60 Second Interview: Ericsson Tells Us How Sustainability Leads to Volunteering

Blaine McGaffigan April 4, 2017 Employee Engagement

We sat down with Lari O’Donnell, Software Product and Project Manager at Ericsson, to talk about their volunteer sustainability and philanthropy project, and how it led to more engaged Ericsson employees.  Check out what Lari had to say:


 

174 tons of supplies on Image.Briefly explain the “Big Sweep” campaign.

Starting in 2013, Ericsson updated offices and implemented a paperless work environment. Gone are walls, file cabinets, filing rooms, book shelves, and desks with drawers.  For 1,500 employees in New Jersey, this meant a “Big Sweep” to empty 35+ years of supplies from desks, file rooms, and libraries. Everything was headed for the dumpsters.  To foster a culture of sharing rather than a throw-away culture, I was one of four dumpster-diving divas who spearheaded a volunteer effort and mobilized an entire organization to recycle these materials. We organized 126 volunteers and collected 174+ tons of office supplies, equipment, and furnishings and donated them to 230 nonprofits and schools in NJ, NY, PA, Haiti, Liberia, and Belize.

 

How did you get others involved?

We “recruited” both employees and retirees. For employees, we…

  • Met with Ericsson’s Employee Engagement Committee (EEC) to solicit volunteers and spread the word.
  • Posted signs throughout the building.
  • Networked with colleagues in hallways, at lunch and regular meetings.

We contacted the Pioneers, Chapter 99, the local branch of a national volunteer organization. This is a very active organization with both employee and retiree members who stepped up to the challenge of volunteering their time.

Once we started the cleanup, people joined to help, as they were inspired by the example of the women who initiated this effort.  One employee said, “I cleaned out my office and collected my supplies rather than throw them out because you were doing it, and I could see that it was helping people.”

 

What was the most effective way to communicate the program and its parameters?

“Multi-media” communications were the most effective means of communicating.

  • Face-to-face communications – As people observed volunteers cleaning out offices and talked with them, they joined.
  • Posters and signs – Three-dimensional posters were created with samples of the supplies to help explain what to collect and capture people’s attention. The posters were placed on easel stands in high-traffic areas, such entrances to the building and cafeteria.  Signs were posted near elevator banks and restroom doors soliciting volunteers.
  • Email – Emails were sent to report ongoing progress of collections and donations, which resulted in more people volunteering.
  • Ericsson’s local site broadcasts – TV monitors located in the cafeteria and lobbies posted highlights of the project.

 

How involved was each group? (Executives and Full-time)

This was solely a spontaneous, volunteer effort. Employees of all levels and retirees volunteered their personal time during lunch, after hours or on weekends.  Some employees used the eight (8) paid volunteer hours Ericsson provides. The volunteers scoured over 688,000 square feet of office space collecting supplies, while porters transported the supplies to designated “supply” rooms, where it was organized.

One work group held a “team event” and cleaned out a large file room with thousands of files, saving them, together with binder clips, tab sets, etc.

The volunteers sent order forms to nonprofit organizations and schools, filled the orders as they were returned, and scheduled pick-ups or delivered orders with their personal vehicles.

Ericsson provided boxes, porter services, movers, and security services to help with this massive effort.

 

What processes did you put in place to encourage participation?

Initially, location-wide news “bulletins” were sent to all employees broadcasting the Big Sweep, the need to clean out offices, the plan to donate surplus supplies, and names of contacts if they wanted to volunteer.

Once the project was underway, emails were sent regularly with the progress of the project to all employees, the volunteers and management. This kept people informed and motivated.

As volunteers met their colleagues in hallways, they suggested that they send an order form to nonprofits to see whether they could use supplies. Much to the surprise of the “newly recruited” volunteers, nonprofits jumped at the opportunity, quickly filled in the order form and were grateful for the supplies. Gratitude and personal satisfaction incentivized volunteers to send order forms to additional nonprofits or schools.

For the volunteer team, project meetings were held regularly.  Volunteers signed up to check different floors or portions of the building, monitor progress, and identify areas to which resources needed to be redirected.

 

What were the results of the campaign?

The results are more than anyone ever expected. From 2013 through December, 2016, 126 employees and retirees volunteered over 18,400+ hours of their personal time cleaning out approximately 2,500 offices with ~4,400 desks and ~8,500 file cabinets. They collected and donated 174+ tons of office supplies, equipment and furnishings to 230 organizations.  Here’s a sample…

  • 30,600+ binders
  • 41,000+ binder clips
  • 32,500+ file folders
  • 1,500+ desk organizers
  • 768 white boards (4’x5’ to 5’x10’)
  • 300+ printers
  • 62 paper cutters
  • 46 overhead projectors
  • 40 clocks
  • 29 pull-down screens
  • 27 refrigerators
  • 25 microwave ovens

 

What does the future of The Big Sweep look like?

The Big Sweep is an ongoing effort and now part of the Piscataway, NJ, culture.  We continue to identify and donate surplus supplies. As usable items are replaced or upgraded, such as cafeteria refrigerator shelving, they are donated. Currently, we are checking and donating ~200 flat-screen monitors that are being retired.

iconectiv, an Ericsson subsidiary, is moving to new offices and contributing to the Big Sweep. We’ve met with the move coordinators, communications have been set to all employees, space for supplies has been set aside, collection boxes have been set up and are filling up. Volunteers from iconectiv, Ericsson and the Pioneers will join forces to collect and donate the supplies.

In September, 2016, we won a New Jersey Monthly Great Oak Award for philanthropy, and our vision is to share how to do this with other companies.

 

What advice would you give a company trying to create a more sustainable office?

  1. Commit to a culture of community, environmental sustainability and resource conservation.
  2. Identify volunteers and a project leader.
  3. Set aside storage space and boxes.
  4. Communicate with employees to solicit volunteers and let them know what to save and donate.
  5. If something can be fixed, cleaned, reused and/or re-purposed, donate it…do not throw it out.

Although this takes time, it’s easy and rewarding. The Big Sweep has resulted in a five-way win.

  1. The environment was spared 174+ tons waste.
  2. Natural resources were conserved because reusable items met the demand for supplies.
  3. Nonprofits have much-needed supplies and equipment at no cost.
  4. Volunteers personally experienced the gratitude of nonprofits who were recipients of supplies and had a sense of personal satisfaction.
  5. Ericsson did not have to pay for removal of trash or e-waste.