How Businesses Can Go Green
Greener homes are in the spotlight these days, but what about the other places where many of us spend huge chunks of our time–our offices? Some simple changes of habit can save energy and resources at work, and these small steps can be multiplied by persuading the powers-that-be at your workplace to adopt environmentally friendly (and often cost-effective) policies.
1. Be Bright About Light
Artificial lighting accounts for 44 percent of the electricity use in office buildings.
Make it a habit to turn off the lights when you’re leaving any room for 15 minutes or more and utilize natural light when you can.
Make it a policy to buy Energy Star-rated lightbulbs and fixtures, which use at least two-thirds less energy than regular lighting, and install timers or motion sensors that automatically shut off lights when they’re not needed.
2. Maximize Computer Efficiency
Computers in the business sector unnecessarily waste $1 billion worth of electricity a year. Since we’re talking about using computers to their maximum potential, we also need to discuss how to make them more efficient and environmentally friendly. Start by putting computers on “standby” or in “hibernation” mode when they haven’t been accessed for more than 10 minutes; turn them completely off when you’re finished working for the day.
When it’s time to replace older desktop computers, switch to a laptop for more efficiency. Not only are they more portable, but they use 80 percent less energy. And when upgrading, take advantage of take-back programs for people who want to recycle their old computers. Some manufacturers, such as Sony and Dell, offer free shipping or trade-in credit toward new purchases.
3. Print Smarter
The average U.S. office worker goes through 10,000 sheets of copy paper a year. Make it a habit to print on both sides or use the back side of old documents for faxes, scrap paper, or drafts. Avoid color printing and print in draft mode whenever feasible.
Make it a policy to buy chlorine-free paper with a higher percentage of post-consumer recycled content. Also consider switching to a lighter stock of paper or alternatives made from bamboo, hemp, organic cotton, or kenaf. Recycle toner and ink cartridges and buy remanufactured ones. According to Office Depot, each remanufactured toner cartridge “keeps approximately 2.5 pounds of metal and plastic out of landfills…and conserves about a half gallon of oil.”
4. Go Paperless When Possible
Make it a habit to think before you print: could this be read or stored online instead? When you receive unwanted catalogs, newsletters, magazines, or junk mail, request to be removed from the mailing list before you recycle the item.
Make it a policy to post employee manuals and similar materials online, rather than distribute print copies. They’re easier to update that way too.
5. Ramp Up Your Recycling
Make it a habit to recycle everything your company collects. Just about any kind of paper you would encounter in an office, including fax paper, envelopes, and junk mail, can be recycled. So can your old cell phone, PDA, or pager.
Make it a policy to place recycling bins in accessible, high-traffic areas and provide clear information about what can and can not be recycled.
6. Use Recycled Products
When buying printer paper, look for recycled paper with a high percentage of post-consumer content and the minimum of chlorine bleaching. Even recycled paper gobbles up a great deal of energy, water, and chemical resources in its processing (toxic pulp slurry is the paper recycling industry’s dirty secret).
When using the real stuff, print on both sides of the page when appropriate and use misprints as notepaper. Try to choose printers and photocopiers that do double-sided printing. If your office ships packages, reuse boxes and use shredded waste paper as packing material.
7. Watch What (and How) You Eat
Bringing lunch to work in reusable containers is likely the greenest (and healthiest) way to eat at work. Getting delivery and takeout almost inevitably ends with a miniature mountain of packaging waste. But if you do order delivery, join coworkers in placing a large order (more efficient than many separate ones). Also, bring in a reusable plate, utensils, and napkins. If you do go out for lunch, try biking or walking instead of driving.
8. Rethink Your Travel
Make it a habit to take the train, bus, or subway when feasible instead of a rental car when traveling on business. If you have to rent a car, some rental agencies now offer hybrids and other high-mileage vehicles.
Make it a policy to invest in videoconferencing and other technological solutions that can reduce the amount of employee travel.
9. Reconsider Your Commute
Make it a habit to carpool, bike, or take transit to work, and/or telecommute when possible. If you need to drive occasionally, consider joining a car-sharing service like Zipcar and Flexcar instead of owning your own wheels.
Make it a policy to encourage telecommuting (a nice perk that’s also good for the planet!) and make it easy for employees to take alternative modes of transportation by subsidizing commuter checks, offering bike parking, or organizing a carpool board.
10. Create a Healthy Office Environment
Make it a habit to use nontoxic cleaning products. Brighten up your cubicle with plants, which absorb indoor pollution.
Make it a policy to buy furniture, carpeting, and paint that are free of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and won’t off-gas toxic chemicals.