More Work, Less Energy
For many people, a computer is the central tool at work. Optimizing the energy settings for computers and other devices can be more than a modest energy saver. Set computers to energy-saving settings and make sure to shut them down when you leave for the day (“standby” settings will continue to draw power even when not in use). By plugging hardware into a power strip with an on/off switch (or a smart power strip), the whole desktop setup can be turned off at once (make sure to power down inkjet printers before killing the power—they need to seal their cartridges). Printers, scanners, and other peripherals that are only used occasionally can be unplugged until they’re needed. And of course, turn off lights in spaces that are unoccupied.
It does seem a bit strange that in the “digital age” we still consume enormous amounts of mashed up, bleached tree pulp, most of which gets used once or twice and then tossed or recycled. The greenest paper is no paper at all, so keep things digital and dematerialized whenever possible. The more you do online, the less you need paper. Keep files on computers instead of in file cabinets (this also makes it easier to make offsite backup copies or take them with you when you move to a new office). Review documents onscreen rather than printing them out. Send emails instead of paper letters. New software like Greenprint helps eliminate blank pages from documents before printing and can also convert to PDF for paperless document sharing.
Greening the Commute
American workers spend an average of 47 hours per year commuting through rush hour traffic. This adds up to 3.7 billion hours and 23 billion gallons of gas wasted in traffic each year. We can ease some of this strain by carpooling, taking public transit, biking, walking, or a creative combination thereof. If there’s no good way to phase out your car, consider getting a hybrid, electric vehicle, motorcycle, scooter, or using a car sharing service like Flexcar or Zipcar. Some employers are even giving a bonus to bike and carpool commuters and special perks to hybrid drivers. For those who think bike riding is for kids and tattooed couriers, consider a high-tech folding bike or an electrically assisted one.
You might be amazed how sharp work clothes from thrift stores can look. If you buy new, get clothes made with organic or recycled fibers. Avoid clothes that need to be dry cleaned, and if they so demand it, seek out your local "green" dry cleaner.
Use Green Materials
Some paper use can't be avoided, so use recycled paper and envelopes that have been processed and colored using eco-friendly methods. Pens and pencils can also be made of recycled materials, and refillable pens and markers are preferable to disposable ones. Use biodegradable soaps and recycled paper or cloth towels in the bathroom and kitchen, and provide biodegradable cleaners for the custodial staff. Buy in bulk so that shipping and packaging waste are reduced, and reuse the shipping boxes. Recycling printer cartridges is often free, and recycled replacements are cheaper than new ones.
Redesign the Workspace
Greening the space in which you work has almost limitless possibilities. Start with good furniture, good lighting, and good air. Furniture can be manufactured from recycled materials as well as recyclable. Herman-Miller and Steelcase are two groundbreaking companies that have adopted the Cradle-to-Cradle protocol for many of their office chairs. Incandescent bulbs can be replaced with compact fluorescents and there is an ever-growing selection of high-end LED desk lamps that use miniscule amounts of energy. Not only is natural daylight a free source of lighting for the office, it has been proven to improve worker productivity and satisfaction (as well as boost sales in retail settings). Workspace air quality is also crucial. Good ventilation and low-VOC paints and materials (such as furniture and carpet) will keep employees healthy.
Bringing lunch to work in reusable containers is likely the greenest (and healthiest) way to eat at work. Getting delivery and takeout almost inevitably ends with a miniature mountain of packaging waste. But if you do order delivery, join coworkers in placing a large order (more efficient than many separate ones). Also, bring in a reusable plate, utensils, and napkins. If you do go out for lunch, try biking or walking instead of driving.
Get Others in on the Act
Share these tips with your colleagues. Ask your boss to purchase carbon offsets for corporate travel by car and plane. Arrange an office carpool or group bike commute. Trade shifts and job duties so that you can work four long days instead of five short ones. Ask the office manager to get fair trade coffee for the break room and make sure everyone has a small recycling bin so that recycling is just as easy as throwing paper away. Ask everyone to bring in a mug or glass from home and keep some handy for visitors so that you reduce or eliminate use of paper cups.
Power Management & Conservation
Encourage energy conservation throughout the company. Be sure that offices are equipped with energy-efficient light bulbs, and purchase equipment and supplies that conserve power. Encourage staff to turn off lights and equipment in offices and conference rooms when they are not in use.
Cut travel costs by using virtual conferencing tools. When feasible, allow employees to telecommute (work from home) on certain days or a number of days per week. Statistics show that employees who telecommute are actually more productive, and work longer hours than those who commute to an office each day. Telecommuting can also reduce a company's "carbon footprint". A carbon footprint refers to the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses your choices create.
Printing & Recycling
Encourage your staff to recycle. Provide recycling bins for soda and drink containers. Encourage staff to use the back side of old printed materials for notes and scratch paper. Use double-sided printing for reports, and use a digital infrastructure that allows documents to be transferred digitally to reduce printing costs.