The Estee Lauder Companies has implemented paper-free days at its office.

WHEN Clinique’s senior marketing manager Jesse Ong, who was last year’s Earth Month president, announced that it would be the start of paper-free days at The Estee Lauder Companies (ELC) office, not everyone welcomed the news with open arms.

On those designated days, paper was not allowed to be printed or brought into a meeting.

“I received ‘nasty’ stares from my colleagues and people asked why we were doing this. It caused some ruckus as people who printed stuff before the designated days wondered whether their printouts should be seen on their desk on the paper-free day!” he says with a laugh.

“Initially, it was a struggle but after implementing it a few times, things improved. The idea stuck and it became more of a habit.

“We try doing this every quarterly. It sounds easy but in reality, when people can’t print, their workflow gets disrupted. However, everyone also became more organised. They printed their work just before no printing day or were more conscious of whether something needed to be printed at all,” Ong adds.

‘I hope people will understand that change comes with cost but it has long term gains,’ says Origins’ Ng Soo Chien.

“Apart from imposing fines for those caught printing or using paper, we reward the cleanest and most paper-free workstations for that day with our brands’ products as prizes.”

Last June, inspired by the green movement in her office, Ng Soo Chien, last year’s Earth Month vice president and this year’s president, e-mailed her colleagues about not using polystyrene food containers in conjunction with World Environment Day.

Those who were found using polystyrene food containers in the office were often given a lecture about the evils of polystyrene or assailed with an iPad presentation by Ng on the horrors of flash floods and oceans suffocating from trash.

“To do away with polystyrene, the Origins team has a stock of reusable plastic containers of all sizes to accommodate solid or soupy takeaways, readily available for staff to use at all times,” says Ng, who is Origins marketing and PR manager.

The company’s Recreational Club also bought reusable plastic food containers and water bottles for each staff member.

The many brands under The ELC often had training sessions by the education teams which stretched over lunch in the office and the easiest way to feed about 30 people was to pack food, which always came in polystyrene food containers.

“We asked the education teams to work with their respective food vendors in having the food packed in recyclable containers instead and to include the cost as part of their education budget,” Ng says.

Aside from polystyrene, Ng brought up that the brown paper with a waxy coating that is sometimes used to wrap food isn’t all that green either.

“According to the suppliers, the waxy layer is Polyethylene or PE coating which is made from petroleum and this coating is not biodegradable. Also, we need to ask if brown paper is safe enough for takeaways and whether it has a safety standard for recycling,” she points out.

“Inside a biodegradable food container, a plant-based PE coating with enzymes is used for the hard coating. Interaction with the rain and sun will activate the enzymes to break down (the coating) in 90 days.

“I hope people will understand that change comes with cost but it has long term gains. When more people demand the use of biodegradable food containers, the supply of these containers will increase, thereby lowering prices. Also, there will be less new material being thrown away daily,” Ng says.

These days, whenever she sees someone with a polystyrene container, they stop mid-way and start apologising.

“When they feel guilty I know we have already won half the battle in getting people to be more conscious about the environment,” Ng says with a broad smile.

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