Green OfficeThere is growing receptivity in the workplace to the benefits of “going green.”  Businesses find that this can improve their bottom line.  Managers have discovered that it leads to higher employee morale.  More and more organizations are creating “green teams” to implement cost-cutting, planet-saving solutions in big and small ways.

One of the first steps you can take is to reduce your energy consumption.  While you may not be able to make building improvements, you can implement a number of policies to save energy.  It may sound like a no-brainer to turn off the lights when leaving the office, but this is far from the norm.  Peer pressure may be an effective motivator to gain compliance, but you can also install occupancy sensors to automatically turn lights on and off.  Here are some other key considerations:

  • Turn off printers and faxes in off-hours
  • Deploy a company-wide strategy to manage computer power use
  • Use power strips to minimize loss from energy vampires
  • Rely more on task lighting than overhead lighting
  • Use compact florescent lights instead of incandescent bulbs
  • Purchase ENERGY STAR office equipment
  • Lower the thermostat in the winter.

The next area to consider is your paper consumption.  The paper manufacturing process uses a lot of water, and creates significant air and water pollution.  In your personal habits, avoid printing emails and documents unless it’s absolutely necessary.  Use the double-sided features of printers and copiers, and reuse the blank side of printed documents as scratch paper for printing internal documents or for use in fax machines.  When buying paper, look for non-bleached recycled paper, or paper certified from the Forest Stewardship Council, both of which are available at little or no extra cost.  Encourage the reuse of envelopes and boxes whenever possible, and recycle all waste paper.

Your recycling program can go well beyond paper though.  Be sure to recycle things like batteries and printer cartridges, and establish a program to recycle all electronics (including phones, computers, printers, etc.)   In the kitchen or break areas, install properly-labeled recycling bins for plastics and other recyclables, and consider labeling the container for non-recyclables “LANDFILL.”   If you have landscaping outside, you might consider composting food waste for a natural fertilizer.

If you have a kitchen in the office, stock it with reusable mugs, plates, and flatware to discourage the use of disposables.  If it’s not practical to use cloth towels, consider paper towels with recycled content.  Install water coolers in the office to promote healthy refreshment and reduce the use of bottled water. Use Green Seal certified cleaners, as many cleaning supplies have toxic or harsh chemicals in them, which can be dangerous or unhealthy.  Avoid antibacterial soaps, too – they are largely ineffective, potentially harmful, and are ultimately causing bacteria to develop resistance.

Finally, we need to consider how we get to and from work.  Pollution from transportation is the primary cause of global warming and air pollution, which cause asthma, cancer and other health problems.  Encourage people to telecommute, and develop policies that encourage carpooling and use of public transportation.  For example, you can offer pre-tax funds for transportation vouchers, charge a fee for parking, or offer drawings for carpoolers.  Encourage bicycling by providing appropriate facilities (bike racks, showers, etc.), discounts at bike shops, and information on bike routes.  If your organization owns vehicles, consider purchasing fuel efficient options like hybrids, and implement no-idle policy for drivers.

All of these combined can create a significant reduction on your impact on the environment.  Make it a point to establish a Green Team at your office, and show this video from the National Resources Defense Council.  See what you can do to make the planet a healthier and happier place!

This was published in the Going Green section of the March 2010 issue of Spirit Seeker magazine.