Twenty-four-hour electric use, excessive HVAC requirements, and liberal energy consumption… These are just a few reasons why offices leave such a significant carbon footprint. Based on figures from the EPA, over 1.5 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions could be recovered if every office product purchased in the U.S. was ENERGY STAR certified.
Every business and person in America has a responsibility to care for the environment. Regardless of one’s status or line of work, there are ways in which each of us can work to make our offices greener and more sustainable.
Sustainability tips for employees
1. Form a sustainability team
Sustainability starts by cultivating an eco-friendly mindset; this is a culture-level discussion. Almost everyone would like to reverse the tides of climate change, but few have the discipline or agency to take the initiative. Developing a green team, a group of employees willing to create and act on sustainable strategies can be the beginning of a much larger movement.
Survey team members to see which employees have a passionate stance on green issues, and start organizing actionable steps together. The camaraderie formed from a group will help you avoid the feeling of helplessness and inspire you to action.
2. Encourage everyone to buy reusable water bottles
UN Environment, an environment program developed by the United Nations, estimates that one million plastic drinking bottles are purchased every minute. Most of these bottles will end up in landfills or major water sources. The fact is that such waste can be avoided with a single purchase.
On Amazon, you can choose from hundreds of water bottle models in different colors. Some have vacuum insulation to keep the temperature just right, and others have time markers to remind you to stay hydrated at every hour. Check out Amazon’s article on the best water bottles to find one you’ll keep refilling.
3. Institute a Work From Home policy
Depending on the nature of your business, your employees may not be required to come into the office physically. Companies with online businesses, such as marketers or web developers, can allow employees to stay home certain days of the week. Not only will this boost workplace morale and well-being, but it can also heavily reduce the company footprint in terms of electricity and transportation. Be sure to read our previous post on tips for working remotely.
4. Seek an alternative form of transportion to work
Nothing contributes to a high carbon footprint more than a car. Though not all of us can afford an electric vehicle, there are other options available that limit our transportation impact. The most popular alternative is to take public transit, such as a train or bus. Commuter benefits also include significant savings— the cost of taking a bus is significantly less than the collective cost of car insurance, gas, and parking.
You may also consider a brisk bike to work if you live nearby, doubling as both an energy-efficient transport and a convenient form of exercise. If a colleague lives nearby or on the way, you may agree to carpool to work, minimizing your collective carbon footprint.
5. Invest in more energy-efficient office products
Although it seems more costly to purchase energy-efficient equipment, the savings can pay for the investment in the long run. LED Televisions, for example, have an annual energy cost of roughly $3-$16, a fraction of the price for non-efficient screens. ENERGY STAR offers a list of its most efficient products in 2019, ranging from air conditioners to washing machines.
Sustainability tips for the office
Employers and building managers also have a responsibility to design an environment that promotes green habits. Sustainable actions such as recycling should be simple, not a chore. Here are a few ways to create more environmentally friendly offices.
1. Set up an office recycling program
Recycling is still one of the most effective ways to divert waste from landfills. Speak with your waste hauler and janitorial team to assess your recycling options. You may need to purchase recycling bins or compost bins to place in high-traffic areas. Update your tenants on responsible recycling habits (separate compost from trash, use less paper). Over time, you will notice a cleaner, more green-minded office culture.
2. Install water bottle filling stations
Novel Coworking offices are outfitted with Elkay filtered ezH20 bottle filling stations, which simultaneously reduce lead and particulates while reducing plastic bottle count. A counter above the spout shows how many bottles have been saved by the single machine. Filling stations are convenient for employees with bottles or glasses and significantly reduce plastic waste.
3. Implement energy-efficient lighting and devices
Cut back on your power consumption with smarter tech. Consider installing light fixtures that use LED lightbulbs, which according to the Department of Energy, “use at least 75% less energy, and last 25 times longer than incandescent lighting.” This also makes them much more cost-efficient in the long run. You may also want to utilize natural light by installing new windows or rearranging furniture.
For other devices, consider getting a smart power strip. Compared to traditional power strips, smart power strips prevent your devices from draining power even when they’re off. Experts believe they save about 5-10% of energy consumption (though stats vary). The Smart Power Strip WiFi Power Bar, for example, is remote and voice-controlled, allowing you to adjust which electronics turn on even when you’re not at home.
4. Shop local stores and suppliers
The carbon footprint of a supply chain isn’t something you think about unless you happen to work in supply chain management or distribution. Consider the bulk purchases of paper by a print company. Not only do they pay for the paper, but they also pay for the delivery of the product, usually from overseas. Whenever possible, see if you can source raw materials from nearby companies. On one hand, you’re supporting local businesses, and on the other, you are rejecting major supply chains with excessive carbon emissions.
5. Calculate your carbon footprint and set targets each year
Without an accurate understanding of how your building uses energy, you can’t gauge whether your efforts are improving or hurting your overall business. Whether you’re a freelancer or run a business, the first step is to use a carbon footprint calculator. They are free and easy to use, allowing you to set initial goals. Once you figure out your footprint, consult your green team about developing a target for the year using the SMART goals principle.
These steps are only the beginning. As with any major sustainability effort, the best results arise when everyone works together. Do not expect quick wins or praise for installing a few LED bulbs or recycling bins. The more important aspect is to develop a green mindset— one that continuously seeks to improve the workplace environment in terms of its global impact.