How Appreciation Events Can Build Community & Engagement

During the seven years I worked at Suffolk University, creating and leading a recycling program and a broad-based sustainability program, the University made tremendous progress. We reduced trash output by several tons per year, donated tons of gently used items to charities during move-out each spring, increased recycling exponentially, launched and grew a composting program, increased energy efficiency, created a green dining program, and enhanced bike parking options on campus.

These various outputs resulted in substantial financial savings. They also established a new environmentally responsible reputation for the 100-year old institution, which helped to attract and retain students and employees. Many on campus had a heightened level of awareness about ways to minimize their environmental impact and have a positive impact. Read more about the evolution of sustainability initiatives at Suffolk University.

A partnership I formed with the nonprofit organization Dump & Run enabled the University to reduce waste, save money, and support numerous area charities such as Morgan Memorial Goodwill Industries.

A partnership I formed with the nonprofit organization Dump & Run enabled the University to reduce waste, save money, and support numerous area charities such as Morgan Memorial Goodwill Industries.

One of the things I remember most fondly are the events I organized to bring people together and foster a culture of conservation. One of these initiatives was the Annual Recycling Appreciation Luncheon I organized on behalf of the Facilities Planning & Management Department. This event featured delicious, locally grown foods and other sustainable event practices like reusable diningware. The guest list included staff from the campus' janitorial services vendor (ABM), Facilities Planning & Management, the campus catering vendor(Sodexo), and the campus bookstore vendor (Follett). It was an elegant event, where attendees felt special.

In addition to bringing together people for a lovely meal, the event provided a chance to raise awareness about the environmental strides the campus was making and solicit input from attendees for how to do even better (i.e. reduce trash output, increase recycling, etc.). In this way, the event served to encourage continuous improvement, instead of only celebrating the progress already made. The luncheon helped to create a positive feeling about the campus sustainability program, where people who played a role in its success had the opportunity to shape the program's future, and that's empowering.

To make the event affordable for my department and also create shared ownership, I solicited contributions from the involved companies - a catering discount from the catering company, gift cards donated by the campus bookstore, a green cleaning kit donated by the janitorial services company, etc. This enabled us to do giveaways at the luncheon, which made it an even more fun, festive event.

The trickiest part of putting together a successful luncheon every year was finding a time of day that worked for a substantial percentage of our target audience. Because the dining service provider staff were the ones preparing the lunch and janitorial and Facilities staff have either a day shift or a night shift, it was challenging to find a suitable time for the event. However, I worked with the managers to find an agreeable time and we always had dozens of attendees.

These luncheons helped to break down barriers between departments and provided a chance for people to take pride in their work, and receive recognition, which is especially important in fields that are not glamorous and whose workers rarely receive praise and positive attention for their efforts.

So, next time you're trying to figure out how to motivate a team, consider organizing a positive event that brings people together, recognizes their contributions, and encourages excellence. 

Erica Mattison