Whether you’re a business owner or a conscientious employee, making sustainable changes in your office can help your organization save money and lessen your impact on the natural environment. Here are some areas you can focus on as well as strategies for cultivating green practices in the workplace.
Curb Passive Electricity Usage
You may not be aware that most devices constantly use some amount of electricity when they are plugged in, even if the device is on standby mode or turned completely off. These are sometimes referred to as energy vampires and zombies, and it’s not uncommon for 10 percent or more of your power bill to come from devices that aren’t in use. In an office setting where computers, printers, and other electronic devices remain plugged in at all times, this can be a major problem in the long term, both financially and environmentally.
Here are some tips for reducing passive electricity usage:
Encourage employees to shut down their computers before leaving the office.
For short breaks from the computer, enable standby mode rather than a screensaver.
If possible, upgrade your devices to certified Energy Star products, which are more energy efficient.
Unplug chargers for phones and other devices when not actively charging.
Consider unplugging kitchen appliances like microwaves and coffee makers between uses.
Use power strips to easily shut off the flow of electricity to many devices at once.
It may seem inconvenient to unplug these devices on a regular basis, but if you and other workers can get into the habit, you can see a major improvement in your office’s energy efficiency.
Reduce Paper Waste
Paper waste can be a major problem in the workplace. From a financial standpoint, the cost of paper, ink, toner, repairs, and wasted employee time can add up quickly. Inefficient usage of copiers, printers, and fax machines can waste as much as 3 percent of a company’s annual revenue. This may not seem like a lot, but there are additional costs related to handling and distributing printed documents. In the end, around half of all printed documents are thrown away within 24 hours.
Looking at the environmental impacts of paper waste, consider that a little less than half of all trees harvested for industrial use go toward making paper. This leads to unnecessary deforestation around the world. Also, the paper-making process requires a lot of water and electricity and contributes to water and air pollution.
Because paper seems so disposable in our daily uses of it, a lot of the paper that gets produced is easily discarded without much thought. Even though it may not seem like a big deal in the moment, paper makes up about a quarter of all waste in landfills. While recycling may be a better alternative than constantly producing new paper, that process also requires a significant amount of energy and may still contribute to pollution during the de-inking process.
The best way to begin reducing paper waste is to pay attention to your paper habits and prioritize what absolutely needs to be printed and what could be shared in a digital format. For example, memos and newsletters may have information that is only important in the short term, after which the paper will be discarded. In many cases, a mass email would serve the same purpose without using all that paper.
Similarly, converting to digital storage systems rather than keeping hard copies of all your files is an effective way to cut down on paper waste. This can make it easier to locate and access the most up-to-date versions of documents, and employees can share files instantly without having to make physical copies. As an added bonus, switching to digital storage systems may free up office space previously taken up by large filing cabinets.
Offer Remote Work Options
The benefits of telecommuting are extensive, both for the business and the employees. First, it can help companies save money by reducing the amount of money they have to spend running computers, lights, heat and air conditioning, and other utility costs as well as replenishing office supplies. If most or all employees work fully remote, a company could even downsize their workspace or avoid paying for an expensive office altogether.
Beyond the office, remote work cuts out a worker’s daily commute. Less driving means fewer carbon emissions. That effect becomes especially significant when remote work options are extended to an entire floor of workers.
Telecommuting has also been shown to increase employee satisfaction and work-life balance. In many cases, this translates to more productive employees who may work more hours per week than employees that only work in an office. Happier employees will also be more loyal to a company, which means less turnover.
While some of these benefits don’t translate directly to eco-friendly practices, they do help to justify the time and effort it would take to create remote work policies. Due to the increasingly digital nature of many industries, as well as the benefits it offers, we will only see the trend in remote work options continue to grow.
Invest in Sustainable Products
Before your business makes large or frequent purchases, it’s important to do a bit of research to find out if the products are made using sustainable practices. For example, even if you’re stocking up on recycled paper, the supplier may still use hazardous chemicals during the manufacturing process. Or they may make their paper alongside a separate line of non-environmentally friendly products.
Another less obvious factor to consider when going green is the furniture you choose for your office. There are various levels of sustainable furniture options based on the materials used in production, the energy and atmospheric impacts, human and ecosystem health, and social responsibility related to the labor and employee safety. Upgrading to sustainable desks and seating options can provide your employees with a more comfortable, productive work environment, while also helping your workspace to qualify for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certification.
The lighting in your office can also have a major effect on energy efficiency, saving money and reducing your carbon footprint. Many offices have already switched or begun the transition away from fluorescent and incandescent lighting in favor of LED lighting options. Unlike fluorescent bulbs, LED technology is less toxic because it doesn’t use mercury. LED bulbs also have a much longer lifespan, which means less light bulbs will end up in landfills over time. Of course, the bottom line is that LED bulbs are much more efficient with the amount of light they produce compared to the amount of electricity they use.
The cleaning products in your office — from hand soaps to surface cleaners — may also negatively impact employee health and the environment. Many products include ingredients like formaldehyde, ammonia, and sodium lauryl sulphate, which can irritate employees’ eyes, skin, and lungs. Using these also increases the chance that hazardous chemicals will contaminate water sources and poison plants and wildlife. Instead, seek products that use natural ingredients or try making your own using vinegar or lemon juice mixed with warm water.
As you begin to make any of these changes, be sure your entire team understands the importance of green practices. You may even create a sustainability team that is responsible for helping everyone maintain good habits with energy usage and recycling programs. By taking the steps to make your office more eco-friendly, you can help save your company money, improve employee satisfaction, and reduce the negative impacts businesses have on the environment.