This World Environment Day, the United Nations' (UN) most important day for encouraging action and global awareness for the protection of our environment, the first-ever global plastics report was released. It says up to 5 trillion grocery bags are used each year and that humans are "choking" the world on trash.
Evidence like this has led many businesses, and even countries to ban single use plastics. Anti-plastic movements this widespread may be a sign that it's time to eliminate the use of disposable products and other unsustainable practices in your workplace.
There are hundreds of things you can do to make your office more environmentally friendly. For a long time, people have been taught about "the three Rs" – reduce, reuse and recycle. But today, to make your workplace genuinely more sustainable, you should add two more to mix.
That's right: There are five Rs. The two additions, refuse and repurpose, aren't very different when you think about consuming less and using what you already have. By following the five Rs and these suggestions, you can make your office greener.
You can start by refusing to buy or accept products that can hurt your company or the environment. Talk to your vendors and use the power of your dollar to tell companies what you do and do not want.
- Eliminate Single Use Plastics. Ikea, SeaWorld and The Travel Corporation have all committed to eliminating the use of disposable plastics products. For an office setting, this can extend from grocery bags to office supplies. If you have vending machines, ask your supplier to stock them with cans, rather than plastic bottles.
- Refuse heavy chemical cleaning materials and switch to alternatives that are water based. For instance, Meyer's Clean Day offers products that are thoughtfully formulated with plant-derived ingredients and essential oils to make products that are powerful against dirt and grime.
- Decline to receive materials from suppliers with unnecessary packaging that you will later have to dispose. This will send a message to everyone in your supply chain.
Before you bring anything into your office, ask yourself (or your supervisor), "Why are we purchasing this?" and "Why do we need it?"
After determining what your office can do without, you can focus on how to reduce your footprint for the expenditures your office views as necessary. Not only are these reductions good for the planet, they can save you money in the long run.
- You can start by reducing the amount of energy you use to heat your facility by getting a (sometimes free) energy audit. ABRAXAS, provides several different energy consulting services to maximize efficiency.
- When it is necessary to make a new purchase, consider buying Energy Star rated appliances.
- Go paperless whenever possible. The digital world makes this easy with solutions like document management software.
- Encourage alternatives to car commuting. Install bike parking, or offer incentives or discounts for employee bus and transit passes. For example, New York City requires employers of a certain size to offer a commuter savings program, which lets employees use their pre-tax income toward mass transit expenses.
- Replace light fixtures with LED bulbs, which use much less energy. You could also install motion sensors, so the lights will automatically shut off when no one is around.
- You can reduce heating and cooling energy by setting weekend and night temperatures for maximum efficiency. You can also reduce heating and cooling costs by investing in window shades, reducing heat and eliminating computer glare.
Before you purchase something new, consider what you already have. Replace items that can only be used once with something that is made to be reused over and over again.
- This is where the reusable water bottles, plates and silverware come into place. You can eliminate single-use water bottles by giving your employees reusable bottles and installing water fountains, or have large water jugs delivered for refills. [Interested in find a water delivery service for your company? Check out our reviews.]
- Any office supplies that come in jars, boxes or envelopes can be reused for storage before they are recycled or thrown away.
- There are numerous resources that offer reusable office essentials, like reuseit or Package Free.
Take something you already have and use it for something else. This requires a bit of thinking and craftiness, but there's a reason the concept of DIY is so popular.
- Rethink every aspect of the items that come into your office, like rubber bands or food packaging. Many things can be repurposed for organization or food consumption.
- Any produce consumed in the office can be composted and repurposed for garden soil. Many communities have weekly compost drop off spots for this very purpose.
The order of the five Rs is purposeful; the closer to the start of the list, the better the choice. If the above four options won't work for what you have in your office, you should always recycle whenever possible.
- Make sure to do your research on what can be recycled in your area. Create signage to educate your office on these practices.
- When you must buy new materials, like toilet paper, printer paper or ink, try to purchase items that are made from recycled materials.
Thinking about what sustainability practices could look like is the first step in greening your office, but implementing these suggestions and engaging employees is a whole other task.
Appointing a sustainability team within your office can help kickstart implementation and motivate employees to participate. Signage can help remind members of your office to shut off lights, water and recycle properly. The conservation of energy can outweigh the paper expenditure.
You can't manage what you don't measure. Begin tracking all important sustainability metrics such as energy use, water use, waste to landfill and waste recycled. Tracking these monthly will help your office identify trends, set reduction goals and monitor your progress toward those goals.