Modern Americans live their days in three parts—8 hours of sleep, 8 hours or work, 8 hours of leisure. If you’ve been having trouble finding more ways to go green at home or while you’re out, it might be time to start thinking about ways of going green in the workplace. Here are some basic tips you can use as starting points to minimize your environmental impact at work.
Paper, The Off-White Menace
For most modern businesses, paperwork is probably the most ubiquitous form of waste, present at every desk and produced during every operation. Ideally, the best way to cut down on paper waste is to not use paper. Where possible, digitize your work, making use of programs like Google Docs or DropBox for document-sharing in place of traditional physical copies. This is more convenient for collaborative work anyway as it allows group editing and feedback to happen in real-time rather than sending paper drafts back and forth. It also allows you to cut down on storage space for file cabinets and easily back up and organize files and manage who has access to what, ensuring a more efficient workflow in addition to a more environmentally-friendly workplace.
But while you might be able to reduce paper usage, often you’ll still occasionally be unable to avoid some use of that archaic material. In these cases, make an effort to buy recycled that has as little chlorine bleaching and as much post-consumer content as possible. Regarding the former, even recycling paper is a process that consumes water and energy and produces chemical waste. The chemical processes which remove ink and other waste from recycled paper pulp create toxic pulp slurry, a runoff which is often dumped in landfills. This is why no paper is always preferable to recycled paper. So even when you’ve gone and bought recycled paper, conservation remains important. Print on both sides, avoid blank pages in your documents, use misprints and waste scraps as note paper or packing material—overall, use sparingly where possible!
A Greener Commute
We all know that the most obvious form of pollution is the stuff that spits out of the tailpipes of our cars. And rarely do we spend more time sitting in our cars than during rush hour traffic when we and all the other commuters are on the way to or from work all at the same time. Collectively, Americans annually waste 3 billion gallons of fuel due to traffic delays. It’s on us as conscious citizens to abstain from being part of the problem when we can. Ideally, we could cut out our commute entirely—something that’s actually now a feasible option for millions of American workers as telecommutes become increasingly popular. With video conferencing and instant messaging programs like Google Hangouts or Skype, document-sharing services like the aforementioned Google Docs and DropBox, phone conferences, and other tools at your disposal, it’s become possible and even convenient to work from home effectively. As an added bonus, you’ll also save yourself time, frustration, and gas money when you forego the daily grind of sitting in traffic, so you’ll be doing a favor to both the planet and yourself.
If, however, your workplace is such that you need to be physically present to complete your work, there’s still a lot you can do to reduce the environmental footprint of your commute. Aside from getting a more fuel-efficient car, you could ride a motorcycle or bicycle, take public transit, carpool, or use a ride-sharing service like Zipcar. Any of these options will not only cut down on the emissions you produce, but also lower the maintenance and fuel costs that you pay to keep your car running and your tank full. There are even employers who have begun offering employees bonuses and other perks for commuting via bicycle, hybrid car, or carpool. Another win-win!
Get Your Design In Line
Virtually every facet of your interior design could probably be replaced with a greener alternative. Let’s start big: furniture. Common fixtures like office chairs and desks can be made from materials that are recycled or recyclable—Herman-Miller for example makes many chairs that adhere to the Cradle-to-Cradle standard. Lighting also offers a lot of opportunities for greener design. Replace incandescent bulbs with LED or compact fluorescent lighting that uses less energy, consider lower wattage bulbs where appropriate, look into updating to T8 lamps and ballasts for industrial lighting, and install motion sensors so that lights don’t stay on in unoccupied rooms for longer than necessary. And, of course, go for natural lighting where possible—it’s green, but also is proven to improve employee happiness and efficiency. Other appliances to consider are faucets and toilets with lower water usage, hand dryers with lower energy consumption, and spreading your heating system into multiple smaller boilers rather than a few big ones, so that you can more precisely control temperature levels in your building and not use more energy than necessary.
Smaller elements can be replaced with greener alternatives as well. Everything from recycled printer cartridges, refillable markers and pens, and pencils made from recycled materials can help you make sure that what print materials you do make are made with recycled material in both the paper and the print. The kitchen and restroom are other parts of the workplace you might turn an eye to when looking for ways to improve the environmental friendliness of your workplace. Stocking both these spaces with cloth towels and biodegradable soaps and cleaning supplies can reduce waste, as can replacing paper cups with ceramic cups or glasses in the kitchen. And any number of behaviors can be encouraged in your workforce’s daily activities to promote a greener workplace culture—placing lunch orders together, carpooling, and being mindful of leaving lights on are all positive green habits.
There are many other starting points for creating a greener workplace as well. Whether a business that buys offsets to counter its environmental impact (such as National Geographic helping fund a reforestation project to offset its natural gas consumption), or goes so far to consider green interests when choosing its investment portfolio if it has one, there are plenty of ways a company can together make strides in green living.