Green Office Tips
You can save energy, resources, and money by taking steps to make your workplace more environmentally friendly. Read on for more ways to work greener.
What is a Green Office or Facility?
Many of Green America’s standards for certified businesses mandate the “use of a green office or facility, including resource reuse and maximum use of postconsumer recycled resources as well as maximum water and energy efficiency.” Companies bearing the Green Business Certification have some combination of these practices.
- Only fair trade or USDA certified organic coffee, tea and sugar are served
- Filtered water instead of bottled water
- Use only non-toxic products, including for pest control
- See our standards for Cleaning Products here.
- HVAC system is well maintained; offices are warm but not hot in the winter and cool but not cold in the summer
- Facility is well insulated
- Electronics are on power strips to be easily turned off
- Power saving mode is programmed appropriately on all electronics
- Purchase of green-E certified Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) through your utility or an independent company
- Solar panels or geothermal heating and cooling
- Use of 100% post-consumer recycled, processed chlorine free paper in in the office and in all envelopes and marketing materials
- All print materials printed on paper with at least 30% post-consumer recycled content
- Electronic processes replace paper ones where possible
- All printers are set with double sided printing as the default
Site and transportation
- Located near public transportation wherever possible
- Showers and bicycle parking available
- Bike and car sharing facilities within walking distance, wherever possible
- Landscaping maximizes storm water retention onsite
- Shade trees are used strategically
- Permeable pavers or other permeable surfaces used on parking lots
- Waste is sorted into at least landfill, paper and glass/ metal
- Waste is recycled, even when municipal recycling is unavailable or limited
- Office supplies including tea and coffee are purchased in bulk to avoid excessive packaging
- Reusable cups, plates and cutlery are used instead of disposables
True Tale from a Green Business:
When Elysa Hammond joined the staff of Clif Bar in the summer of 2000, she assumed the title of "corporate ecologist" and took on the task of improving the energy bar company’s environmental impacts.
She started by helping Clif Bar become the first certified organic energy bar, then went on to redesign to the bars’ packaging to save 90,000 pounds of shrink wrap every year. But Hammond wasn’t finished. She turned her attention next to the environmental impacts that are less obvious to customers—the internal workings of its offices.
"Any time an office creates waste, it is not using resources as efficiently as possible," says Hammond, noting that environmental responsibility also saves money. "It makes good business sense to reduce waste."
Hammond says the first major office change at Clif Bar was to the paper supply, with a switch to 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper and the installation of deskside recycling bins. Subsequent green upgrades included purchasing wind energy credits to offset the office’s energy use, recycling or composting more than 80 percent of their waste, and creating a committee to keep environmental issues an office priority.
Offices both large and small can save money, improve morale, appeal to green consumers, and make connections with other green businesses—all by minimizing their impact on the Earth. So, whether you work out of your own office at home or in a more traditional office environment, here are some steps to green your workplace:
Reduce Energy Use
A 2001 report by the US Department of Energy found that "computers, office equipment, and other appliances" are driving America’s increased demand for ever more energy consumption both at home and at work.
With commercial energy use increasing two percent per year, according to the report, you can do your part to reverse the trend.
1. Buy green: When you purchase office equipment, look for items bearing the "Energy Star" label. Energy Star is a voluntary program run by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that labels equipment using less energy than standard models. Furthermore, many Energy Star products have other eco-friendly features, such as printers that print on both sides of the page and fax machines that can scan and send double-sided print-outs. According to the EPA, a home office outfitted exclusively with Energy Star equipment (computer, monitor, printer, and fax) can save enough electricity to light the entire home for more than four years.
2. Change your lighting: Purchase compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs), which use 66 percent less energy than standard incandescent bulbs. According to the Rocky Mountain Institute, each CFL you buy will save you about $45 over the long life of the bulb. (CFLs last more than 13 times as long as incandescent bulbs.)
3. Power down: Turn off your computer and other office equipment when you leave your office. Set equipment to go to "sleep" mode when not in use. An easy way to turn off all your equipment at once is to plug it all into one surge protector with an on/off switch. According to the Energy Star program, activating sleep settings on just one computer can prevent about 300 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions each year.
4. Offset your emissions: You can offset the carbon dioxide emissions associated with your office’s energy use or business travel by joining a "green tags" program. Green tags are energy credits, created by renewable energy facilities, that represent the environmental benefits of green power generation.
At Green America’s offices, we offset 100 percent of our global warming emissions through a green tag program with NativeEnergy, which is helping to build a 10MW wind farm on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. (Visit www.nativeenergy.com/coop or call 800/924-6826.)
5. Green your business travel: Minimize your business travel by taking advantage of telecommuting tools. When you must travel, offset your travel emissions. You can purchase green tags to cover airline travel through NativeEnergy, or purchase carbon offsets designed specifically for travelers through the Better World Club’s "Travel Cool" program or the Trees for the Future "Trees for Travel" program.
The Better World Club, an eco-friendly roadside assistance and insurance organization for motorists, also offers discounts to club members on hybrid car rentals through EV Rental, the nation’s only green car rental company. When looking for lodging, you can find an eco-friendly hotel through the Green Hotel Association.
6. Green your office's daily travel: If you work in a traditional office environment, see if you can make your office bike-friendly by arranging for bicycle storage and an on-site shower. Encourage employees to leave their cars at home by offering public transportation stipends.
Green Your Office Finances
Have you thought about the need to green your business’ financial life? That’s often an overlooked aspect of being a green business – but a very important one! If you care about people and the planet, you’ll want to make sure your company’s banking and investments – including employee retirement benefits – match your values.
1. The simplest place to start is with your banking needs – and there has never been a more important time to break-up with your mega-bank if you are still using one! Green America has developed a "how-to" guide specifically to help businesses break-up with the mega-banks and switch to community development banks or credit unions. Download the Break Up With Your Mega-Bank Resource Guide for businesses (PDF).
We also have a website at www.breakupwithyourmegabank.org with additional information.
2. Offer socially responsible retirement plans. Does your business offer retirement benefits? Do you think you might in the future? Then you’ll definitely want to use our newest resource to help employees and employers take the initial steps. How to Add a Socially & Environmentally Responsible Investment Option to an Employer’s Retirement Plan (PDF) is designed to help both employees and employers figure out if they can offer retirement benefits – and if so – how to make SRI options available. The resource also answers questions about adding SRI options to an existing plan.
Your business’ money is going to work every day wherever it is used and held – make sure your assets are supporting the green economy just as your core business does!
Many state-level recycling initiatives state that the average office employee generates a half-pound of paper waste every day. But every half-pound of paper that an office recycles saves the equivalent of one pound of greenhouse gas emissions, plus the equivalent weight in trees. Remember to keep your own daily consumption of paper out of the landfill, and read on for more ways to eliminate waste.
1. Buy recycled: Paper made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled content is often the same price as all-virgin paper. Plus, you can buy in bulk to save money. Green America buys a year’s supply of 100 percent post-consumer recycled copy paper. What’s more, you can find products like envelopes, calendars, planners, and stationery also made from recycled paper.
Remanufactured ink and laser toner for printers and fax machines save you money while you save the Earth. Remember to close the waste loop by turning in your old toner cartridges for recycling. Large office supply stores like Staples and OfficeMax now accept toner cartridges for recycling, or you can mail them to the national recyclers listed in the resource box.
Green office supply stores like those listed in the resource section at the end of this article offer many other innovative recycled office products. For example, Green Earth Office Supply sells recycled plastic desk organizers and binders made from recycled vinyl and cardboard.
2. Reduce your paper consumption: You can cut down on paper use by making some simple changes of habit. Set your printer to print on both sides of the paper, and modify the format of standard documents (wider margins, smaller font size) to fit more text on a single page. Edit documents on screen to avoid printing draft copies, and circulate memos and reports via e-mail when you can. Convert old single-side pages into scratch pads, and reuse envelopes.
3. Use a responsible printer: There are many responsible printers that will produce your printed materials in accordance with your values. Choose a union printer that uses recycled paper and vegetable-based inks.
4. Reuse what you can: Use incoming shipping boxes for your outgoing mail, donate excess supplies to local nonprofits and schools, and even donate your computers and office furniture when you update.
5. Audit your waste: WasteWise, a no-fee voluntary program run by the EPA, helps you audit your office’s output of municipal solid waste, producing a report on waste elimination strategies specific to your own office environment. Once you’ve generated your report, WasteWise helps you track your office’s success at reducing your refuse.
Take Your Good Habits to Work
Finally, if you work in an office with others, consider bringing some of your at-home green living choices to work. Use Green America’s National Green Pages® as a buying guide. Introduce your office to Fair Trade Certified™ coffee, and suggest eliminating disposable dishes, napkins, and silverware from the breakroom.
Post a ride-share board, as well as friendly reminders for everyone not to waste energy or resources, with signs like "Remember to turn off lights." Work on getting faucet aerators and low-flow toilets in restrooms.
"We should look at nature as the ultimate example of good management," sums up green office expert Hammond. "In nature, nothing is wasted, and all material and energy loops are closed. That should also be our goal at work."