Wednesday, 23 January 2013

How to Go Green at Work

Much like going green at school, going green at work can sometimes have a larger impact than going green at home due to the number of people that can be involved. By helping your office make better eco-choices, you can also encourage your colleagues to make similar changes in the rest of their lives!

Encourage your company to develop a greenhouse gas inventory

An inventory includes a list of emission sources as well as the amount of standardized accompanying emissions. The majority of a company’s emissions tend to come from building heating and cooling, fleet vehicles, electricity use, and employee travel. Small companies can calculate their emissions and carbon footprint here. The EPA’s Center for Corporate Climate Leadership is a resource center to help organizations identify and achieve cost-effective GHG emission reductions. Environment Canada also has resources for businesses about sustainable development planning, reporting, and programs.

Use renewable and sustainable power

Though some regions generate their grid power from cleaner energy sources such as hydropower other regions source their grid power from emission-heavy fossil fuel powered plants. Consequently, emissions from electricity generated from fossil fuels can have a significant impact the environment and your organization's carbon footprint. Green power is electricity that is generated from renewable energy sources such as wind, sun, geothermal, and biomass. Purchasing your power from renewable energy sources is an effective way for your organization to reduce its carbon footprint and environmental impact. Visit the EPA's Green Power Partnership for information on how to purchase green power in the United States. In Canada your business can purchase green power from Bullfrog Power.

Use public transportation, bike, walk, or carpool to work

Instead of using your car, why not save your gas money and get a little exercise at the same time by biking or walking to work! If you do need to drive, organize a carpool or take public transit to limit the number of cars on the road. A smaller number of cars on the road mean less carbon emissions. Leaving your car at home just two days a week can reduce your greenhouse gas emissions by an average of two tons per year.

Telecommunicate instead of travelling on a plane to meet clients

Flying is resource intensive and produces large carbon emissions; you can prevent the need to fly by phone, audio and video conferencing instead. You can also save money, time, and reduce stress by teleconferencing. If you must travel consider alternate less carbon intensive modes of transport such as trains. Train travel is estimated to produce 90 percent fewer emissions than flying. You could also consider telecommuting for your everyday work if possible; this could also reduce your emissions and save you waiting in traffic every day.

(Learn more about airplane emissions in our article about The Green Passport Initiative!)

Install smart power strips to turn off electronics completely

The energy used to power electronics in offices can be greatly reduced if they are turned off when not needed instead of left on standby to continuously suck up energy. For example did you know that a 600-watt photocopier left on standby for 24 hours a day uses about $750 of electricity in a year? If it is turned on only during normal working hours, two thirds of this electricity could be saved.

Smart strips turn off devices and prevent phantom energy from continuously flowing through them. Electronics such as computers, printers, scanners and copiers should be plugged into smart strips which stop drawing power when your gadgets are on standby or are turned off. For example, when a printer plugged into a basic smart strip goes into standby mode, its power consumption drops. Consequently, the circuitry detects the change and cuts the power to that outlet but the rest of the outlets in use stay on. As a result both energy associated emissions and costs will be reduced.

Switch to energy efficient lighting and turn lights off when not in use

Refit your workplace with energy saving light bulbs labelled ENERGY STAR® to help the environment as well as help your company save money on the electricity bill! Compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs use 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs and can last up to 10 times longer. Light emitting diode (LED) lights are an emerging technology and are also 75% more efficient than incandescent bulbs. LEDs can last even longer than CFLs—lasting 15 to 20 times longer than incandescent bulbs.

If your workplace occupants are having difficulty regularly turning off the lights you can install motion or occupant sensors, which automatically turn off lighting when no one is present and come back on when they return.

Recycle everything you can

Recycling reduces the size and affect of landfills, helps conserve natural resources, decreases pollution, and saves energy. Ensure that your company recycles paper products, batteries, and printer cartridges. Additionally, make sure the office’s old electronics (e.g., computers, monitors, cell phones, TVs) are recycled. There are many different programs including leasing programs, manufacturer and retailer take-back programs and municipal programs your company can utilize to ensure the reuse and/or recycling of your electronics. In the US your company can participate in the EPA’s WasteWise program which helps its participants meet goals to reduce and recycle municipal solid waste and selected industrial wastes.

Go paperless

  • Go a step further than just recycling your paper; avoid initially using it whenever possible. 
  • Set 'double sided' as the default setting on your printer.
  • Go electronic instead of using hard copies: phone and email, use overheads and power point presentations, get e-subscriptions, and use web resources.
  • Replace paper towels with hand dryers in the bathrooms.
  • Switch to cloth towels and napkins in kitchens.
  • Use reusable mugs and plates in the company kitchen.
  • Switch to a metal mesh reusable coffee filter in the company kitchen so you do not need disposable paper ones.

Use non-toxic green cleaning products in your work area or office

Using green products for cleaning your workplace can be better for the health of the planet, yourself, and your employees. Green products are typically made with natural ingredients and can reduce the amount of harmful toxins you inhale each day. Green products are also often packaged in recycled or biodegradable materials and offer bulk options to reduce waste. Research and read the labels of your green products, looking for words such as biodegradable, 100% recycled, certified organic, and green certified, to chose the ones that are right for you.

Choose foods that are local, organic and sustainable for lunches, meetings and catered events

Produce that is grown in your area requires lower inputs to get to the store/farmers’ market/restaurant, and by buying seasonal produce you’re more likely to get produce that’s local. A good way to know if your food is sustainably produced is to talk to the farmer!  Buy farm-gate produce or shop at farmers’ markets whenever it’s possible.  Ask the farmer how they grow their crops. The farmers that are passionate about sustainable practices will enthusiastically share their knowledge.
(You can read more about sustainable agriculture on our blog here!)

Choosing food that is organic ensures that it is pesticide and GMO free and thus that there are no negative impacts on the surrounding soil, water, air, or organisms. Eating organic also may prevent a number of negative human health problems linked to pesticide use.

Pack waste-free lunches

Through packing a waste-free lunch at home (and not getting take-out) your energy emissions, meal costs, and the waste you produce are all reduced. The average child is said to produce 67 pounds of trash at lunch a year and you are creating the same if not more at work!  Switch to reusable utensils, containers, napkins, water bottles and lunch boxes to avoid trash generation. When shopping for reusable lunch wares remember that some may actually contain lead and/or PVC which are not safe to be in contact with food. Reusable containers made of glass, stainless, and lead-free ceramic are the safest options.

(Read specific examples on how other companies have gone green on our Green Companies from the Ground Up and Going Green in Business pages!)