We all know that we have to go green. As individuals, as families and maybe most importantly, as businesses. The problem with going green is you can't force people to care about things, especially when it doesn't directly impact their lives. Generally speaking, the most efficient way to get people to change is to make the change as unobtrusive as possible. Take the unsustainable option off the table and work within peoples' self-interest. Because, while few people actively want to destroy the world, most people believe their individual environmental impact is so small, they do nothing to improve it.
So it comes down to employers, human resources, and chief sustainability officers to take on the challenge. They must make the smart, responsible and, reasonable choices on behalf of their offices in order to create more environmentally sustainable workplaces. The added benefit is, most of the environmentally positive initiatives listed below will also save your business money.
So here are a few cost-effective and unimposing ways you can transform your office into an eco-friendly wonderland.
Office supply switch up
Office supplies are one of the most wasteful features of your average office and hence, one of the first areas you should look to for reductions to your business's carbon footprint. Practices are often archaic and ineffectual so changes are rarely even noticed and are regularly the cheaper alternative.
Reusable pens, for example, are a prime example of this. Most businesses use pens less than 10-20 years ago. Nonetheless, in the US alone, people throw out over 4 million disposable pens every year. Replacing them with reusable pens, while slightly more expensive, in the long run, will save money. Incentivize staff to hold on to them through the year with fun little games and rewards. When it comes to breaking habits, you want more carrot and less stick.
However, we all know the big waste product from offices is paper. The United States and Canada are both the largest producers and users of paper in the world. Despite the rise of the digital age, paper usage has increased by 126% in the last 20 years from 92 million tons to 208 million tons. That means approximately 68 million trees are cut down for the production of paper and paper products. According to the Paperless Project, in a year, the average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper and U.S companies spend more than $120 billion on printed forms, most of which are outdated within 3 months.
So suffice it to say, this is a problematic, costly, and largely unnecessary level of paper consumption. So the first thing you should do is begin to eliminate all this paper waste. Change the settings on your printers and photocopiers to print out double-sided as default. Buy environmentally friendly paper; this includes chlorine-free paper, recycled paper as well as paper from more sustainable sources like hemp, bamboo or organic cotton. Even paper towels in toilets can be completely replaced with much more cost efficient options like cloth towels or hand dryers.
Staying on the topic of printers, another problem with them is they waste paper when printing. Software programs like GreenPrint or Ecoprint2 help identify these points of waste and flag them. Things like last pages containing nothing but a webpage addresses or mostly blank pages in the middle of a printed document. GreenPrint even claim that they can save the average business 17% on printing materials a year, which shakes out to about $100 per user in savings.
Printers and photocopiers really are one of the biggest culprits when it comes to office waste and it's not just paper. Ink and toner are both very expensive to buy and bad for the environment to make. Switching to remanufactures ink and toner cartridges can really help mitigate these costs as they on average cost 15% less. And when printing, use draft mode whenever possible to eliminate color ink usage. Even reverting to a smaller font as the office standard can make significant savings.
Power: less is more
However, a much more definite way to save on paper costs is to just eliminate it from offices altogether. This might seem like a rash and disruptive decision for a company to make, but at this point, our level of paper use is much closer related to habit than necessity. Think about everything you have printed in the last week and ask yourself if any of them were completely necessary. Do people really need a printed out meeting agenda or memo? Would an email have sufficed? This is a more substantial change to an office which would take some getting used to at first but won't really change anyone's life significantly.
This mentality works for most office sustainability changes. Some changes won't even be noticed. For example, updating your mailer list will go completely unnoticed, but will save money in unnecessary printing and postage costs. Make it standard practice for employees to power down their computers at the end of the day or use programs like Surveyor which automatically does it for you at night. Sleep and standby modes (commonly known as phantom power) are massive culprits of unnecessary power wastage. In the same vein, put in place policies which disallow the use of screensavers and just set monitors to power off instead. It's the exact same thing, just saves energy.
Slightly more expensive changes (at least upfront, they will save money in the long run) are motion sensors, portable air conditioners and switching up light bulbs to compact fluorescent bulbs, LED lamps or energy saver bulbs. Artificial light constitutes 40% of electricity consumption in your average business. But again, this isn't always completely necessary. Try and use more natural light whenever possible and ensure lights are turned off at the end of the day.
Convey a Green Mindset
However, despite all these changes, the most beneficial thing you can do for this planet is help employees understand the point and value of going green. Create a culture of conscientiousness within your office and lead from the front. Ensure management are the first people to adopt new practices to really set the tone and show you're serious about making a change.
Going green doesn't have to be synonymous with boring, costly or ineffective practices as it commonly is by general society. There are plenty of win-win perks out there; allowing casual workplace attire whenever possible for example not only raises employee morale but saves money that would have gone to dry cleaners. Allowing staff to occasionally telecommute has a similar effect of raising morale, not to speak of the financial and environmental costs of transportation.
And finally, my favorite tip to going green is to actually go green. Get some plants in the office; they absorb pollutants in the air and release oxygen and healthy ions. Plus, it gives the office a much homier feel while reminding everyone whats at stake if we don't start to make changes in any way we can.