So, you’re conscious about what you buy, you try to reduce your energy consumption at home and you are fanatical about recycling. But what about your workplace? Whether you are self-employed, run your own business or have a 9-5 job in the corporate world, the hours you spend toiling away at work could be having significant negative consequences on the environment. This is especially true in large offices that require tremendous energy use to run air-conditioning, multiple computers and other electronic equipment that keeps the workplace efficient. However, there are simple steps that you and your employer can take to minimize the damage. If done right, acting sustainably in the workplace will not only limit your environmental impact, but can also save you or your employer a lot of money, by reducing energy consumed, office supplies needed and the amount of waste generated. Keeping with the theme of the three R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle), here are some practical ways to go greener in the workplace:
1. Go paperless: You really don’t need paper to be productive in the workplace! Reduce the amount of paper used by working electronically. Communicate with employees and co-workers via phone, email or with instant messaging services instead of writing out notes and memos. Avoid printing documents if you need to review them or using notepads at meetings; instead, use your laptop wherever possible. Paper is unfortunately still the largest source of office waste, so every little effort made to reduce paper waste can go a long way to reducing overall waste generated.
2. Improve energy efficiency: Making simple modifications and behavioral changes in the workplace can help your business (or your employer) save some money while helping save the planet. Some easy energy efficient modifications that can be implemented include: leaving reminders to turn off lights when a room is not in use, setting thermostats on a timer to turn on a little before the work day begins and turn off when the work day is over, and installing ceiling fans throughout the building to help keep the office cool.
3. Carpool or bike to work: If you live in the general area of some of your co-workers, try and set up a carpool schedule, where you and your co-workers take turns driving each other to work. This will help reduce gas consumption, as well as air pollution. Depending on where you live, biking to work may also be a cheap and healthy alternative. The popularity of urban biking has skyrocketed in several cities in the U.S. and globally. Further, the proliferation of bike-lanes and bike-sharing programs in several cities has made biking a very safe and convenient option.
4. Public transportation: If you don’t live near co-workers and can’t set up a car pool, or live too far from your workplace to make biking a viable option, public transportation is an excellent green alternative. It cuts down on fuel usage and air pollution, and without having to pay attention to the road, it frees up time for you to read or work!
5. Plant a green roof: This involves planting a garden on top of a building’s roof. This extra layer of plants and soil will help keep a building thermally insulated, keeping it cooler during hot summer months and warmer during the winter, which can significantly reduce the energy used to regulate a buildings temperature. Planting a green roof can also add to the aesthetics of the building, and can provide a more pleasant, relaxing setting for employees.
6. Use a coffee mug: Instead of wasting paper by using a new paper coffee cup every day at work, get a reusable coffee mug. This is an easy way to cut down on waste generated at the office, and a fun way to show off your personality. There are websites, such as Cafepress.com, which allow you to design your own coffee mug and lets you add your own personalized pictures or text. Also remember to avoid using plastic cups for water at work and carry a reusable stainless steel bottle instead.
7. Reuse scrap paper and office supplies: If you really have to use paper, avoid using new paper to write personal memos, notes or to-do lists and use scrap paper instead. Keep used paper clips, binder clips and rubber bands at your desk to be used again. This is another great way to cut down on the amount of materials wasted on day to day activities.
8. Set up a recycling program at your office: If you don’t have one already, take the initiative to start up a recycling program at your office (or encourage your employer to do so). If possible, get together with other employees and form a team with the goal of initiating a recycling program. Then determine what materials you want to recycle. The biggest waste component is going to be paper waste from the office, but determine what else your office produces that can be recycled. Then contact your property manager to try and arrange for the recyclables to be picked up. If a pick up service isn’t available, look into drop off recycling sites in the area, and form a drop off schedule. Let your co-workers know about the new initiative, and if possible try and hold a kickoff event to get everyone on board!
9. Buy products made from recyclables: Encourage your employer to support recycling efforts by buying office paper and break room paper towels/napkins made from recycled paper. When possible, try and purchase office supplies that are made with post consumer content.
10. Learn where you can dispose/recycle electronic waste: Electronic waste (E-waste) can cause significant problems for the environment when disposed improperly. E-waste uses lead soldering, which can cause soil and groundwater contamination problems by leaching out of landfills. There are certain facilities and organizations that break down E-waste and dispose it properly. Read our article on combating E-Waste for more information and tips.