Case Study: Vancouver’s Venerable Aquarium Prides Itself on Being a Green Employer

Just a few years ago, it was something of a gimmick for a company to claim it was “green.” Today, it is the colour of choice for any organization that wants to be an employer of choice. A green, sustainable workplace increases the attractiveness of a company to future employees and helps retention of current employees because of the values that being green represents. In this regard, the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre is a very green employer indeed.

Vancouver Aquarium

Vancouver Aquarium is a longtime fixture in Stanley Park, one of those popular places visited by tourists and locals alike. Modifications over the years have included expansion and refurbishment of older areas as well as the creation of new displays in environmentally friendly buildings. Today the Aquarium is focused on remaining one of Canada’s Greenest Employers. Awarded by the editors of the Canada’s Top 100 Employers project, the green designation goes to those employers who “lead the nation in creating a culture of environmental awareness in their organizations.”

Tara Schaufele, sustainability manager for the Aquarium, oversees seven programs that fall under the heading of the Environmental Management System. These programs include waste management, freshwater conservation, species conservation, sustainable purchasing, chemical management, environmental education and energy conservation. The Aquarium has been highly successful at achieving its environmental goals, such as increasing energy efficiency and reducing waste. Based on meeting all of its Environmental Management Program goals, the Aquarium has been certified ISO 14001, an international certification of sustainability.

Schaufele says that all employees at the Aquarium are encouraged to be part of a “Green Team,” helping not just to incorporate the changes laid out by the Environmental Management System, but as individuals too. “The Green Team is a voluntary team dedicated to supporting the Aquarium’s commitment to the environment. All employees, either through the Green Team or the Environmental Management System, are encouraged to submit suggestions and to participate.” This modern take on the old suggestion box is one way in which addressing environmental concerns helps aquarium management boost employee self-esteem and make staff feel appreciated, truly “part of the family.”

“Whatever the concern may be – even something such as buying office supplies – we are behind the employees when it comes to taking the time to find the most sustainable option,” says Schaufele. “Every employee’s daily routine is completed with the environment in mind. We have a number of policies that aim to reduce the ecological footprint of our operations and our employee’s day-to-day activities. Aquarium employees can feel good about coming to work, knowing that they are ‘part of the solution.’ Everyone here seems to share the same concern for the environment.”

“When people come to work here at the Aquarium, they can be certain of two things,” she says. “First, they are supporting a conservation organization. Second, any ideas they have regarding sustainability, they can suggest them. People know they can make a difference when they work at the Aquarium. Being heard at work can be a big draw for people.”

Natalie Cirillo, former human resources coordinator of the Aquarium, says the facility has approximately 400 staff and a whopping 1,200 volunteers, with a turnover rate of only 15 per cent a year. She attributes the good feelings people have for the Aquarium and its environmentally concerned mission to the ease with which it attracts and retains employees. “The Aquarium promotes many green practices within its volunteer base,” says one of those very volunteers, Adrian Matangi, “but I think it’s the overall idea that people can do almost all activities in an Earth-friendly way that has prompted me to be continuously looking to make improvements since I started volunteering. I’m certain I waste less of nearly everything I consume since I started volunteering here.”

“Over the last few years our environmental programs have made people more aware of what we do here,” says Cirillo. “And people have a good feeling when they come in, right from the moment they walk into the lounge and see how we deal with recyclables and waste. Our green attitude is embedded in the culture. It’s not a hard sell at all to people with a similar mindset.” In the end it definitely helps make the Aquarium an employer of choice for environmentally-sensitive career seekers.”

Oliver Kuehn is a prime example. He came to the Aquarium as information-systems coordinator from a job at a global software company where “I didn’t really feel I was making a difference,” he says. “I chose to work at the Vancouver Aquarium to a large degree not only because of the Aquarium’s green business practices — LEED-certified building, compostable take-away containers, green wall, energy conservation programs – but also because of the chance it gave me as a technical person in the IT field to work for an institution that promotes marine conservation and environmental education.”