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Creating a Green Office Environment

Cathy Crisci

How to make your small business or company eco-friendly

So, you’re thinking about converting your office or small business to an eco-friendly environment, but maybe you’re not sure where to begin. Well, for starters, there are many alternatives to traditional office supplies. Contrary to popular to belief, it’s much easier (and less costly) to switch over to earth-conscious products. While many people think that green items are more expensive, they are typically available at equal price with no less functionality. Simple changes – such as converting your regular light bulbs to the new low-energy fluorescent CFL bulbs – are green alternatives that make sense, both planet and dollar-wise: on average, one compact fluorescent light bulb saves an average of $35 in the energy costs over the life of the bulb, compared to a standard bulb.

As you can imagine, one of the first products people consider when going green is the type of paper products they’re using. Choose paper goods such as copier paper, files, binders, packing material, cleaning products and calendars made of recycled paper or environmentally-friendly content, which offer the following environmental benefits:

  • Saves trees, energy, water, and landfill space compared to virgin paper
  • Protects forests, watersheds, ecosystems
  • Produces less pollution than virgin paper production
  • Offers environmental savings many times over, since fibers can be recycled repeatedly
  • Needs less bleaching than virgin papers; reduces use of toxic chemicals
  • Concentrates inks, chemicals and other potential hazards for responsible management, instead of releasing them as do land filling and incineration
  • Incorporates full-cycle production costs, unlike virgin paper which includes no responsibility for its eventual disposal costs
Buying and using other office products made of recycled and/or post-consumer content presents similar benefits; however, it’s only effective if you follow through. In other words, as you throw that used paper or that plastic bottle into the recycling bin, you need to be aware that it has to be turned into a new product and purchased by someone in order to really complete the cycle of recycling! It is estimated that over 100 million trees are cut each year just to supply fiber for copy paper in the U.S. Also, oil supplies around the world are being depleted partly so we can continue to produce all the plastic products we use every day. It's estimated to take up to 3 liters of oil to produce a single toner cartridge alone! When you regularly purchase and use recycled products in your office, it lessens the pressure put on natural resources and helps to keep functioning ecosystems intact. In addition, it saves energy and water, assists in the preservation of landfill space, supports recycling markets, and bolsters the economy. So not only do you need to recycle your items when you are done with them, but you need to buy the newly-made recycled content products to truly support the process and maintain your own green office space. Here’s a checklist of helpful information that can help you transform your office from wasteful to waste-friendly:

Go Green, Save Green

Although the concept of recycling is certainly nothing new, it's something we might not think about on a daily basis (beyond separating the aluminum take-out container from the paper bag it came in), especially when we're at work. However, many of us, if given the opportunity, would be more than happy to pitch in at the office if we knew it would help the environment.In addition, recycling can help your business save money. Haulers generally charge less for recycling than for normal garbage collection. By diverting waste from garbage bins into recycling bins, businesses can reduce their garbage bin size and frequency of collection. This could reduce garbage collection costs & associated fees on garbage.If you're in the position (office manager, company president, CEO, business owner, etc.) where you can actually make a difference in the way your company handles its recycling policies, there are many small steps you can implement that will make a big difference in the long run!
and the environment:
  1. Make double-sided copies
  2. Replace paper cups and plates in the kitchen with reusable ones
  3. Reuse single-sided copies as scratch paper
  4. Reuse other supplies such as envelopes and folders
  5. Reuse packaging materials

Redecorate, Reuse, Recycle

Take a look around your office - are you in need of renovations or new furniture? If you have the funds to make an upgrade or if your company is revamping your office's appearance, why not consider eco-friendly alternatives to traditional fixtures and furniture? Furniture that hasn't been treated with synthetic materials (toxic dyes, wood laminates, chemical fabric treatments, etc.) is one less contaminant polluting the atmosphere we breathe, improving the air quality of your office, the environment and your company's health.Also, if you're in the market for redecorating on a budget, why not consider purchasing recycled or gently-used office furniture? You'll not only save money, but conserve the natural resources it takes to make a new piece of furniture - with such a wealth of sources to choose from, why not take advantage of what's already available? Research sites that offer recycled office furniture, including used, pre-owned, refurbished, and remanufactured merchandise.
  • Look for computer furniture and workstations made from eco-friendly resources that sustain the environment – with so many options available, you’ll be converting your office to an eco-friendly environment in no time!
  • You can also actively recycle furniture, computers, phones and even outmoded fixtures you want to get rid of – instead of throwing these items away, visit sites such as One Work Place whose in-house refurbishment and reuse program sells your unwanted items on the open, pre-owned furniture market, and recycles what can't be sold. Or, you might want to donate to charities such as the Salvation Army or a local school or shelter – this will not only benefit the landfills, but can amount to a sizeable refund come tax season!

Think Before You Print

Did you know that each employee uses an average of 50 sheets of paper per day? Keeping that in mind, try to encourage your employees and colleagues to print less by adding a message to your email signature, such as: "Think before you print to save energy and paper" or "Do you really need to print this email? If you do, please print it double-sided." By instilling simple messages such as these, you'll be taking small steps toward creating a more environmentally-aware workplace.Opting to send your interoffice memo as an e-mail versus a hard copy will save a substantial amount of paper on a daily basis; this is just one way you can effectively curb your office's paper consumption.
  1. Always specify postconsumer recycled paper, to create markets for local community recycling collection systems.
  2. Buy the highest postconsumer content you can, balanced against your budget and functional needs.
  3. Choose the right grade of paper for your job.
  4. Allow enough lead-time for a wider selection and better pricing.
  5. Use recycled paper both for "public" paper uses such as stationery, direct mail and brochures, as well as for less visible uses such as copy paper.
  6. Specify recycled paper use in all contracts.
  7. Publicize the need to buy recycled paper - to employees, customers, vendors, citizens.
  8. Label all printed materials, including letters, bills and publications, as printed on recycled paper so that others will see how acceptable and high quality it is.
  9. Solve equipment and other complaints by investigating all possible causes of the problem. Don't quit buying recycled paper.
  10. Deal with cost issues in ways that encourage continued recycled paper purchases. Reduce paper waste to reduce costs.

Educate Your Employees

At the very core of your efforts, you'll need to be on the same page - be an advocate for eco-friendly practices and policies by providing your employees with educational information, whether it's through meetings, orientations for new employees, or a monthly e-mail briefing your staff. You may even consider creating a monthly online interoffice 'green' letter with related links, company suggestions and so forth to keep your staff current regarding specific standards and procedures that may benefit your office and the environment as a whole.
Live by example: nothing speaks louder than your own actions. Bring your coffee in a mug instead of a paper cup. Reuse your water bottle at the cooler. Practice proper recycling methods when disposing of office products. Set a precedent that your employees will not only follow but admire.
  • Create a 'Suggestion' box where employees can submit their eco-friendly suggestions - this will not only be a source for new 'green' tips, but also improve morale and create the community-minded cooperative approach needed for a true green office to really be successful.
  • Go one step further and acknowledge good ideas or models of behavior by posting them on your company website; for example, "Green Tip of the Month: Spotlight on Employee Jane Doe". Reinforce your actions by occasionally treating your staff to lunch with the savings you've accrued through your new cost-effective recycling policies. Measures such as these will reward and further encourage and green 'leadership' actions within your office, which ultimately benefits your bottom line as well as the future of our environment.
Image Credit: Monkeybusinessimages / Getty Images
Cathy Crisci