A Shorter Week Could Prove Beneficial For All

Jason's Ticus's favorite picture of a guy at workAs Americans, we pride ourselves on hard work. The very idea is assumed to be part of the American fabric and is a major fault line in political debate. The fact is, we work more hours than any other developed nation in the world. Yes more than Japan and the French and even the English. However, recent studies show that we may be killing ourselves in the process, which has many of our friends across the pond advocating for and adopting a shorter work week.

What the study has found is a direct correlation to stress and heart disease in those who work extended hours. In many cases, doctors have even linked such strain to increased risk for strokes, amongst other things. The need to perform and produce along with access to employees at every hour–with the advent of cell phones, emails, and social media–have resulted in more people putting in overtime and paying for it, in apparently very harmful ways. As such, more individuals are raising concerns and pressuring their politicians to introduce legislation that will ease demands and reduce the stigma of working less in exchange for a better health and work-life balance.

Of course initial arguments against this concept are rooted in the apprehension that less work will mean less productivity or more plainly, less profit. However, studies from early adopting countries like the Netherlands and Germany have proven that such isn’t the case, even going as far to show that the very opposite is true: less working hours is directly correlated to better productivity, let alone better health, which should be the focus. Still, despite these findings there is backlash and concern for how to implement such practices and its effects on the economy. A lot of the opposition is rooted in tradition, but there are many benefits that come with adopting this policy which could prove beneficial to the American workforce.

For starters, shorter working hours could lead to more equal employment opportunities for everyone. Hiring more individuals and evenly distributing workloads provides a real chance to decrease the rate of unemployment. Similarly, it increases overall morale and productivity, resulting in even better employees. There are also huge factors which are typically overlooked in the debate, such as gender equality. Less working hours for men–who make up a large majority of those expected to work longer–could result in shared responsibility in the home, in terms of child care, and balance out the opportunities currently available for women with children. There is also the “green” benefits which come from a shorter work day. Global warming is an increasingly important issue; reducing the carbon footprint by limiting office time is undeniably a step in the right direction.

So, a lot of the work is now left to legislators to decide whether sustainable business is something that will define American life anytime soon. The research is there, the benefits and examples are plentiful. My opinion is always to improve ways in which we can healthily sustain the present and provide better opportunities for those to come. It remains to be seen whether this is something our officials will come to prioritize as well.

Gas Guzzlers Surge in Popularity

Can you believe it? Americans have quickly returned to their old ways of owning gas guzzling vehicles.  It happened even faster then expected.

Forget all those polls that showcase how much American’s care about climate change. Maybe they do, but not when it comes to vehicle ownership.

Gas prices have been falling for just a couple of months and already we’re seeing a big difference in the types of vehicles people are buying. Sales were up last month for SUVs and trucks, but not for fuel efficient smaller cars.

In November, sales of GMC trucks rose by 22.7%, Jeep Cherokee by 67%, Honda CR-V by 38%, Toyota’s 4Runner SUV  by 53.4%and Highlander crossover SUV by 16.7%, reports National Journal. W

And smaller cars? Sales are down 2.7% for Toyota’s cars, down by 11% for Ford Fusion, down by 7% for Nissan Altima, and down by 16.7% for Chevy Malibu. Only the Nissan Leaf defied the odds with sales growing 34% in November, says National Journal.

The short-sightedness of these purchases may become clear when gas prices being to rise again.



Chicago 1963 and Now

The Basics: Why Should Your Small Enterprise “Go Green” ?

feature piece from my work with the Non-Profit, Winning Workplaces.  Again asserting that we, as a society, must see green practices as essential and inseparable from legitimate and robust business tactics.

Why Should Your Small Enterprise “Go Green” ?

Efficiency sells better than sex these days.  Waste is increasingly a flagrant faux pas.  And yes, green is, and HAS BEEN, the new black. In biz speak, efforts by organizations to “go green” are paying dividends beyond fundamental gains/saves to the local environment.  More small enterprises than ever are warming up to the notion that they can save money, boost the value of their brand and make a difference in their communities by implementing green workplace practices.

Their customers certainly seem to be moving in this direction. Research by Colorado-based nonprofit Conscious Wave finds that consumers have established a nearly $230 billion stake in the U.S. marketplace devoted to health and sustainability.

And they’re not alone – more workers are realizing the benefits of greener workplaces as well. Bob Willard, a former leader at IBM and the author of “The Next Sustainability Wave,” conservatively estimates that 20 percent of job candidates are drawn to businesses that tout green practices.

The following are accounts of three very different small organizations, encompassing a range of industries, that made the decision to go green inside their workplaces. While they vary in their green initiatives and how they have gone about implementing them, they share one commonality: They are all solid workplaces made even stronger through their focus on doing more to harm less on this planet.

Let There Be (Efficient) Light

The government’s Energy Star program reports that U.S. small businesses could save more than $15 billion a year by cutting their energy consumption by 30 percent. In order to manage costs while remaining competitive as an innovator in the metal forming industry, Illinois-based IRMCO has joined this club. Despite its origins as an old-line manufacturer in a warehouse facility that has served the firm for four generations, the family-owned business is showing that a workplace with a rich history needn’t hesitate to adapt.

It starts with the simple things. “If you’re not in a room, shut the lights off,” says IRMCO’s Operations Manager, T.J. Kerkman. He claims it used to be common practice for his staff to arrive and turn on every light in the warehouse. Now, following an energy audit of the company’s electrical usage last year, it’s lights out when the last employee leaves a room.

For More Information: Easy Steps Toward a Greener     Workplace Useful Web Resources

Numerous groups across the country offer free energy audits for businesses and nonprofits. In addition, ENERGYguide.com provides a basic but effective online tool to help you evaluate your usage. Kerkman describes the results of IRMCO’s energy audit as “eye-opening.” “We’re looking at last year’s electric bill and this year’s electric bill and … we’re talking a 50 percent savings,” he says.

LEED-ing the Way

Recently, Christy Webber Landscapes, a growing enterprise that develops projects at commercial and residential properties throughout the Chicago area, took advantage of an opportunity to build a new central office that would be LEED certified. Much touted, the designation means that the firm’s facility meets or exceeds U.S. Green Building Council benchmarks for building design, construction and operation. Besides LEED’s obvious environmental benefits, it carries a level of national recognition for facility construction and – HR managers take note – the promise of a higher-quality work environment for potential hires.

Currently, Christy Webber’s facility makes use of solar and geothermal heating/cooling, a vegetative roof cover, weather-responsive lighting, rain water conservation and methods for harnessing wind for power and ventilation. The result is a facility that now uses 55 percent less energy than the average commercial property, according to Midwest Real Estate News and Chicago Building Congress.

The landscaping firm’s transition to LEED certification is even more interesting given its diverse (and often seasonal) workforce, for whom even the notion of recycling was new. To match inside practices with its environmentally friendly facility, the firm’s existing “Green Team” helped to establish the following workplace initiatives:

• Small recycling bins on everyone’s desks
• The use of only “green” cleaning products
• Substituting flatware for plastic ware
• Using the dishwasher only once per day
• Training supervisors on how to practice conservation in the field

Mission-driven Take-home Practices

Seventh Generation, a Vermont-based marketer of environmentally responsible household products, uses many of the same eco-friendly measures as the two firms mentioned above. In addition, they are working to encourage employees to use green behavior far beyond the workplace.

The company offers a unique benefits package that includes subsidies for employee-purchased hybrid and electric vehicles and financial assistance to help workers build greener homes. Manager of HR Stephanie Lowe says these incentives evolved from the firm’s core value of “regenerative thinking.” This concept, no doubt, trickled down from President Jeffrey Hollender, who also defines his role as “Chief Regeneration Officer.”

Gregor Barnum, director of corporate consciousness, points to a focus on critical design – not only in the development of its products, but also in shaping employees’ lives. “We’ve got 60 different employees, with different lifestyles. The way we look at it, that’s 60 designers on our team,” Barnum says.

In 2005, the company let its employee-designers loose to shape their work environment when it moved into a new facility in its hometown of Burlington. Design consultations between the entire staff and the building architect yielded eco-friendly measures including carpets made from recyclable materials and a place in the firm’s parking garage to plug in their company-subsidized electric cars.

The (Triple) Bottom Line

As these examples of green workplace practices show, small enterprises can go small or big, and as deep into the pocketbook as they feel comfortable. (IRMCO and Christy Webber’s measures in particular show that going green can actually cost nothing or next to nothing at all.) And as we’ve illustrated, beyond making sound business sense, a move toward a more eco-friendly workplace can align actions with core values and, thus, boost the brand.

The point is to do something. There is a sense of urgency behind all eco-friendly workplace practices, as Fast Company magazine pointed out in summarizing its green-themed list of the “Fast 50″ growing companies. Indeed, as the magazine also stated, “Companies of every size and in every part of the world are now waking up to humanity’s impending and interlocking crises, and the vastly lucrative rewards that solving them might bring.”

Chicago’s First Green Business Incubator and Urban Food Farm Keeps Getting More Awesome

The Plant is getting more national press–  Neato!

This project has been gaining speed over the past couple years, with new small businesses opening in the facility and exciting new urban food projects expanding.

The Plant












“Over the next few years, the factory will become a zero-energy, food business incubator, research facility, education space, and working urban farm. Plant Chicago is already growing greens and mushrooms and will soon start brewing beer and kombucha and raising tilapia in a sustainable system with zero waste.”  How cool!

Check out this fun video explaining the larger Plant project!  :)