7 ways to make your office greener
It's surprisingly easy to make little changes that can make a big difference to the environment. Here's how.
(Fortune) -- Consider, if you will, the humble coffee mug - that's right, the one with the wacky slogan on it that you might be drinking from right now. By bringing a mug to work and using it, instead of chugging your caffeine fix from disposable cups, you can help reduce the 2 million tons of paper and plastic cups and plates tossed out in the U.S. each year.
Sure, you need to wash your mug, but life cycle analysis shows that, over a mug's average service of 3,000 uses, the energy it takes to scrub it is the cause of 30 times less solid waste and 60 times less air pollution than the equivalent number of drinks from disposable paper or foam. Who knew?
A forthcoming book called True Green @ Work: 100 Ways You Can Make the Environment Your Business, published by the National Geographic Society, is full of surprises like this.
It's a fascinating read. Did you know, for example, that Americans buy more than 5.1 billion pens annually, most of which get thrown out when the ink runs dry, creating about 770 tons of plastic waste in landfills each year? The solution: Use long-life refillable pens, which incidentally could also give your professional image a little boost, since they generally produce better-looking writing.
Want more tips for being kind to Mother Earth at work? Try these:
Re-use paper. Sure, your office probably already has recycling bins for paper, and that's a great start: Recycled paper uses 90% less water and about half the energy needed to make paper from virgin timber. But since paper makes up about 70% of the waste in a typical office, you can also cut your purchasing costs and waste removal expenses while fighting pollution if you make a habit of using less and using it more than once.
Whenever possible, use both sides. Keep a tray on your desk to collect any single-side printed scrap paper that comes your way and use it for taking notes or for making copies and sending faxes.
Before hitting the "print" button on your computer, proofread carefully to avoid having to print a document more than once. Proofreading is a good idea anyway, since few things make a document (and its creator) look sloppier than a swarm of tiny errors in spelling and punctuation.
Sleep more. On any given workday, what with meetings, coffee breaks, lunch, and phone calls, there's probably at least one hour when you aren't looking at your computer screen, so why not let it take a little nap?
Switching a computer to "sleep" mode cuts its energy consumption by 95%. If you find yourself called away from your desk frequently, go into system preferences and set them to put the screen and hard drive to sleep after 10 minutes of inactivity, which will save loads of power when you're busy doing something else.
Detailed guides on how to enable energy-saving features on Windows, OS/2, Unix, and Mac OS X systems are available from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star web site at http://www.energystar.gov.au/consumers/stepbystep.html.
Shut it off. "The idea that leaving a computer on is more efficient than turning it off has become something of an urban myth," says True Green @ Work. The fact is, left on 24 hours a day every day, a computer uses nearly 1,000 kilowatts of electricity in a year, resulting in more than a ton of carbon emissions (not to mention an unnecessarily high bill from the power company). So when you leave for the night, turn it off - and hey, don't forget to hit the lights, too.
"What a nice plant!" A pot of live greenery (maybe a begonia, or a ficus tree) not only looks good, it acts as a natural air filter, absorbing airborne pollutants and computer radiation while replenishing oxygen levels. Research shows that having plants nearby measurably reduces stress, so it can't hurt to have something green on your desk for when you get stuck on hold.
Need one more reason to push for flextime and telecommuting? If your boss still balks at letting you work from home or keep flexible hours, you might mention this: U.S. drivers waste nearly 6 billion gallons of fuel each year sitting in rush-hour traffic jams, which accounts for nearly 60 million tons of greenhouse gases added to the atmosphere. Telecommuting and flextime can help reduce those emissions.
Along with dozens more suggestions for a greener workplace, True Green @ Work looks at 10 companies that are doing a great job of reducing their carbon footprints. Some of you have sent me questions about finding a "green" job, or a whole new environmentally active career, and I'll have more information on that in the New Year.
In the meantime, you might check out these employers:
- General Electric (Charts, Fortune 500) (www.ge.com)
- Visy (www.visy.com)
- S.C. Johnson Co. (www.scjohnson.com)
- Marriott International (Charts, Fortune 500) (www.marriott.com)
- Office Depot (Charts, Fortune 500) (www.OfficeDepot.com)
- Google (Charts, Fortune 500) (www.google.com)
- Veolia (www.veoliaES.com)
- Timberland (www.timberland.com)
- Patagonia (www.patagonia.com)
- Interface (www.interfaceinc.com)
Readers, how environmentally aware is your employer? Are you doing anything to try and turn your office green? Post your thoughts on the Ask Annie blog!