The "Three Rs" of being environmentally friendly that we grew up with has evolved into "Five Rs": Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and now, Repair and Rethink. Taking all five Rs into consideration — especially the rethinking part — here are 30 easy ways to go green in the office, and often save money in the process.
1. Stock Reusable Pens
U.S. citizens alone throw out over four million disposable pens — daily. Consider stocking the office with reusable pens instead. Stock the supplies cupboard only with refills for these pens. This creates incentives to keep track of and use their pens, and they're actually cheaper in the long run and usually much nicer to use. (You can even make the pen game fun by putting each employee's name on theirs. If they leave it lying around where it shouldn't be, another employee can snag points for "stealing" their pen!)
2. Keep Tabs on the Supply Cabinet
In a recent article 9 Things Your Office Forgot to Recyle, we discussed the value of keeping the office supply cabinet under the direct supervision of one or two people, such as the office manager. In doing this, employees won't be as wasteful of supplies as they may otherwise be.
You can take this one step further by explaining to employees how it's not only a way to go green in the office, but there's also cost savings in so doing. And to sweeten the pot, you could set up a program that uses the money saved in conserving office supplies to throw office parties or lunches for everybody. Make the process transparent, and people will take ownership of their own contributions to going green in the office.
3. Eliminate Waste in Printing
All too often we print a document to discover that the last page only has a web address at the bottom, or other printable space is wasted. GreenPrint and EcoPrint2 are software programs that identify these areas of waste in printing, alert the user of possible wasted space, and recommend how to eliminate it. The user can then decide whether or not to accept the program recommendations before printing. GreenPrint claims to save businesses 17 percent on printing materials and $100 — per user — annually.
4. Go Digital
Is it necessary to print out a meeting agenda for every member? Or can you incorporate it into a slide show, or simply send it via email? How about posting employee manuals and other materials online rather than distributing — and onerously updating — print copies? Increasing numbers of digital storage devices and systems for businesses make going digital very easy to do.
5. Buy Environmentally Friendly Paper
Try as we may to go digital, we still need paper, so try to go with the least of the evils. Insist on chlorine-free paper, and look for high amounts of post-consumer recycled content. You can also look for paper that has been made with more sustainable substances like bamboo, hemp, or organic cotton.
6. Update Mailing Lists
This is a small but effective tip; by ensuring your mailing lists are up to date, you avoid sending out unnecessary letters, thus saving the paper, printing, and postage.
7. Photocopier and Printer Settings
Ensure the photocopier and printer defaults back to single copies after somebody has used it. You may also want to set them to print double-sided by default. Use the draft printing mode whenever possible (which is more than you think), and avoid color printing.
8. Use Smaller Font
Although you don't want to make your employees blind, reducing the font size in documents can save reams of paper each week.
9. Go Casual
Not every industry permits this, but if you can, set a business casual policy for the office. Not wearing suits means much less dry cleaning, which is not only better for the environment, but also your health and everybody's finances.
Employees can be just as — if not more — productive when working from home. Most also consider it a perk to telecommute, even if only for a few days per month. The environmental effects of commuting are reduced, employees save the expense (and time), and even air quality and road maintenance takes less of a hit.
11. Power Down
Would you believe that the majority of office power is consumed by machines that are off, but still plugged into a live outlet? Standby power (or phantom power) is a huge — and hugely unnecessary — environmental culprit and expense. You can improve this process and automate it with programs like Surveyor, which automatically powers down company computers at night.
12. Eliminate Screen Savers
Set a company policy that disallows the use of screen savers. Instead, set monitors to power off after the same amount of time; it's just as easy.
13. Consider Solar Power
Yes, solar energy systems can be expensive, and aren't always practical depending on your office location and setup. But you can reap some long-term savings from your initial investment, and many states now offer incentives (like rebates and the ability to sell excess energy to the power company) for solar energy users.
14. Use Natural Light
Artificial lighting represents 40 percent of electricity consumption in a typical office building, and almost a quarter of allelectricity in the States. And so often this is unnecessary. Open the blinds and let daylight in wherever possible. And of course, don't leave the lights on at night when everybody is gone.
15. Install Motion Sensors
Take a walk around your office and notice how many offices and conference rooms have lights on despite nobody using the space. Instead of leaving it to employees to turn off lights as they leave rooms, install motion-activated light switches. They'll turn the lights on for a designated period of time (eg: 15 minutes) whenever somebody passes in front of the switch or moves about the room.
16. Decorate with Light Colors
By using light wall colors and high-gloss sheens, daylight is more easily reflected off the walls, and less artificial light is necessary.
17. Use Compact Fluorescent Bulbs
Compact fluorescent bulbs use 75 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs, and they last about 10 times longer. So you'll save on energy costs, replacement bulb costs, and reduce waste by using them. They come in all sizes and wattages, and offer soft sheens that aren't as garishly fluorescent as their previous counterparts. No conversion of equipment is necessary; any light that uses an incandescent bulb can immediately take a compact fluorescent bulb.
18. Buy Remanufactured Ink and Toner Cartridges
Not only do remanufactured cartridges cost about 15 percent less than brand new ones, but each reused cartridge saves about 2.5 pounds of metal and plastic and about half a gallon of oil, all of which is wasted in the manufacturing process.
19. Buy Energy-Friendly Items
20. Buy LED Lamps
Once you've replaced your incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent ones, and maximized the daylight in your office, you may actually be able to reduce the number of desk lamps you have in the office. If you must buy new lighting though, consider LED lamps, which use even less power than compact fluorescent bulbs do.
21. Use Multi-Purpose Machines
Each piece of office equipment you buy produces heaps of toxic substances in both the manufacturing and disposal stages. So the fewer office machines you buy, the smaller your footprint will be. Consider using multi-purpose machines that handle copying, scanning, faxing, and printing, as well as other multi-tasking machines.
22. Buy Second-Hand
It's not always possible, especially if you have appearances to keep up, but every time you buy something for the office that's second-hand, you'll save by-product wastage in the production of a new appliance (and you'll save money too). Don't use the lazy excuse that the new item was already produced so you may as well buy it; if you don't buy it, then they won't make as many in the next production round.
23. Watch the Temperature in Summer
Most offices could stand to raise the temperature a few degrees. In fact, look at how many people in the office (usually women) keep sweaters and extra clothing at their desks at the height of summer because the office is so much colder than the outside temperature. Instead of setting the thermostat so only those in full suits are comfortable, find a happy medium. (This is another great reason to set a business casual office policy).
24. Use Portable Air Conditioners
Pursuant to the point above, instead of using central air conditioning, you can save lots of power and money by using portable air conditioners. Traditional cooling costs up to $3,000/month for a measly 1,200 square foot office, and a lot of that is spent cooling empty boardrooms or otherwise unoccupied spaces. Cooling only the areas that need it with portable air conditioners allows employees to set comfortable temperatures for each area.
Bathroom & Kitchen
25. Eliminate Paper Towels
We discussed the benefits of going to cloth napkins and towels in the kitchen, but even in the bathroom you can use cloth towels or hand dryers.
26. Reduce Toilet Water Consumption
No, you don't have to ask employees to "hold it." Reduce the amount of water used per flush by putting a brick in the tank. If you are replacing toilets, look for low-flush models, or ones with a half-flush option. Toilet flushing is the largest water consumer in office buildings.
27. Install Aerators
Make sure all taps have low-flow aerators installed to reduce water wastage.
28. Buy in Bulk
Instead of buying individual packets of coffee, creamer, sugar, pepper, salt, jam, and other consumables, buy these items in bulk instead. Think creatively about using jars or dispensers for these items that make it easy — and sanitary — for all to use.
29. Use Green Cleaning Products
Environmentally friendly cleaning products protect the health of not only your cleaning staff but also your employees, by eliminating harmful substances and odors from the office.
30. Go Green — Literally
Make your office literally green with plants! They absorb airborne pollutants (which are rampant with off-gassing office furniture), and emit healthy negative ions and oxygen into the air. Having some green plants in the office also reduces that "sterile" look, making it more comfortable for everybody.