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canada's greenest employers for 2012

A garden plot outside the town office in Ladysmith on Vancouver Island. In 2009, town employees turned flower beds into vegetable gardens and donate all crops to the food bank.

Broccoli, beets, carrots and peppers, spinach, romaine and buttercrisp lettuces. Since 2009, employees of the Vancouver Island community of Ladysmith have been turning the flower beds around the town hall into vegetable gardens, donating all their crops to the Ladysmith Food Bank. The produce display is beautiful – and bountiful.

"We sow a few hundred plants and get a good amount of vegetables," says Glen Britton, an original member of the town's employee-based Green Team and parks supervisor who oversees the planting and harvesting with six employees.

"We mix the colours up for our lettuces so they can go from buttercrisps to red. It looks quite nice with marigold borders."

While broccoli is their No. 1 plant, the mix also includes tomatoes and an assortment of herbs from chives to chocolate mint and lemon thyme.

"The maintenance to look after the garden is the same as it would be for our flowers," says Mr. Britten, 48, who been with Ladysmith for 29 years. "The difference is that on Tuesday mornings we take an extra two hours to harvest the vegetables, wash them and bring them to the food bank."

In-house employee Green Teams who come up with and manage environmental initiatives have become integral to most of Canada's Greenest Employers for 2012. All Green Team members are volunteers, both off and on the company clock, for projects such as paper conservation, energy reduction, tree-planting and recycling electronics, often working in partnership with community organizations.

The Ladysmith garden project grew out of a combination of community, employee and city council support. One key needed for success is having support from the top down.

"When we established a Green Team in 2008, we left it open to all our employees so anyone who had an interest could be part of it," says Ruth Malli, Ladysmith's city manager and a member of their Green Team. "Meetings are held during working hours. We chose to do it on the employer's time because we wanted to show employees it was important enough to dedicate some of their work time to it. A lot of work is done on their own time as well."

The employee-led Green Team at Calgary Laboratory Services, medical laboratories serving more than one million patients in Calgary, meets monthly and maintains an intranet website for employees to find carpooling and join in green-themed "lunch and learn" events.

Chris Butler, 43, an environmental health and safety supervisor who leads their Green Team committee, says it started in 2009 because employees were very enthusiastic about becoming greener. The company sponsors the program, however most of their initiatives have been low cost, such as partnering with the City of Calgary to do park cleanups. Since they operate 24/7 in almost 30 different geographic locations, it's a challenge to bring people together.

"Ideas are generated from the group, which has a good cross-section of employees," Mr. Butler says. "Generally, it's on our own time. We try to book events on a Saturday far in advance so we can give everyone enough notice and generally get a good response from across our company."

Employees are encouraged to bring family members along to events such as park cleanups with the company providing lunch mid-way through. At first, Mr. Butler was surprised that the work turned out to be so much fun.

"It's great for team building," Mr. Butler says. "For the price of a lunch, we get everyone out having a good time, contributing to the community and involved in the company's effort to be greener."

Because the Green Team pilot project was so successful at their headquarters in Chatham-Kent, Ont., Union Gas Ltd. set up voluntary Green Teams in their seven district offices as well.

The company, a natural gas storage, transmission and distribution operation, provides funding up to $1,000 per project for materials and supplies while employees come up with the ideas, such as preferred parking for hybrid and commuter vehicles, separate pickup for compostable food waste in the cafeteria, and a community garden on their grounds at head office.

Managed in partnership with Food Link, their 3,000-square-foot community garden with 15 plots gives people in need access to land to grow and harvest their own produce.

Andrea Stass, manager of external communications and media relations for Union Gas, recommends that companies have a formalized structure so that there's a way to turn Green Team ideas into reality.

"It's one thing to have an idea, but another to have a process whereby it can come to life," Ms. Stass says. "We feed those ideas into our environmental health and safety group so that they can actually get vetted and become a reality."

Drew Everett, 31, a project manager with Union Gas and chairman for the Chatham Green Team, says the number of employee-led initiatives are increasing. With large numbers of people participating, a commitment of only three or four hours a month on a Green Team can make a big difference. He also finds that employees are doing more of their own volition at home.

"I have a four-month-old so I'm trying harder to make this a conscious effort all the time for me," Mr. Everett says. "I want to be accountable for the things that I do and make the best decisions possible."

That spillover into personal life is something Phil Slater, 35, senior engineering technologist for Ladysmith, has also observed and brought to his own family.

"I joined the Green Team to promote my own sustainable ideas," Mr. Slater says. "Now I'm growing tomatoes and broccoli at home just because of what I've seen at city hall. It's actually sparked other members of the community into giving food to the food bank from their gardens as well. The response has been fantastic."

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