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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : July/August 2007 : Cover Story

Cover Story

Greening the Office
Help the environment and your company’s bottom line by instituting green practices at the workplace.

by Dennis Walsh

Greening a business can save money, boost productivity, earn respect and make an impact on the environment. Making a few no- or low-cost changes is a good way to start the greening effort and gain the blessing of senior management. To begin the process, go back to the basics and ask everyone to work as a team toward a “greening” effort.

In nature, nothing is wasted and material and energy loops are closed. Make closing these loops a goal by starting small. First, try encouraging employees to bring their own bottles and bags to work. That simple change could help reduce the 300 billion plastic shopping bags and 4 billion pounds of plastic bottles that Americans discard each year. These plastics are not biodegradable, but rather they photodegrade, breaking down into smaller and smaller toxic pieces. Plastic bags are among the most common waste items found in coastal cleanups, and hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, whales and other marine mammals die every year from eating discarded plastic bags mistaken for food.

Beginning with these simple steps and working toward greater greening initiatives will not only help the environment, but will reduce purchasing and waste disposal costs at your company. WasteWise, a free voluntary program from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), helps companies make even greater changes by providing free technical assistance to encourage businesses to develop, implement and measure waste reduction activities, and design waste-reduction programs tailored to their needs. 
 
Cutting down on paper
The average office employee uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper each year. The U.S. uses nearly 3.7 million tons of copy paper annually, the equivalent of more than 700 billion sheets. The EPA estimates that paper and paperboard account for nearly 40 percent of our garbage. Copy paper, commonly used in photocopiers, computer printers and plain-paper fax machines, is the most common type of office waste paper. Office paper is highly recyclable, but much of it winds up in the office trash can.   

 Businesses can do their part and save money by implementing programs to encourage the purchase of recycled products and reduced paper waste. Paper made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled content is often the same price as all-virgin paper. Buying recycled paper also increases the demand for these eco-friendly products. Office supply company Staples offers more than 2,800 products with recycled content, from 100 percent recycled copy paper to remanufactured inkjet cartridges. 

 Xerox is another frontrunner for responsible and environmentally-friendly business practices. The Xerox Green World Alliance, a recycling program that minimizes the environmental impacts of printer supplies and provides options to reduce container waste, leads the industry in alternatives for used supplies such as printer cartridge reprocessing, waste toner reuse, plastics and metals recovery and waste-to-energy conversion. 

Your office can do its part by starting a paper waste reduction policy. This type of policy can be very cost effective for business because it reduces the amount of material that needs to be collected, transported and processed. Practice efficient copying by using the size reduction feature offered on many copiers, reducing the width of margins and font sizes and printing on both sides of the paper. These options reduce waste and save both resources and money.

Don’t forget about other recyclable products. Turn in old toner cartridges for recycling and use remanufactured ink and laser toner for printers and fax machines. Large office supply stores such as Staples, Office Depot and OfficeMax now accept toner cartridges for recycling. Other commonly discarded products, such as cell phones, PDAs, pagers and rechargeable batteries, are also accepted for recycling at many supply stores.

Make your office an “Energy Star”
Commercial energy use is increasing two percent per year, and household energy use also is on the rise. Encourage employees to use energy responsibly both in and out of the office. Before you leave home for long periods, turn down the thermostat on the hot water heater and adjust the thermostat. Allow employees to reduce their dependence on cars by making the office bike-friendly by arranging for bicycle storage and an on-site shower. Offer public transportation stipends and provide a spot in the office for employees to find others near them interested in carpooling arrangements.

When purchasing new appliances and equipment, look for the “Energy Star” label, which means the product is approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy because of its energy efficiency. Using these “Energy Star” products saved $14 billion in utility costs and cut greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, the equivalent of the emissions from 25 million cars.
At the office, turn computers and other office equipment off at the end of the day and set equipment to “sleep” mode when it’s not in use. Activating sleep settings on just one computer can prevent about 300 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions each year.
 
Travel Green
Green business means taking advantage of telecommuting tools, but when we must travel, it is possible to mitigate the effects of the emissions by purchasing carbon offsets designed specifically for travelers through the Better World Club’s “Travel Cool” program or the Trees for the Future “Trees for Travel” program. The Better World Club is an eco-friendly roadside assistance and insurance organization for motorists that offers discounts to club members on hybrid car rentals through a green car rental company.  

Spend company travel dollars with businesses that are interested in protecting the environment. Eco-friendly hotels can be found through the Green Hotel Association. Many of these hotels have a clear environmental agenda that is displayed through an interest in water-saving measures, energy conservation and waste reduction. Many of these hotels offer towel and sheet-changing options, soap and shampoo dispensers, guestroom recycling baskets and reduced food-related waste. Book flights with airlines that recycle the waste created when serving food and beverages to passengers. British Airways, for instance, has a very strong environmental agenda. To find some of these airlines and hotels, visit the World Choice Travel site. The site, which is a division of Travelocity.com, is a hotel search engine that provides a wide selection of hotel accommodations throughout the world.  
 
Clean “green”
 Typical cleaning products are potentially toxic to both humans and the environment. These harmful products flush down the drain into our rivers and oceans and cloud our air indoors. EPA studies indicate that human exposure to air pollutants indoors can be two to five times higher than outdoor levels. Purchasing green cleaning products reduces the impact these solutions can have on human health and the environment.

Few janitorial supply distributors have capitalized on green business opportunities, but using green cleaning and other aspects of sustainable building operations reduce energy and water use and simplify cleaning methods with improved chemicals. 

Seventh Generation is the nation’s leading brand of non-toxic and environmentally safe household products. With distribution in thousands of natural product and grocery stores nationwide, the company has won more than 15 major awards recognizing its efforts to preserve the environment. Seventh Generation products include: non-chlorine bleached, 100 percent recycled paper towels, bathroom and facial tissues, napkins and paper plates; non-toxic, phosphate free, biodegradable cleaning, dish and laundry products; plastic trash bags made from at least 65 percent recycled plastic; chlorine free baby diapers and baby wipes; and chlorine free feminine care products.


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