How to make your workplace green

We're all constantly encouraged to get greener at home, but what about the workplace?  This can mean anything from working for a multi-national corporation, or being self-employed, to volunteering once a week.

The sad news is that whilst we are working hard to make our homes greener, some businesses can do more to pollute in a day than we do at home in a year.  The great news is that stacks can be done to improve the workplace too.  I worked for seven years as an environmental representative in a technology company with around 250 people.  Here are some ideas from some of the projects I worked on.

Green representative(s)
You could approach your boss with ideas of how to improve the business by making it greener (or if you are the boss implement or ask someone to take this on).  Depending on the size of the organisation, you may manage this with one person or by asking for 'green departmental' representatives.

Getting to work
I love this quote; "There is no such thing as traffic - you are the traffic." Many workplaces could encourage lift sharing, especially where working hours are the same.  There are various schemes that you can join, including Liftshare, or you could put up a notice at work, or send an email to colleagues.  At a previous work place, three people living near to each other found a convenient meeting point and left two cars there.  Their simple rule was to be there by a nominated time.  If anyone had a last minute day off, was unwell or running late, there was no need to send messages, the others could just leave.  Obviously for planned holidays etc they would let each other know.

Car sharing can work for one off journeys or regular trips and of course, it doesn't just have to be for work.  Other schemes are go car share or bla bla car.

For serious cyclists who would like an expensive bike, there is a government cycle scheme which allows you to pay for the bike by deducting money from your salary.  There is a tax incentive too. 

Perhaps you could walk to work or set up a group who could enjoy doing this together?  Not possible for everyone of course...

Few businesses are entirely paper free, but there are many things you can suggest to reduce paper use and waste.  In the company I worked for, we recorded paper use and saved a whopping 1.6 million sheets  during the first year alone.  Obvious ideas are:

  • Does it really need printing?
  • Default to double side printing
  • If printing, take off unnecessary logos, photos etc, and / or reduce the size of the text
  • Printing can be set to minimise the use of ink with specific fonts and various IT magic skills
  • Don't print off agendas for everyone at meetings - use a screen, or just print off one copy for the chair

Other paper / printing related green ideas:

Use recycled, FSC approved paper
Refill or recycle printer cartridges
Print in black rather than colour which uses more ink

If your company uses packaging, can it be second hand? Can less of it be used?  Switch to paper and card products rather than plastic and polystyrene.  We swapped bleached boxes for recycled card boxes and design created sturdy card innards to replace stratocell (a polyethylene foam). 

Demain (tomorrow)
Demain is an excellent, uplifting documentary film - a must see if you get the chance. "Optimistically, it identifies initiatives that have proven themselves in ten countries around the world: concrete examples of solutions to environmental and social challenges of the twenty-first century, be it agriculture, energy, economy, education or governance."  One of the companies it highlights is a French paper mill which has made each aspect of its business part of a recycling loop, thereby using fewer resources whilst improving everything including the product and making gains for the business, the workers and those being supplied.

Offices are nearly always too hot for some and too cold for others.  Where possible, have windows open in the summer to avoid horrid air conditioning and wear extra layers in the winter to save unnecessary heating. If you work in a shop, please ask your boss to invest in a large 'We are open, please come in' sign for the door rather than having the heating on and the door open!

Small is beautiful
Even if you can't implement much at work, or if you want to start small and work your way up, you could pin an envelope to a noticeboard and collect stamps (franked and unfranked) which can then be given to charities for fundraising.

Even staples from documents that need shredding can be collected in an old, clean tomato / soup tin and then recycled.

Do you have coffee and tea facilities?  Are there coffee pods at work and do there really need to be, or can they at least be recycled? Can you compost on site, or have the food waste taken away for composting or anaerobic digestion?  Swap single use cups for washable cups and glasses for water too.

Laws and charities
There are laws to adhere to in business so you need to make sure that there are waste transfer licenses in place.  For example, a manufacturing company may have an excess of scrap metal, but this needs to be collected by a company who are licensed to collect and recycle.  This prevents just anyone collecting materials and perhaps using what they can and discarding the rest by fly tipping.  There needs to be proper trail that can be followed from start to finish.  Many charities will be able to help you to set up recycling facilities at your workplace and they will come and collect items. Here's a link to one for drinks cans every can counts.  If your workplace is very small, ask neighbouring businesses if they'd like to sign up as well. 

On the move?
If your job involves lots of moving around.  Invest in a reusable coffee mug and ask cafés etc to use it instead of a throwaway cup.  Try to take your own bottle of water and sandwiches to avoid buying more plastic covered products as well.  There are some other ideas in a previous blog here green travel tips.

Other things
Use ethical suppliers, and fairtrade, low carbon footprint or recycled products.

Your workplace
What green initiatives does your company already have?