As Americans, there are still some of us out there that stubbornly cling to ignorance of the environmental crisis slowly unraveling around us. This is somewhat understandable, as some characteristics of our culture are deeply intertwined in the fabric of our being and are simultaneously wasteful by nature. It is our duty as business owners, and general citizens for that matter, to readdress some of our most arbitrarily wasteful habits and adopt those that are more environmentally friendly. You may have a deep rooted stubbornness within you barking “I’d rather not”, but then you may also have that son or daughter, younger niece or nephew, or even a sibling that is just the right amount younger than you to make that more tender part of your conscience say: “Well maybe I should.” Not to mention, some sustainability practices have monetary savings implications that make it worth your while to enact a greener business policy around the office.
It is best to start with small steps so as not to be overwhelmed by a green overhaul (like, for instance, having to work out the logistics and cost structure of installing solar panels and windmills on the office’s roof). This article will give you some quick and cheap tips on being slightly greener without losing a lot of green and without causing shock to your conservative spine. It also takes into account the fact that you already have purchased things like light bulbs and cleaning products that are currently in use as we speak, and so you should wait until those items finish their product lifespan before being replaced.
1. Replace conventional paper towels in the break room with recycled paper towels. And Styrofoam cups with recyclable cups
Bleached paper towels “waste forest resources, landfill space, and your money” according to Green America. It is said that the bleaching process of white paper towels actually drives the price of paper towels up while also using chlorine, a pollutant. So, by not using bleached paper towels, you are reshaping the paper towel market foremost and saving the planet as a byproduct.
As far as Styrofoam cups go, I think we are all pretty aware of the negative properties of Styrofoam. It is not biodegradable, and thus sits in landfills indefinitely after being used. Use recyclable cups instead – preferably those that aren’t bleached.
2. After you have depleted your current chemical supply of cleaning products (including hand soap), purchase green cleaning products that use more natural ingredients
Not surprisingly, as the world of using chemicals usually involves killing one microscopic threat but producing another threat to humans as a byproduct, cleaning products can actually make your office unsafe for human contact long-term, while also introducing toxins into the water supply and air. Luckily, there are now plenty of industrial cleaning options that are labeled as “green” or “earth friendly” that you can pick up in wholesale outlets or online. If you want to look deeper into what you should be purchasing to minimize environmental impact, check out the EPA’s “Cleaning” page of their website.
3. Replace burnt out light bulbs with energy efficient light bulbs
By replacing the bulbs AFTER they are burnt out, you don’t have to throw away bulbs you’ve already purchased, and therefore aren’t wasting the money you’ve spent on those bulbs. Once the bulbs you currently have do burn out, replacing them with energy efficient bulbs will reduce your energy bill, thus saving you money, and also reduce your footprint.
4. Start a company compost that everyone can contribute to
If you are not sure what compost is, here is a quick lesson: it is an organized pile of dirt made up of thrown out vegetables, banana peels, leaves, soil, etc. There are tons of recipes online for the ideal compost, but essentially the ingredients to these recipes are all found in your employees’ decomposable garbage and the dead leaves around your landscape. Educate employees on what can go in the compost (perhaps by finding an employee that is already knowledgeable on the subject or a handy YouTube video that explains it), and they can then throw these items into the compost after their lunch break. Over time, instead of their leftovers going to waste in landfills, they will become rich soil that can be used in a garden.
5. Using soil from the company compost, create a company garden
See, that compost soil is already being put to use! Creating a company garden can foster teamwork as employees work together to tend to plants while also creating a sense of goodness from doing something sustainable. It also offers them a chance to reach a higher form of connection with your business, while giving them opportunities to invest free time in something fulfilling but also directly related to your company. If you can’t start a company garden on-site, try to find an offsite location to start it or consider contributing to a local garden already in existence. Worst case scenario, your company can put the soil in pots and add seeds to grow some organic fruits and vegetables. These foods can then be distributed to employees in the break room free of charge, making them healthier and thereby bringing down your healthcare costs.
Revolutionary Companies like Google already have company gardens (as seen in this video), which produce fruit and vegetables that they then give to their employees at lunch time. Google has a plan to convert their entire landscape to an edible landscape.
6. Offer recycling at your office to your employees
See if your local waste management company offers a recycling pick up for your building. Place recycling bins in the break room and around the office. By fostering a recycling program, you’ll be putting less plastic and other recyclables into landfills while creating a sense of goodness (like I said before) in your employees.
7. Encourage Employees to Carpool To and From Work
This one requires hardly any effort on your part. Just simply throw the idea out there at your next meeting, and perhaps people who live in close vicinity to one another may take it into consideration. By carpooling, you are reducing the number of cars on the road and therefore the amount of emissions. You are also helping employees get to know each other better, which may help create new and more meaningful employee relationships.
8. Print all of your pages double sided, and only print when you have to
When printing a multi-page document, doing so with a “one sided” setting is extremely wasteful and pointless. It also costs your business more money to print the extra paper. Be mindful of your printing habits. If you accidentally print the tail-end of an email that contains no pertinent information, rather than throwing that page out simply turn it over and use the other side for taking scratch notes or printing something that only you will see. If you find yourself printing and reading things like emails, ask yourself: “What year is this?” Once you have pondered the answer, you will realize it is 2014 (or 2015, depending on how soon you read this after it was published) and that we live in the digital age. There is no need to print things displayed right there on your computer screen.
Some printers have an eco ink setting that uses less ink per letter than a standard setting. By switching to this setting, you are lowering your cost of ink purchases while also using fewer resources.
9. Switch to recycled paper in your printer
After you have run out of the standard bleach paper you are probably using right now, make an effort to purchase recycled paper for the next batch. I know it is going to be tempting to think: “My paper purchases are currently set up as an automatic purchasing process, so switching over to recycled paper is going to be too inconvenient. I’ll just stick with what’s already in place,” But realistically you are stating that you are too lazy to switch over to recyclables. In reality, the paper company you make purchases from is probably more than happy to make the switch for you over to a green product (in the end, they’ll also win from you switching to recycled paper because they can then market themselves as a greener company).
10. Keep your AC and heat at reasonable levels (your employees will thank you)
Gauge your employees – is it too hot or too cold in here? Oftentimes you’ll find that many of your employees think your office is a freezer during the summer, and it may even be distracting to them in their work. Perhaps a Facebook poll or a quick tally during a meeting will settle the score. By making the temperature a few degrees higher during summer and a few degrees lower during the winter, you’ll be saving extra money on overhead while making your employees feel more comfortable. You can also open all the blinds to let natural light (and heat) into the office on a cold day, and close the blinds on a scorching summer’s day to try to gain an extra degree or two of natural climate control.
In summary, these initiatives are simple steps you can take to save some money and reduce your environmental impact. It is not a matter of global warming or climate change, and whether or not you believe either of those things to be true. It more so comes down to being a responsible role model for your employees, while also showing enough consideration for the finite resources of this planet. These greener initiatives for your business may also help improve the overall ethical esteem your employees have for themselves. In turn, your labor force may just become more ethical and honest workers, leading to increased productivity and decreased employee discontent. Your company may eventually become recognized by others as a sustainable business, which may improve your public image and help you get some fruitful customers. Either way, you and your employees will enjoy a clearer conscience and less health issues.