Green-Up Your Workplace Inexpensively.

6 01 2010

Going green. It is undoubtedly one of the most popular and important terms these days. And in the age of cutting back and working leaner, it seems that making operations green can easily come at the cost of more green-backs that anyone would prefer. So what are some easy and inexpensive changes that afford the opportunity to go green?

At the start, I will mention that I am by no means a green expert. As I began my research for this post, I quickly realized the breadth and depth of this topic – and how little I knew. From environmental regulatory agencies, to different types of certifications, to private organizations marking their eco-friendly stamp of approval, there’s a lot to take in. Perhaps the best advice would be to pick an initiative and run with it, rather than spreading yourself and your resources thin by trying to accomplish too many things.

Probably the three most discussed ways to go green include the following:

  1. Lighting and Energy. Replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent and LED bulbs. “Shut down” computers at the end of each day rather than using the “stand-by” setting which continues to draw power. Power off or unplug printers, scanners, and other peripheral equipment when they’re not used. Turn off lights in spaces that are unoccupied. FACT: Commercial buildings consume more than one third of all energy generated in the U.S. and energy use is the largest operating expense (about one third of the budget) of commercial office buildings.
  2. Paper Use. Don’t print unless you must. If you do print, use both sides of the page or print drafts on the blank side of already printed documents. Whatever paper you do use, recycle if possible. Check out the GreenLine Paper Company, it offers a Green Office Certification to organizations that meet certain environmentally-friendly criteria.  FACT: A study by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Citigroup estimated that the real  price tag of a $2 ream of office paper is 31 times that—$62—when you add in the costs of paper storage, printing, copying, recycling, disposal and postage. So, saving paper has a multiplier effect—and not just financially: The pulp and paper industry is the second-largest consumer of energy in the U.S. and uses more water to produce a ton of product than any other industry.
  3. Travel and Commuting. Consider a more efficient option for commuting to and for work and business meetings. Carpooling, taking public transit, biking, and walking are all good methods of energy saving transportation – some offices even give a bonus to bike and carpool commuters. Telecommuting or having telepresence technologies (teleconferencing/videoconferencing, webinars, etc.) can also contribute to big energy and travel budget savings. FACT: In the U.S., roughly a third of total greenhouse gas emissions stem from automobile, air, train and bus travel. Both business travel and employee commuting represent opportunities to save time and money.

If you think the above methods are feasible, you might consider implementing a few more:

  • Complete an annual energy audit, many utilities offer them for free.
  • Switch your office paper to either 100% recycled or a high percentage of post-consumer recycled paper.
  • Keep files on computers, instead of in file cabinets (this makes offsite backup and moving easier too).
  • Review documents onscreen rather than printing them out.
  • Implement software like Greenprint, which helps eliminate blank pages from documents before printing and can also convert to PDF for paperless document sharing.
  • Invest in reusable plates, cups and utensils.
  • Give employees a small recycling bin so that recycling is just as easy as throwing paper away.
  • Engage a recycling firm to pick up paper, aluminum, glass and plastic from your office.
  • Start an office compost program, enabling office members to take the compost home to add to their own compost piles.
  • Buy in bulk so that shipping and packaging waste are reduced, and reuse the shipping boxes.
  • Recycle printer cartridges (often free), and buy recycled replacements (cheaper than new ones).
  • Bring lunch to work in reusable containers.
  • Consider purchasing carbon offsets for corporate travel by car and plane.

And if you’re evaluating an office equipment overhaul in the near future, you might also make sure that you appropriately recycle waste electrical and electronic equipment. Increased regulation of e-waste, and concern over its potential environmental harm, has raised disposal costs. Nonetheless, it’s likely in your best interest to arrange for an approved NSWMA or E-Cycle Washington public collection program to recycle your wares (several are free).

So while you’re contemplating your next green move, you might read this article on “The Eight Ways Not to Get Tricked While Going Green.” Because the last thing you want to be accused of is acting upon a common environmental myth. Additionally, the article discusses product labeling that can help improve your confidence in the environmentally friendly items that you purchase.

Take a one-step-at-a-time approach to making your workplace more environmentally friendly. It certainly involves some thought, but, as you’ve read, not much money to implement a green-up strategy at work. Breathe in the fresh air, you’re on your way to reducing your carbon and toxic footprint.

Photo courtesy of Green Line Paper.

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