There’s a double standard in many people’s lives today. At home they carefully toss cans and bottles to the blue bin, stacking the newspaper beside it, conscious not to put anything recyclable into the trash. That same person often turns into a waste machine when they get to work, printing out long reports on one side of copy paper, leaving their computer running at night, and breathing less-than-pristine air in a leaky building.
Whether you’re an employee or a business owner, some of those problems can seem insurmountable. We can’t all work in LEED-certified buildings, happy in the knowledge that our office is producing as much energy as it consumes (check out Seattle’s new Bullitt Center for an example of taking green to the extreme. Fortunately, there are plenty of changes anyone can make, employee or boss, in every small office across every small town in the world. Here are a few places to start:
It’s amazing how many office buildings neglect to do something most of us monitor closely at home. If no one takes the initiative on this, it’s not uncommon for an office’s filter to remain in place for years. It’s only a few dollars for a replacement, and nothing does more to eliminate toxins from your indoor air. Considering that the EPA ranks indoor air quality above contaminated drinking water and outdoor air pollution among risks to our health, it’s a smart first step.
‘Phantom power’ accounts for 10 percent of our electricity usage in most buildings (Planet Green). That’s all the little lights on chargers and electronics that stay on when not in use. Get a power strip at your desk and flip it off when you leave for the day. If every employee would cut their computer off when they come home, it would save the company a month’s power bill each year.
Most common cleaning products contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that contribute to the rise in asthma and respiratory diseases. Take a look at a package of run-of-the-mill table wipes and you’ll likely see warnings to avoid touching your eyes or mouth after using them. Is that what we want on the break room table? With non-toxic cleaning supplies now available even at the big-box stores, making the switch is an obvious investment in employee health.
It’s amazing what a little plant life can do to a sterile, fluorescent lit room. Most offices allow employees to put a plant on their desk. If you’re the boss, consider sprucing up the building with pothos and philodendron plants, both of which thrive indoors, require little care, and absorb pollutants from the air.
Don’t we all feel a little guilty printing out massive reports on one-sided paper? Most industrial copy machines have the ability to print on both sides of the paper (if yours doesn’t, a $150 duplexer add-on can usually upgrade it; ask your copier service person), and it only takes an adjustment in your computer’s print preferences to set it up. Making the switch is one of the biggest individual changes an employee can make on their impact at the office.
How many of us claim to care about the world we’re leaving behind for the next generation, while at the same time grabbing a new disposable coffee cup every time we head to the break room? The biggest changes we can make in greening office culture start with individual employees. Keep a plate and cutlery set at your desk, rather than tossing a plastic one each day after lunch at the office. Bring your own mug from home for coffee and tea. When coworkers notice this, they’ll make the change too.
The added cost from 30 percent recycled content copy paper to 100 percent recycled is about $10 a box (5,000 sheets). A company of about 30 employees might use 10,000 sheets a month, making the added cost of switching just $20 per month. If that sounds like a worthwhile, tree-saving investment, let your boss know. You’ll be happy knowing that fewer virgin trees are being cut down for your printed reports and emails, and your higher ups will usually be happy to satisfy any worker requests requiring such a small investment.
This step has been drilled into our heads, but we often overlook it at the office. Switching from incandescent to compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) can reduce an average home’s energy use by 7 percent. The same rules apply at work. Although much of your lighting may be fluorescent tubes, there are probably some old-school bulbs that could use an upgrade somewhere.
It’s amazing the difference a few small changes can make toward greening an office. Get employees and coworkers thinking about their impact, and the office culture will shift toward a sustainable mindset the whole company can take pride in.
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