Going Green in the Office

Sustainability Tips for the Workplace

With Earth Day right around the corner, and April being recognized as Earth Month, now is the perfect opportunity to present and engage in green ideas within your workplace. From simple steps like recycling to implementing programs that incentivize green office ideas, here are a few ways to get started.

Green Ideas for Commuting

Live in a small town, or maybe a big city? Consider more environmentally friendly ways to commute to work than driving solo in your car. A great way to start would be to measure your carbon footprint with this calculator from The Nature Conservancy. It’ll help show you where you’re at now and how to make goals that suit your timeline.

Then, look into options for yourself and your coworkers to commute. Biking, walking, sharing rides and riding public transportation are all achievable with a bit of planning, and can vary greatly depending on where you live and work. Benefits not only include lowering your carbon footprint, but they can offer a new perspective of your community and can help to improve your overall health and wellbeing.

  • Create a competition among coworkers in the office to reduce your carbon footprint within 12 months and celebrate departmental wins.
  • Look for online programs that track your commuting and reward you with local gift cards for the number of days that you commute. For Oregonians, check out the Oregon Drive Less Connect Program, and get your local government on board to install a similar program.

Go Green: Get Rid of the Plastic

Did you know that in just over 30 years, the plastic pollution in our oceans is expected to outweigh the fish? The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, located in the Pacific Ocean, is almost bigger than Mexico, and constantly growing with plastic pollution. That’s horrifying to think of. So, the first step to a greener workplace should be eliminating as much plastic as possible.

  • If you’re still using plastic utensils in your office break room or kitchen, this is the year to upgrade. Go green in the office with reusable and washable utensils. It’ll cost you much less, in the long run, to purchase a set of reusable than to continuously buy throw-away plastics. Install a dish rack next to the sink, provide a sponge and dish soap, and this is an easy way to get rid plastic utensils.
  • If the birthday parties and Friday lunch gatherings still include plastic cups, it’s time to go reusable. Save money and the environment by encouraging everyone to bring their own cups or customize a set of Silipints for everyone in the office. It’s a great way to commemorate annual employees and your brand’s name will last forever on their new cup!
  • Replace plastic containers with lifelong 18 oz Squeeze-a-Bowls for serving dishes, snack holders, and microwavable dishware. This green alternative is free from BPA, BPS, phthalates, and other harmful toxins found in petroleum-based plastics.

Greener Ways to Make Coffee

Did someone say “coffee”? Every office has different coffee needs but what is the most sustainable way to brew for your entire team? Some common environmental issues with a traditional coffee pot include:

  • Wasting water by brewing too large of portions
  • Energy waste from leaving burners on all day
  • Chlorinated coffee filters end up in our landfills which then contaminate our waterways

While a Keurig is less wasteful in its energy and water consumption, it’s hardly a green choice for an office coffee maker. The plastic K-Cups are piling up in our landfills. In fact, so much so that in 2016 The New York Times article said that the K-Cups sold in one year placed end-to-end, would circle the globe 10 times.

Since then, many alternatives have been created to replace the original K-Cup that are more sustainable. Check out this blog from Happy Mothering, which breaks down K-Cups into various categories, including organic, compostable, and recyclable options. However, if your company is interested in switching over to recyclable K-Cups, be sure to inform everyone the process you must go through in order to recycle them.

So, what’s the next best thing if a single-serve makes the most sense for your company but the waste is unbearable? A French Press is the most sustainable way to make single-serve coffee portions, it uses the least amount of energy. Plus, there are no disposable plastic pods involved, just fresh coffee grounds per cup of coffee and the amount of water for your cup. Here are some beginners tips to using a French Press.

No matter what your office is using to brew coffee, there should always be a reusable cup at the other end of the spout. Replace plastic, paper, and styrofoam cups with reusable Silipints. All Silipints are unbreakable, BPA-free, and will insulate hot and cold beverages. Put them in the microwave to heat up cold coffee and then toss them in the dishwasher for easy cleanup.

Greener Recycling Practices

Ok, if you made it this far, you’re an Earth-Friendly Warrior and we applaud you. Take this new title to the championships with an office recycling program. By improving your company’s recycling habits, you’ll be surprised how much you can reduce your waste output.

Turn it into a competition to see which department in the office can send the least waste to landfills over a period of time.

  • Provide better recycling equipment to help separate paper, plastic, and glass.
  • Contaminated recyclables can ruin entire batches of recycled material, so be sure to educate the office on the greenest ways to recycle. Plus, talk to your local government and ask for resources on how to best separate your recyclables and locations that take specialty items.
    • Designate a trash bin and a compost bin
      • This process is simpler than it sounds. It just takes a little bit of getting used to, and again, education. Make a list of common items that can and cannot be composted (coffee grounds from your recyclable K-Cups can go in here!)
      • There are food recovery programs in certain areas that help facilitate donating the right leftovers to local shelters or even farmers. Learn more about these programs from this post from EZ Cater.
      • Make sure office cleaning and maintenance teams are on board with following through on your goals. It’s one thing to start the program, but if it’s all still getting dumped into the trash, it’s not working.

Green Ideas for Your Office Bathrooms

Bathrooms are not the first place you think of when you consider green office practices, but there are a lot of opportunities here.

  • Replace paper towels with efficient hand dryers
  • Install low-flow faucets and sustainably flushing toilets
    • This process isn’t as expensive as it seems. Once you calculate the cost of savings of using less water and energy, it usually evens out to facilitate the process and then saves you money over time. If your business is renting its space, present the information to the building owner to show them the savings they’ll acquire.

    Nature Conservancy Water Infographic

    Above photo from The Nature Conservancy

  • Use motion sensor lighting
    • If no one is in the room but the light is on, did you ever save energy? Nope. If you notice that you work in an environment that lights are constantly left on, especially overnight when no one is in the office, you should look into motion sensor lighting.
  • Method soap company makes non-toxic soap that is sustainably sourced. Even their plastic packaging is made from recycled material, some of which is from plastics pulled out of the ocean.

Green Ideas at Your Desk

Individual changes at your desk is a great way to start a trend among officemates. Start with these simple ways of being greener at work and encourage others to follow suit.

  • Bring your own Silipint for coffee breaks and water fills. If you do one thing, motivate everyone in your office to give up buying throw-away water bottles or paper coffee cups. Not only do most plastic water bottles contain tiny plastic particles that you consume, but they’re horrible for the environment. Consider purchasing a set of reusable Silipints for the office.
  • Use erasable whiteboards or chalkboards, or utilize technology apps like Evernote, for use with your desk calendars, as well as outlining meeting agendas. This cuts down on paper waste from printing out schedules, calendars, to-do’s, etc.
  • Get a plant, for your desk or office. These are the top three plants to have for better indoor air quality.
  • Power down at the end of the day. From switching off lights to actually shutting down your electronics before you leave, it’ll save your business money and it’ll help reduce energy wastes. At the very least check for an energy-saving mode on your computers if you aren’t going to power down.

Sustainable Ideas for Office Supplies

The three R’s are very important here. Reduce, reuse, and recycle wherever possible. By educating and encouraging your office to be greener it’ll help everyone consciously make efforts to participate.

  • Only print when necessary and encourage others to do the same.
    • Print two-sided when possible, to save paper
    • Consider purchasing sustainably recycled paper, once you cut back on the amount of printing it’ll be easier to justify.
    • Keep a bin next to the printers for easy paper recycling. It not only simplifies the task but it also provides a go-to area for anyone looking for scrap paper.
    • Recycle your inks and toner cartridges
  • Replace (the silent 4th “R”) inefficient light bulbs throughout your office. LED light bulbs use 75% less energy and put out just as much light. Some cities have programs in place that will replace your light bulbs for you. For example, there is a Central Oregon program called The Energy Challenge, which replaces up to 16 LED light bulbs in your house, free of charge.
  • Revamp your stock room with eco-friendly office supplies. From pens and paper clips to document folders and organizers, there are a lot of companies offering sustainable alternatives to office supplies.
  • Do your research to discover the best way and service to properly dispose of electronics, furniture, hazardous materials, etc.

Innovation and Technology Applications That Make Going Green Easier

There are several resources available to help gather information, track progress and manage your workplace innovations for sustainability efforts. Here are a few that we find especially interesting.

  • Happen. rewards users for participating in sustainability efforts such as recycling, conserving energy and saving water. Created by both Envision Charlotte and Duke Energy Corporation, the app is available to workers in 200 office buildings monitored by Envision’s shadow meters, and top performers of the app are celebrated at monthly happy hours hosted by Envision.
  • With iRecycle, residents of the U.S. can browse over 1,600,000 ways to recycle more than 350 materials and the latest articles covering current trends and ideas in the product stewardship and recycling sectors.
  • Rubicon connects commercial customers with individual waste haulers and allows users to measure waste amounts by material, increase recycling amounts and create custom reports.
  • 1800Recyling is an iPhone app that searches locally for best recycling methods for all different types of materials in easy to find, grouped categories.

Thank you for Going Green

These greener practices will change the world, one office at a time. Build a sustainability committee that takes charge to implement these green ideas. Start with small trends, move to larger challenges and encourage everyone in the workplace to get involved. Learn more about how to get involved with current issues and educate office staff with information from The Nature Conservancy.