By Kim Robson:
We all try our best to live our lives as sustainably as possible. We can change our habits at home and in our daily lives, but the office can
be a bit more of a challenge. Let’s face it: we have to keep the lights on, and keep the printers,copiers and computers fired up; and we need to use paper. Workplace habits are often initiated, encouraged and enforced by management. It is possible to have a green workplace, but it’s a lot easier when the bosses are also on board.
For ten years, I worked for an architecture firm where sustainable practices were the norm. Every workstation and every copier had a recycling bin next to it. Even the bins were recycled: we used the empty cardboard boxes that the copy paper had come in.
Wasting paper can be unavoidable in an office, especially in architecture, but at least all that paper got recycled and reused. If possible, close the loop by purchasing recycled copy paper for your printers. You also can use your print setup option to print on both sides of paper, when appropriate. Think before you print: could this document be archived online or on a DVD? Do employee manuals and other materials have to be printed on paper, or could they be accessed (and revised) online?
Another thing we did was eliminate single-serving bottles of water. All that plastic adds up fast, especially when you have a few dozen people in the office. Instead, we got a water cooler and five-gallon bottles of water delivered. No Dixie cups, either. Workers would use their own water bottles.
For that matter, we had no paper plates or plastic utensils. Everyone had his/her own coffee mug and/or dishes in a cabinet, or used Tupperware from home. The coffeehouse on the ground floor also gave a small discount for bringing our mug and saving them the expense of a paper cup. Instead of single-use sandwich bags, get a plastic sandwich case. Or better yet, re-purpose an empty CD spindle as a bagel sandwich holder. The only problem, as happens in every office, was getting folks to wash their dishes!
Purchase nontoxic cleaning supplies. In the office kitchen, set out standard recycle bins for aluminum, glass and plastic. Assign an intern to take recyclables, along with the paper bins, to a recycling center once a week.
Be sure to recycle those empty toner cartridges instead of tossing them into the trash. Most manufacturers provide for return shipping of used cartridges now. All you have to do is seal it back up in the box and give it to UPS at the end of the day.
Turn off your computers and printers at night. Some ascribe to the theory that they use more energy booting up again, but that’s simply not true. Also, turn on your computer’s “power-saver” option if it has one. On hot days, in particular, consider turning off some lights. We used to have halogen track lights that gave amazing light but were as hot as the surface of the sun. During long, bright summer days, that much light is just not necessary. If you have your own office, turn off the lights when leaving for more than a couple of minutes.
Having some living green plants not only looks refreshing and breaks up the monotony of an office setting, but they also help clean and purify the air. Office air quality, especially in sealed buildings, can be terrible.
A green workplace also should include healthy habits for yourself. Get up and walk around every 15 minutes or so. Look out a window and refocus your eyes on the far distance. Take a spin around the block and get some fresh air into your lungs, better blood circulation in your legs, and sun on your face. Take your lunch outside to a picnic table or a patch of grass. I worked for a bank that kept a basketball hoop in a corner of the parking lot. People would play one-on-one pickup games during lunchtime. A little exercise during the day will improve your outlook at work and your health. Just a few minutes outside makes a huge difference.
Bring healthy protein-rich snacks for late afternoon to help avoid the temptation of junk food from the vending machine. Almonds or peanut butter filled celery sticks are great.
Consider your commute. Instead of driving to work and paying for parking, could you bike at least once a week? How about taking the train? Does your employer allow telecommuting? It can’t hurt to ask.
It doesn’t take a lot of effort to create a healthier, more environmentally-friendly workplace, just a little thought. Make it policy, make it fun, and make it easy. Your co-workers will thank you for it.