How to Create a More Sustainable Office
In case you (somehow) haven’t heard, Earth is warming. Quickly. Scary-quickly. We only have ourselves to thank, as man-made emissions are at the root of so many climate change issues. Scientific reports keep getting more and more grim, and politicians are battling across the aisle about how to best address the state of the planet. A lot of people have taken it upon themselves to do their small part at home, such as composting food scraps and hanging their clothes to dry, but these efforts don’t need to stop at their front door. There are a lot of ways to carry these intentions into your workspace and contribute to a more sustainable office environment, with or without management’s help. Whether you work on a large campus with hundreds of people or in a small office, there are ways for everyone looking to green-ify their nine-to-five.
If you work remotely, congratulations! You’re already the most environmentally-beneficial type of worker by default. To take things a bit further:
Resist the urge to drive to a new coffee shop or shared workspace every day. If you have to get out of the house to concentrate or conduct a meeting, try biking or taking public transportation instead.
Take things digital. If you normally print a rough draft of a report or project to make edits, try using a stylus and a tablet instead. (And see if you can turn that next letter into an email or a phone call instead.)
If you plan to work at a coffee shop, bring your own reusable mug (plus silverware and a cloth napkin if you plan to have a bite to eat). Those daily (and sometimes twice- or thrice-daily) paper coffee cups add up quickly, and thanks to the way the insides are coated, they can’t be recycled.
If you’re part of a team at a small office, things get a little trickier. It’s important to be climate-conscious, but it’s also important to stay in everyone’s good graces and keep the workspace comfortable. In order to keep the peace, but make an impact:
Start a recycling program at work, clearly labeling what can and cannot be added to the new blue bin. There are plenty of options for collection services, so no one is stuck having to drive your paper and plastic to the recycling center.
Adjust the thermostat a few degrees warmer in the summer, and a few degrees cooler in the winter, to save energy (and money!) on temperature regulation. If you have a coworker who’s always freezing, encourage them to keep an extra layer at their desk so their space heater doesn’t negate the effort.
Take advantage of power-saving modes on office equipment, like desktop computers or printers, by programming them to your work schedule. If everyone leaves at 5:00, there’s no sense in having everything humming until people return the next morning.
See if the budget has any wiggle room for decor, recruit someone with a green thumb, and bring in a few air-purifying plants to place around the office. The air will be cleaner, and everyone will be happier as an extra little bonus—greenery is a proven mood-booster, after all.
Think before you leap with office equipment purchases. If you’re going to buy new, make sure it’s an Energy Star-rated product—but don’t forget about refurbished goods! Buying used can save the office money while reducing carbon pollution. Similarly, think about donating your old electronics to schools or libraries instead of tossing them out. Recycling isn’t just for sheets of paper and cardboard boxes.
Ask about installing a water fountain with a bottle-refilling station instead of keeping bottled water in the mini fridge or going through plastic jugs at the water cooler. (Gold star if you can convince them to gift everyone a branded reusable water bottle while you’re at it.)
Anyone who works at large companies has the biggest hurdles to jump, but nothing is impossible. By meeting with the right people and stating your case, you can reduce energy, improve air quality and make administration more aware of their environmental impact.
If the office can afford it, ask to switch to motion-sensored lighting. Just like in the freezer section of the grocery store, the lights stay off unless they detect someone nearby. If that’s a no-go, have them consider changing all light bulbs to LED instead.
See if the company would be willing to initiate an incentive program, or institute some sort of employee benefit, for those who consciously commute. Think bikers, carpoolers, public transport takers or those who drive hybrid or electric cars.
For services or goods that are outsourced, see if anything could be sourced locally instead. Not only would this slash the carbon emissions of long-haul delivery, but it supports the surrounding community and gives your company a boost of goodwill, to boot.
Ask if supply orders can be scheduled for certain times of the month, so employees can pool together and make the occasional bulk order instead of frequent small ones. This, again, would cut down on energy wasted on delivery efforts and materials used in shipping and packaging.
This one’s a doozy: Research your local power providers and see if there’s any way for the company to incorporate renewable energy sourcing, such as solar, into their overall power usage to reduce emissions and save a ton of money over the long run.
Regardless of where you work, consider conducting an energy audit. This can be outsourced to an auditing company, or—if you work from home—you can do this for yourself, but it’s an eye-opening starting point. It’s hard to know what to cut back on if you aren’t sure where the majority of your resources are being used; this cold, hard data can help provide a much-needed springboard. Sometimes you have to show (not tell) to make the biggest impact on others’ habits and choices.
We’ve got but one planet. It’s time to make sure we take care of it as best we can. If your manager isn’t on board, keep showing up to work with your reusable coffee mug, recycling your paper and hoping your action will inspire others around you to do the same. One person can absolutely make a difference.
Sara works as a full-time admissions counselor at Flagler College in St. Augustine and runs a wellness Instagram to connect with other foodies. When she’s not in the kitchen, you can find her at the gym, reading a book, planning her next trip, or re-watching Game of Thrones episodes with her dog.