Greening Your Office

Eight tips for an earth-friendly workplace

Photograph by mark poprocki/istockphoto

If you are like most eco-conscious individuals, recycling, composting, and other environmentally friendly decisions are made in your household without so much as a second thought. But how many of us follow a sustainable lifestyle at work? Considering that the greater part of most of our lives is spent in the office, it’s important to carry our values into the workplace. Here are some small steps to being “green” at work:

1. Pitch for a trash-free workplace
An estimated 1.8 million tons of waste is generated by items used once, then thrown away. Replace costly paper towels with cool-air hand dryers or cloth hand towels. Start an office policy that weans everyone off disposable cutlery, cups, and plates. Instead, employees can bring their own dishes from home.

2. If it’s an option, work from home
Take advantage of any flextime offers if they are available. Working from home one day a week can have a dramatic effect on your gas consumption and the corresponding carbon dioxide that is released into our air supply. If your employer won’t let you work at home, ask about working four ten-hour days instead of five eight-hour days, cutting the energy and time spent on commuting by 20 percent.

3. Green your commute
If you live within a reasonable proximity to your workplace, walk, ride a bike, or take public transportation. If none of those options are viable, start a carpool, preferably with an electric or hybrid car owner, or look into car-sharing services.

4. Shut down your computer
(or at least put it to sleep) and turn off your desk lamp when you will be away from your desk for 30 minutes or more. Even screen savers waste energy, so set your screen saver to “blank” or “none.” At the end of the day, unplug your monitors, lamps, phones, etc., or switch off the power strip they are plugged into, so they can’t waste energy while stuck in “standby mode.”

5. Think before you print
It is said that the average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of copy and printing paper each year. Store important documents digitally, discipline yourself to read on your screen, and encourage others to do the same by adding a “think before you print” message in your email signature. When you do print, always use both sides of the paper, or save single-sided pages for scrap. Most printers can be outfitted with an attachment called a duplexer, which allows double-sided printing. New software such as Greenprint eliminates blank pages from documents before printing.

6. Recycle, recycle, recycle
Lobby for the use of recycled copy paper, Post It Notes, and other commonly used paper products in your office. All recycled paper is not created the same; check to see how much of the paper is made from post-consumer recycled content. The higher the percentage, the better. Make sure your office has plentiful recycling bins for paper, cans, plastic, and bottles. If not, then get together with your co-workers and form a recycling league. Each person agrees to collect one type of recyclable for the week and take it home to their own bin.

7. Replace old staplers with a staple-free stapler
For the same price of a regular stapler ($8), you can live a staple-free life. Not only do you do away with the residual cost of buying staples, but you can help reduce the amount of steel produced. If every office worker used one less staple every day for a year, the United States would save approximately 120 tons of steel.

8. Switch from Google to Blackle
Most of us spend a lot of time on Google. Like most websites, Google has a white background. Blackle is an alternative to Google that has a black background, which uses much less energy. It’s powered by Google so you get the same searches.