With Earth Day right around the corner (April 22), there’s no better time than the present for business owners and office managers to reevaluate their operations and Go Green. Unfortunately, many businesses have a single goal: to generate profits. They don’t care how their actions affect the environment, nor do they care about the long-term effects it has on public health. By going green in your office, however, you’ll create a more sustainable business while helping to protect the environment and public health in the process.
Benefits of Going Green
The greatest benefit of going green is the positive impact it has on the environment. Going green is a catch-all term referring to the use of sustainable, environmentally friendly and ecologically responsible practices. Therefore, businesses that embrace green practices promote a cleaner, healthier environment – and that’s something from which we can all benefit.
In 2007, for instance, Coca-Cola announced plans to replenish the amount of water it uses by 2020. In other words, the company wants to give back every drop of water it uses for its product to the planet. Well, Coca-Cola achieved this goal in 2016 – four years ahead of schedule. This is just one instance of how green businesses help the environment.
There are other reasons to go green in your business’s office, including increased sales. According to a survey conducted by the video-conferencing services provider Tandberg, 53 percent of consumers say they prefer buying products and services from environmentally friendly companies than environmentally unfriendly companies. Regardless of what your business sells or offers, going green will almost certainly bring new customers to your establishment.
Furthermore, going green improves the way in which the public perceives your business. When fuel companies experience an oil spill, the public immediately has a negative perception of them, and as a result, their stock goes down. The opposite happens for green businesses, though. They are viewed as trustworthy, honest and caring by the public, which is reflected by their increased stock price.
The first step to going green in your office is recycling. According to the University of Southern Indiana (USI), 1 billion trees worth of paper is disposed of every year in the United States. We use so much paper, in fact, that it’s one of the biggest contributions to landfill waste. By recycling paper that you no longer want or need, you’ll cut down on this unnecessary waste while contributing to a cleaner environment. When paper is recycled, it’s soaked in soapy water to separate the organic material from inks, plastics, staples, and glue, after which it’s spread onto a large conveyor where it’s pressed into sheets.
Recycling paper may sound insignificant, but it can make a big difference in the environment as well as your business’s overhead expenses. Take Bank of America, for example. In 1970, it recycled just 1,400 tons of paper. By 1997, it was recycling roughly 14,591 tons annually, saving the financial services company nearly a half-million dollars in trash fees.
Here are some recycling tips to promote a greener office:
- Contact local waste disposal and recycling centers in your area to inquire about pickups.
- Place recycling bins in convenient locations throughout your office, including next to the trash can.
- Encourage employees to recycle paper instead of throwing it away.
- Recognize and reward employees who recycle the most amount of paper.
- Try to avoid getting the paper wet, as this reduces its effectiveness in the recycling process.
- Remember, paper is just one of many materials that you can recycle. Others include cardboard, aluminum, plastic, glass and even printer ink cartridges (drop off used ink cartridges at office supplies stores).
Telecommuting is becoming increasingly popular. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nearly one-quarter (24%) of all U.S. employees did some or all of their work from home. By allowing employees to work from your home, you’ll reduce traffic congestion and vehicle emissions.
Research cited by Forbes suggests that workers who telecommute are more productive than their counterparts. There are fewer distractions at home, allowing employees to perform more work in less time. You don’t have to embrace an all-worker, every day telecommuting policy. Rather, allow some employees to work from home on some days. Even this will make a difference in the environment while promoting higher productivity levels in the process.
In addition to telecommuting, you should encourage workers to carpool to the office. According to Bowling Green State University (BGSU), a typical vehicle emits up to 114 pounds of hydrocarbons, 895 pounds of carbon monoxide, 59 pounds of nitrogen oxide and 16,800 pounds of carbon dioxide per year, all of which enters the atmosphere and contributes to air pollution.
Carpooling, as you may already know, involves two or more workers riding together in a privately owned vehicle. If two workers live in the same neighborhood and work at the same office, there’s really no need for both of them to drive separate vehicles. Doing so only contributes to airborne pollution while costing them money in fuel and automotive maintenance.
Here are some tips for encouraging workers to carpool to the office:
- Find ridesharing opportunities for workers.
- Educate workers on the benefits of carpooling (saves money, reduces air pollution, less automotive maintenance, etc.
- Set an example by carpooling to the office as well.
- Offer incentives for carpooling, such as a rewards points system or a chance to a win a prize.
- Recognize workers who frequently carpool to the office.
To learn more about carpooling and where to find ridesharing in your office, check out the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT’s) website here.
Make plants are part of your office design. These natural air filters remove dust, bacteria, viruses, and impurities from the air to create a cleaner environment. However, adding plants to your office offers other benefits as well.
According to a study conducted by researchers from Washington State University (WSU), workers are 12% more productive when exposed to plants. Exposure to plants has also been shown to lower stress levels. The exact mechanism remains unknown, but other studies have shown that when workers are exposed to plants, levels of the stress hormone cortisol decrease and they become more relaxed.
You can also reduce your business’s environmental footprint by transitioning from paper to digital documents. Whether it’s employee paychecks, business plans, W-2s, work schedules, notes, reminders, etc., using a digital format eliminates the need for paper.
As a side benefit, using digital documents prevents them from getting lost or destroyed, assuming you back them up to a local storage device or the cloud. If an important paper document is destroyed, it’s gone forever. With digital documents, you can simply redownload them. This is one more reason go paperless in your office.
Of course, you’ll probably still use some paper documents in your office. Rather than using traditional paper, though, consider using recycled paper. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), paper can only be labeled or marketed as “recycled” if it contains 100% recovered fiber. If it contains less than 100%, it must be called “recycled-content” paper. Therefore, you should choose paper that’s specifically labeled “recycled” and not “recycled-content” for your office.
If you really want to distinguish your business from its competitors, encourage workers in your office to volunteer. By giving back to the community, you’ll create a better world and improve business’s public image.
State Farm is the perfect example of volunteerism done right. The insurance provider’s Neighborhood of Good program encourages employees as well as the public to volunteer. According to its official website, State Farm employees have volunteered more than a half-million hours in 2015. As an incentive, every employee who volunteers at least 40 hours in a year receives a $500 grant towards an eligible nonprofit organization.
Salesforce is another company that excels in volunteerism. The San Francisco-based cloud computing company is said to have pioneered the 1-1-1 in which it invites all entrepreneurs and companies to invest 1% of their products, time and resources to philanthropic activities. Since the company’s founding nearly two decades ago, Salesforce has donated more than $168 million in grants, $2.3 billion hours of community service, and donated its products to more than 32,000 nonprofit educational institutions. So, follow in the footsteps of companies like State Farm and Salesforce to create a greener image for your business.
Donate, Don’t Trash
When possible, donate items in your office that you no longer want or need instead of throwing them away. From office desks and chairs to computers, fax machines, books and more, there are nonprofit organizations out there that will take will take just about everything. Each item you donate helps to reduce the amount of waste in landfills.
Some of the leading nonprofit organizations that accept donations include Goodwill, The Salvation Army, Habitat ReStore and the American Red Cross. Normally, donated items are sold in the respective organization’s retail store, and they’ll use the proceeds generated to fund their cause. You won’t get paid for donating your old items in your office, but you can request a tax-deductible receipt. And if you’re donating a lot of stuff, the nonprofit organization may come to pick it up from your office.
There are certain items and materials that you can reuse in the office. Paper, for example, can often be used twice – once on the front and another time on the back. Packing peanuts, paper, bubble wrap and similar packaging items can also be reused. Even file folders, paperclips and other forms of stationary can be used multiple times.
Encouraging employees to reuse items such as these reduces waste and contributes to a greener office. It’s a small step towards cleaning up the environment.
Choose Non-Toxic Cleaning Products
Do you know what’s lurking in the cleaning products used in your office? Many store-bought cleaning products contain harsh chemicals that are bad for your health as well as the environment. Some of these chemicals include ammonia, chlorine, sodium hydroxide, triclosan, phthalates and more. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) explains that nitrogen and phosphorus in cleaning products, for instance, cause nutrient-loading in lakes and rivers, which lowers the quality of the water. Other cleaning products contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that affect indoor air quality, making them particularly bad for the office.
Thankfully, there are non-toxic, environmentally friendly cleaning products available. Pure white distilled vinegar is a safe and effective cleaning product. It has antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties, killing more than 99% of germs on contact. Best of all, it’s completely organic and non-toxic. You can also buy commercial-grade non-toxic cleaning products, though it’s recommended that you check the ingredients to ensure it’s truly non-toxic and not just a gimmicky marketing scheme.
Watch the Coffee
For many office workers, coffee isn’t just a luxury; it’s a necessity. Unfortunately, though, many business owners and office managers overlook the environmental impact of this otherwise common morning work ritual. According to Hamilton Beach, the average office worker drinks four cups of coffee every day, which translates into more than 1,000 cups over the course of a year. Coffee itself isn’t necessarily bad. When it’s manufactured and sold in single-serving pods, however, it’s a different story.
Most single-serving coffee pods are made of plastic and other non-recyclable materials that contribute to a substantial amount of landfill waste. Statistics show that some 10 billion pods are dumped into North American landfills every year, attesting to the environmental problem of these convenient coffee products.
You don’t have to eliminate coffee from your office. Rather, consider a more environmentally friendly option. One solution is to use a reusable coffee pod that you fill with your own grounds. You open the top, fill it with coffee, place it in the coffee-maker, and you’re good to go. Another option is to choose biodegradable single-serving coffee pods. These pods look and function just like traditional single-serving coffee pods. The only difference is that they are made of 100% biodegradable materials.
Every business can do its part to promote a cleaner, healthier environment. The ideas listed here are just a few ways to go green in your business’s office.
President at Office Chairs Unlimited – I have been in the furniture industry for 20 years, and I’m an expert (just ask me) on all things furniture. I know a thing or two because I’ve seen a thing or two.