils
  • Piloting the use of hand towels in kitchens and bathrooms to decrease paper towel waste
  • Replacing cans of La Croix with a Bevi sparkling water dispenser (eliminating the use of approximately 1600 cans per week)
  • Using refillable Expo markers
  • Exploring using TerraCycle to recycle materials that aren’t accepted elsewhere

Durham Office Management, Grace Flint and Darian Smallwood, note that one key to their practice has been increasing education and awareness around sustainability. In addition to retraining our current team members, new hires are taught which items are compostable, which are recyclable, and which constitute waste during their onboarding experience.

Charlottesville’s office management team, Amanda Harding and Dave Nix, paved the way for employees by adopting Bevi dispensers, making the switch from using Nespresso pods to bean-to-cup coffee machines, and using Shred-It boxes to encourage recycling paper.

In addition, Software Test Engineer, Mahreen Azam, spearheaded an effort to donate all leftovers from our weekly, company-wide pizza lunch to The Haven, a local shelter for those in need. This creative endeavour has been a monumental success in transforming what was once a huge source of waste into something that has a direct impact on the less fortunate in our community. Since June, WillowTree has donated nearly 200 boxes of pizzas, averaging 17 pizzas per weekly donation.

As Charlottesville prepares to make the move to our new Woolen Mills headquarters, sustainability efforts remain top of mind. Some of the steps we have taken in preparation include:

  • Landscaping work that features plants native to the area and a rain garden that is designed to eliminate runoff into the neighboring Rivanna River
  • A cafeteria that emphasizes local sourcing and is stocked with reusable utensils and compostable to-go containers for leftovers
  • LED lighting with a daylight-sensing system, and 17,000 energy efficient windows that feature thicker panes and an additional storm layer
  • Vegetable gardens for team members
  • Car-charging stations and secure bike storage
  • Repurposing existing natural elements for outdoor spaces and utilizing original building materials (e.g., wood from removed flooring will be used to construct conference tables)
  • Outdoor seating and access to walking trails to encourage Trees to appreciate and connect with the area’s natural beauty
  • Increased recycling and composting efforts

The efforts in both WillowTree offices is just the beginning. There is still much that can and must be done.

The 4 million people who attended Friday’s strike, while impressive, represents only .05% of the Earth’s estimated population of 7.7 billion. While this figure is a vivid representation on how dire the situation is, it isn’t presented to stoke fear or hopelessness in the face of this impending climate crisis. Rather, we highlight this so that we understand the urgency for meaningful action—so that the other billions of people understand their responsibility to take part in this action too. The only way to precipitate change is to multiply our own actions by calling on our friends, family, and communities to act.

At WillowTree, we talk about work-life blend as opposed to work-life balance. The difference between the two ideas is simple –Trees are passionate about what we do at work and at home, and when you have passion in both areas of life, it’s inevitable for those passions to blend. There is no on-off switch. We share work with our family and we share our hobbies with our teammates.

Our approach to the climate crisis should be no different. We should increase our mindfulness and blend sustainable practices at home and work. What solutions can we develop sustainably in our day-to-day work? What can we change operationally as a company to diminish our carbon footprint? What habits do we have at home that we can adapt to our workspaces? What are we doing at work that may inspire us to alter our habits at home?

Striking with Greta and millions of other young activists on Friday,while critical in the demand for action,was just the tip of the iceberg. Curbing the effects of climate change starts with individual action, but we must call on our institutions to be courageous as well. WillowTree as a company aims to be more sustainable, and we as Trees will continue to innovate ways to lead that effort both in the office and in our communities.

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