Going Green in the Workplace: How to Contribute

Ways to Go Green at Work RIGHT NOW

When it comes to “going green,” you might think of things like meatless Monday, buying locally, and upcycling. Those are all things individuals can do to go green.

But, the odds are pretty good that the company cafeteria doesn’t have a meatless Monday, and buying locally may not be an option.

That doesn’t mean companies can’t go green and do their part to help the environment, though. And, even if your company can’t—or won’t—go green, that doesn’t mean you’re helpless.

There are plenty of easy steps you can take to go green in the workplace.

What does “going green” mean?

The term “going green” means different things to different people. But, in general, going green means making conscious and sustainable choices that help you reduce, rescue, and recycle. There are a lot of ways to go green, but no one “right” way to do it.

For some, going green means choosing products that can be recycled or that come from recycled materials. Other people purchase used items, buying new only when there’s no choice. Some people buy an electric vehicle or ditch the car altogether and bike, walk, or carpool instead.

How can companies go green?

Companies can go green, too. That said, companies face different choices than individuals. While turning off the lights at night is a start, there are plenty of additional strategies companies can incorporate into their green strategy.

Print less.

Recycling paper is a start. Using recycled paper is the next step. But, for companies looking to go “greener,” use both sides of the page when printing. And, instead of recycling scrap paper, use the back of that paper for phone messages and notes.

But, another way to go green is to become a paperless company. While going completely paperless may never be possible, companies can take steps toward a paperless future.

Instead of printing out documents, share them in the cloud.

Also, give clients the option to receive their bills or statements electronically and to pay their bills online. While you’re at it, have the company ask their vendors for paperless billing and payment options, too.

Break out the good china.

Cleaning the break room is a pain, especially if people don’t clean up after themselves. That’s why many companies use paper and plastic in the kitchen. But, stocking the kitchen with reusable dishes and utensils helps a company go green in a big way.

While it’s easier to throw everything in the garbage, it creates more waste. And a surprising amount of plastic products are not recyclable, which only compounds the problem. Using “real” dishes and silverware cuts back on the amount of waste a company produces.

There is the counterargument that all those dishes have to be washed. Not only does that mean using more water, it also means using more soap and detergents, which can have a negative impact on the environment. And, the water to wash the dishes has to be hot, which means using more electricity to heat the water.

Companies can install newer, more efficient dishwashers that use less water and less electricity. And, sticking with environmentally friendly detergents helps, too.

Bring the outside inside.

Get some plants for the office. Not only do plants clean carbon dioxide from indoor air, they’re also good at absorbing other chemicals, like benzene and formaldehyde. This means better air quality for the entire office.

If clean air isn’t enough of a reason to add some nature to the office, consider that plants also help reduce stress, increase productivity, reduce sick days, and boost creativity.

Do an energy audit.

Even when you aren’t using your devices—whether that’s a tablet, a printer, or even your toaster—many of these devices are still using electricity.

A 2015 study found that “always-on” devices in homes contribute to 44 million metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution per year because of the electricity generation each year. This includes things like printers in standby mode and the microwave powering its clock. While the study didn’t look at business, plenty of businesses have printers and microwaves that contribute to the problem.

So, unplug things when they aren’t in use. Make sure the printer is off or unplugged at the end of the day. Turn off the router (if you can) and make sure the lights are out, too.

Another easy fix is to have all of your electrical items plugged into a power strip. Power the strip up in the morning, and turn it off at night. Sure, the microwave may always claim it’s 12:00, but it’s a small price to pay for helping the environment.

Swap it out.

Since there’s no way to eliminate electricity use from office life, switch to clean energy providers, like solar, wind, or geothermal sources if possible. That said, not every company can switch. So, upgrade older, less efficient equipment for newer, more energy-efficient ones. Recycle the old equipment responsibly, or donate it to a nonprofit.

Swap out light bulbs for LED or CFL bulbs. You may not have that option for the overhead lights (especially if you rent). So when possible, open the blinds and use natural light instead.

Install motion-activated faucets. This helps cut back on water waste since the water won’t run when you don’t need it. Can’t do that? Remember to shut it off while you don’t need it when washing your hands or your dishes.

Work from home.

Letting staff work from home is another way companies can go green. By letting people work remotely, there are fewer vehicles commuting to and from work, which means fewers greenhouse gases in the environment.

How can you convince your company to go green?

Maybe your company hasn’t gone green yet, or they’ve taken some baby steps. Either way, you’d like your company to do more. That means convincing the boss that going green is a good idea for the company.

But, don’t just say, “It’s good for the earth.” Construct a business argument that explains how going green benefits the company’s bottom line.

Tax credits.

Businesses can take advantage of tax incentives for installing solar energy systems on their properties or installing energy-efficient heating and air conditioning systems. There are also some incentives for recycling and compacting trash.

Good for recruiting.

While not everyone is concerned about working for a green employer, more and more people want to work for a company that values the environment and has a reputable corporate sustainability policy.

Younger generations are the most concerned about green initiatives in the workplace. Not only are they concerned about the climate’s future, they also know that a positive social responsibility policy can impact a company’s reputation and, ultimately, its bottom line.

Offer to kick it off.

Going green in the workplace is a wish of some companies but they don’t know where to start. In that case, offer to head up a green team to help implement policies and educate staff about going green in the office.

How can you go green at work?

Going green is a group effort. Whether or not your company supports green initiatives, there are plenty of things you can do to go green at work.

Brown bag your lunch.

Your lunch doesn’t have to come in a brown bag, though. Invest in a reusable lunch bag, and put your lunch in reusable containers.

Bring your own coffee mug and water bottle.

Even if the office still uses paper products, you can do your part by bringing your own reusable cups. Even better, bring your own reusable dishes and utensils.

Do your own recycling.

Keep recycling containers by your workspace. Label them and encourage others to use them.

Send ecards.

Paper cards are fun, but ecards are better for the environment. Plus, you can add animations and other fun effects.

Take the stairs.

Using the stairs doesn’t require any power but your own. As a bonus, you’ll get some extra cardio in your day.

Use refillable pens.

Most pens are single-use and create a lot of plastic trash. Consider getting refillable pens to cut back on waste.

Use coffee grounds to feed the plants.

Coffee does many wondrous things in the morning. And, unlike a lot of other trash, coffee grounds will break down in the landfill. But consider using them to feed the plants instead of adding to the garbage heap. While you’re at it, ditch the paper coffee filters for a reusable one.

Get off mailing lists.

Reach out to other companies and have them take you off their mailing list or switch you to email instead.

Going green in the workplace one step at a time

As you can see, there are plenty of things companies can do to go green. And, there are plenty of things you can do to go green on your own. Making these green changes are great. But, if you want to do more, consider getting a green job or even working for a green company.

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Rachel Pelta contributed to this post.

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A version of this post was originally published on April 22, 2011. 

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