Becoming Environmentally Conscious: Meet the edX Sustainability Team

The Sustainability Team, a group of people committed to making the edX workplace more environmentally sustainable, was formed during Hackathon XXII — a quarterly event with the goal of driving innovation and problem solving. The team’s first initiative was measuring edX’s carbon footprint and collecting potential projects to make a positive impact. The group has since grown, and has taken on a wider array of initiatives. We sat down with the edX Sustainability Team to learn more about its creation, its impact, and its future.

How did the sustainability initiative come about, and how long ago was it created?
We founded the Sustainability Team on July 11 as part of a hackathon project to measure edX’s carbon footprint. The initial four of us who participated realized that there were, in fact, many more people at edX who cared deeply about our impact on the environment. The group then decided to continue the project and expand it into a broader initiative with the help of our facilities team and edX Cares, our internal team that organizes volunteering opportunities for edX staff.

What have you accomplished so far?
It’s only been a few months, but there are several changes that we’re really proud of.  We’ve been able to shift from a culture of disposables to using reusable silverware, start a composting pilot, change the source of our electricity to a 100% renewable program, and install a Bevi beverage machine to replace the use of seltzer in aluminum cans.  All of these changes have also helped raise awareness and allowed many who were interested in finding ways of going green  to invest in learning new things that they may not have otherwise learned.

How has this initiative grown? How are people at edX able to contribute?
We’re still a small group, but have had members of the engineering, HR, UX and marketing teams join our monthly meetings and company Slack channel to participate in discussions and contribute new ideas. We’re also always looking for new ideas and opportunities to collaborate with other groups.

How can our readers start similar initiatives in their organization?
Look for allies! There were tons of groups at Cambridge, MIT and Harvard who offered us support and advice, and we know there are thousands of similar groups all over the world. If you can’t find one locally, you can also read up on ideas from blog posts or work with whoever handles purchasing or office management to see if there is any way that you can help them while also making your organization more sustainable.

Why are movements like this important?
The answer to this question will be different depending on who you ask, but for me teaching our communities that they can make a difference and that our planet is important is one of the biggest ways that I can make a difference. I would also say that my love of teaching is one of the main reasons I joined edX and believe that we are lucky to be in a position to make a difference, both in the office and for all of our learners the look to edX to seek their own educational prospects.

What’s your process for finding areas in the organization that can be improved?
There are definitely some areas that are more important or more straightforward than others. After working to measure our carbon footprint and then analyzing what we could do to lower our waste, travel and energy impact, we came up with a list of initial projects that we divided amongst ourselves to research. We also looked at what other organizations were doing and chose a few projects that people were excited about that seemed doable for our organization. Our entire company has always strived to be iterative, so it made sense for the Sustainability Team to take the same approach.

What’s your outlook for the next year?
TBD! =), but we’re excited about shifting to all compostable or reusable tableware in the office and getting more edXers involved in volunteer projects in our local communities.


Impact in numbers (so far):

  • 1,700 plastic utensils kept from landfills in 2 months 
  • 1,000 aluminum cans kept from landfills by using a Bevi machine in 3 weeks 
  • 700 lbs of compost created in 3 weeks