Going green is hot in the press for today’s current climate. Here Holly gives nine ways you can improve your office to do your bit for the environment.
Although we might not think about it while we’re typing away, fielding emails and chatting to co-workers (strictly at break time – honest!) UK offices have a significant impact on the environment. The overuse of electricity, paper and plastic that nearly every office is guilty of all adds up, and while it’s a hard thing to acknowledge, our workspaces are major contributors to pollution and climate change.
There has been far more awareness recently regarding plastic waste and environmental issues, and the deluge of bad news can feel overwhelming. But small, conscious improvements to our everyday actions make a huge difference. By implementing these nine eco-friendly ideas in our working lives, we can do our bit for the planet and reduce the environmental impact of our working lives.
In the UK, we use a staggering 7 million disposable coffee cups EVERY DAY, and our offices are a major contributor. Many UK offices have either vending machines for hot drinks or water coolers, both of which use plastic cups — and when these cups aren’t disposed of correctly, they can end up in our seas and waterways.
To tackle this, the company KPMG have banned plastic cups from all their UK offices, saving 150,000 cups per year in Manchester alone. Scale this up to every business across the country – or the world – and you get a sense of just how much plastic this could save.
If your employer is yet to ban plastic cups, you can help out by imposing a personal ban and relying instead on reusable options. This may be easier said than done, especially at half eight in the morning when you’ve blearily arrived at work and couldn’t care less what vessel your coffee arrives in, as long as it turns up in the next 20 seconds – but it doesn’t take long to get into the habit.
Most supermarkets or retailers now sell reusable water bottles and coffee cups, with thermal flasks even saving the kettle from being boiled too often. You can also make sure you bring a mug into work, so you aren’t reliant on takeaway options or office vending machines.
Although many businesses have already digitised their documents, there’s still an unnecessary amount of printing which still takes place across UK offices. Going paperless can save on paper (obviously) as well as energy, and even time waiting by the printer.
With the technology we have today, there’s no need to print everything out; invoices, emails, CVs, marketing plans and more can all be created and stored online. There’s simply too much paper waste at present: of the 10,000 sheets used by an office worker each year, 6,800 end up being wasted. Again, scale this up to every company and you have approximately a gazillion tree’s worth of paper being needlessly chucked in the bin, when almost all of it could be transferred to digital documents.
Switch printing emails to print-screening emails on the computer; use cloud authoring tools such as Google Drive to allow other colleagues to contribute; and in meetings, bring a tablet or laptop instead of exchanging physical notes. These small changes are extremely easy, and your actions could inspire others to stop printing things out so often.
It may go without saying, but leaving electrical goods on at night when they’re not in use is a waste of energy, and adds to the costs of your employer (money which could be going on lovely things like ping pong tables, or pay rises). The amount of energy used by office equipment is rising, constituting 15% of total electricity usage. This equates to £300m annually in the UK alone, and it’s expected to rise by a further 30% over the next two years.
To make a small change that will help the environment, switch all the appliances at your desk off at night – and if you are feeling particularly zealous, it only takes a few minutes to go round the rest of the office and check that the lights, computers and appliances are all powered down. If your co-workers are interested, you can even work out a ‘green rota’ where a different staff member bears the responsibility each day or week, and see if your boss likes the idea.
Very few people enjoy their commute, and getting to and from work can be one of the worst bits of your day. Changing the way you commute (and maybe even encouraging others to do so) can reduce your company’s collective carbon footprint, but it can also impact on your happiness and satisfaction – especially if you spend a lot of your time stuck in traffic jams.
You can lower commuter emissions by walking, biking, car-sharing or taking public transport to the office. What’s more, if you can convince your boss to establish a ‘work from home day’ (say, every Friday) you will reduce your company’s carbon footprint even further, and also gain the massive advantage of getting to work in your pyjamas once a week.
When it comes to meetings, you can also use Skype or Facetime to save on the hassle of travelling between offices, if your employer doesn’t mind conducting these things remotely. Messaging software like Slack can also help to keep people connected over distance.
Every office has waste, whether it’s food, cardboard boxes or stationary. If you want to prevent even more waste from building up in another of the world’s (rather grim-looking) landfill sites, it’s vital to recycle where you can.
If your company doesn’t have very good recycling procedures, have a word with your boss. Effective recycling is all about taking small steps – your employers may just need a push in the right direction!
Companies can start by implementing bins for paper and cardboard, as they constitute the majority of office waste. Once they’ve established a routine, the company can look to expand the recycling system to other waste materials such as plastics, glass, batteries, toners, food waste and plastics.
Whether you’re a constant user of water coolers and heaters or continuously buying bottled water in the shops for your working day, you should consider switching to tap water.
All offices will have access to tap water, and it is much more economical than refilling your bottle, cup or kettle from the water cooler or heater. Water coolers and heaters waste a surprising amount of energy, and cost more to run than you may think.
A water cooler uses roughly 2.8 kilowatt-hours in a 24 hour period, which equates to 1022 kilowatt-hours (£190) per year. Like many office appliances, water coolers and heaters are left on throughout the day, wasting energy when not in active use and costing money for no real benefit.
Buying bottled water has become a habit for a lot of us, but when there’s a free and far more environmentally-friendly alternative right under our noses it seems a little strange. Mind you, you might have a bit of a weakness for fizzy drinks, in which case you could suggest your office install a soda stream – much less wasteful than getting a bottled version.
A lesser known environmental issue is sanitary products, and specifically how they are thrown away. It’s estimated that more than half of UK women flush sanitary products instead of disposing of them correctly in the bin, which blocks drains and contaminates our surroundings.
It’s important to be aware of where sanitary waste goes and how you’re disposing of it, but you may have found yourself in a situation where your office doesn’t have proper sanitary bins. Every office should ensure that its employees have the correct disposal facilities, that they are cleaned and emptied regularly, and that they abide by the sanitary bin legal requirements.
This means that if your office hasn’t provided sanitary bins, they are contravening regulations and must rectify the situation immediately, and you have every right to complain.
The most important thing you can do if you are on your period is to always avoid flushing sanitary items down the toilet, as they are likely to make an unpleasant appearance on a beach somewhere and pollute the sea with plastics.
When you are stuck in the office on a sunny day, it can be nice to have a little more greenery around. Desk plants can make a big difference to the general atmosphere at work, and (dare we say it) improve the sometimes drab surrounding we can find ourselves working in – especially for nature lovers.
Plants don’t just look pretty, however – they also improve air quality. By releasing oxygen into the air, as well as counteracting the pollutants released from new furniture or equipment, they are a big part of creating a cleaner and happier environment for office workers.
A little nature never hurt anyone, and even though it’s not countering the effects of pollution directly, it will create a more healthy and welcoming working space.
It goes without saying that every office loves a good cup of tea or coffee. And if there’s a way to make this ritual more eco-friendly, then why not take it?
People in offices will have different breaks, and fancy a hot drink at various times. But if you get up and are boiling the kettle, offer to do a tea and coffee round. This will stop frequent boiling of the kettle, saving electricity and ultimately money. Doing that small bit for the environment always helps, and you know what they say: it’s the little things that matter most.
We would love to hear how you are going green at work. Email us on firstname.lastname@example.org to tell us more.
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