Walking into Cathy Snyder’s office at the United Way Kitchener & Waterloo Area workplace, I’m greeted with a warm handshake and a purple streak running through her hair. This United Way’s CFO is leaving the world a little bit better than she found it. She’s a firm believer in ‘every little bit helps.’ Being a charity, they stretch small effort into big impact and use a little to get a lot done!

The tradition of doing a lot with a little is how United Way started in 1941 with eleven volunteers, four agencies, an $80,000 campaign, and one staff person.  They are now celebrating their 75th anniversary and work with a network of community partners and volunteers, conduct year-round fundraising which results in millions of dollars for the community and employ a skilled staff team. Their team is small, mighty and serious about sustainability. When Cathy joined United Way she had come from a culture of sustainability and is the natural pusher of their green efforts. Cathy started small with double sided printing at United Way and they now use 100% recycled/forestry sustainable paper. While the environmentally friendly paper is a little more expensive than traditional office paper, the double sided printing actually saved money right away! The current project Cathy and her team are under taking is 1 garbage can per area and eliminating individual desk cans to promote waste reduction. It’s also great from a wellness perspective as people have to walk around a little bit more!

All of their efforts are playing off and in the RCI program they are leaders in their industry. Throughout the year, RCI members earn Leaderboard points and badges by participating in RCI activities. They are in the top 10 of the RCI Leaderboard and have an impressive 37 points from a small but dedicated staff. United Way hopes to modify employee behaviour at work and at home. Carbon Cleanse2015 waste reduction week activity resulted in only a small bag, for a whole week for an entire office! The recycling and organics bins were massive. Everyone was committed; the champion running the program really wanted to win and have the program be successful. While there have been many successes, there have also been some challenges.  One of their challenges is to ensure that new staff understand the culture of sustainability at United Way.

The green team has found that employee engagement is crucial to the success of green initiatives. By providing sustainability education at the same time as they introduce organizational policies and procedures, they’ve found that new staff gain an understanding of sustainability immediately and feel empowered to recommend sustainability ideas almost immediately.  The team believes this has helped produce better sustainability results and helps moves them closer to achieving United Way’s goals.

Here are some highlights from my talk with Cathy:

Q: What is the most memorable sustainability moment at United Way?

After United Way its first campaign back in 1941, the Board gave a box of chocolates to the volunteers who had worked to reach. At the Community Spirit Awards ceremony chocolates were given in box made of wild seeds that can be planted and grow local wild flowers.

Q: What’s the last act of sustainability you are most proud of?

Another is that we did a ‘swap’ day.  Staff brought in unused items, set them out and other staff took items they could use.  Leftover items were delivered to a local charity for their use.

And, another was that we produced no garbage on earth Day and the organics and recycling bins were full! For an entire office to take on this challenge and succeed is a huge testament to the commitment of our employees.

Q: What’s one lesson you’ve learned that you can pass onto another RCI member?

A lesson we’ve learned is that the process takes time and that perseverance pays off.  We’ve had goals for an upcoming year, thinking that we could implement them easily.  Then, organizational priorities took precedence, or staff didn’t see the value of a sustainability process as quickly as we thought they would.  We’ve learned to give ourselves and the staff more time to roll out our sustainability initiatives, and we’ve found that this has been very successful.

Q: What is your sustainability motto?

Leave it better than you found it, and- every little bit helps.