Want to become a more sustainable office? Here are some tips on how embracing natural light, paperless meetings, and working from home can help your company save money and energy.
1. Start a sustainability team for your office
A sustainability team can both raise awareness and accomplish more, said Kris Osterwood, technical and policy director for the Green Building Alliance. Projects for the team could include starting or enabling a more successful recycling program, and helping to inform purchasing decisions on energy-efficient appliances and green cleaning supplies.
A team like this can also educate staff through informational lunch-and-learn sessions with local departments of water and power or waste authority, said Andrew McCrea, account executive and green team community events chair at Weber Shandwick.
“Employees engaging one another is more effective than memos from the top,” McCrea said. “This group can conduct monthly ‘inspections’ looking at the power/gas meters, amount of office supplies ordered, etc., and keep record to gauge positive or negative movement.”
2. Create monthly green challenges
Monthly team challenges can be a fun way of combining competition and going green, McCrea said. For example, you can challenge the office to go a month with no plastic eating utensils, and reward those who stick with it by offering small prizes, such as coffee gift cards or snacks.
3. Turn off electronics, lighting, and heat every evening
Instate a strict everything-off-at-night rule, Osterwood said.
At Wooden Blinds Direct, “upon leaving the office, all of your equipment must be switched off at the main plug,” said content manager Amy Kilvington. “If someone forgets, they have to put some money in our Green Jar,” which gets donated to an environmental fund, she added.
4. Opt for better office products
There may not be room in your budget to buy exclusively sustainable products, but you can focus on certain areas that have a huge overall impact, such as more efficient electronics, said Kathy Gerwig, vice president of employee safety, health and wellness, and environmental stewardship officer at Kaiser Permanente. In 2016, Kaiser Permanente purchased greener electronics that will ultimately avoid the disposal of 124 metric tons of hazardous waste, Gerwig said.
5. Embrace renewable energy
Green power sources, including solar and wind energy, are more accessible than ever, with options including rooftop solar installations and large-scale wind farms. Organizations of any size can make this switch, Gerwig said.
If your business is located in a deregulated electricity state, one easy way to make your office greener is to shop for your electricity supplier and choose a green energy plan, said Kelly Bedrich, co-founder of ElectricityPlans.com. Almost every electricity supplier offers green energy plans that are generated by renewable energy sources, primarily wind and solar, Bedrich said. These green electricity plans are priced very competitively compared to traditional electricity plans powered by coal or natural gas, she added.
Workplaces are often over-air conditioned in the summer months, Osterwood said. Employees can inquire about increasing the set point, to both allow for a more comfortable workspace, and to reduce energy use.
One large retail store lessened its impact on the environment by setting the AC to kick on at 75 degrees, instead of 74, according to Bridget Venne, energy and sustainability strategic advisor for Ecova. The store now consumes 30,000 fewer kilowatts, and saves $3,100 every year. “Smaller businesses might not notice such a dramatic change, but little adjustments done with intention build positive habits that make a difference over time,” Venne said.
7. Go paperless
The greenest paper is no paper at all, said Vince Digneo, sustainability strategist at Adobe. Corrections, revisions, and updates on printed documents contribute to 90% of all office waste in the US, and remaining 10% is taking up space in storage facilities, he said. “Keep things digital whenever possible,” Digneo said. “It’s as easy as keeping digital files on on your computers and mobile devices, not file cabinets. Also, get in the habit of reviewing digital documents on-screen, rather than printing them out.”
According to a 2014 study conducted by Catalog Spree and PaperKarma, if the US alone cuts its office paper use by just 10% by moving to digital, it would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 1.45 million metric tons—the equivalent to taking 280,000 cars off the road for an entire year, Digneo said.
Other ways to go paperless include printing less in general, and asking vendors to offer e-statements and invoices instead of paper statements. Setting up automated payments further reduces paperwork by eliminating the need for printed checks, said tech blogger Amy McGarity of German Pearls.
“By using existing technologies to remove some of the paperwork burden of the accounts payables process, companies would find that they’ve both reduced their carbon footprint and improved the efficiency of their business,” McGarity said.
8. Bring a desk plant
If you’re able, bring in a desk plan to improve indoor air quality and bring some nature into the office environment, Osterwood said.
“Plants produce more oxygen, offsetting any chemicals released into the air by new office furniture and making a cleaner, happier space for your people to work in,” said Rebecca Galloway, communications manager at information design studio FFunction.
9. Maximize natural light
The World Green Building Council reports that employees working near sunlit windows have a 15% higher production rate. “Natural light sets the body’s circadian rhythms, which control awakening, falling asleep, synthesizing vitamin D and digestion,” said Jennifer Walton, principal of H. Hendy Associates. “Indoor light, however, is a major disruptor. If possible, move workstations to within 25 feet of peripheral walls with windows.”
Relying more on natural light when possible also saves energy, Digneo said. “Also consider installing a smart power strip at every workstation, replacing all lighting fixtures with LEDs, as well as incorporating sensors and timers for office lighting,” he added. “You’ll reduce energy consumption and costs on things like utility bills.”
10. Encourage green commuting
Companies can encourage employees to lower commuting emissions by walking, biking, carpooling, or taking public transit to the office, and offering incentives to do so, Galloway said.
Offering work-from-home policies can also reduce your company’s carbon footprint, Digneo said. The average American has a work commute of about 25 minutes each way, and flies about 17 hours per year, he added. “Reduce employee travel whenever possible,” Digneo said. “There are a number of great web/video conferencing tools out there. It saves the company budget, but it also reduces Scope 3 emissions.”