Go Green at Work – 31 Practical Actions You Can Take


A modern office building with greenery in front and trees reflected in the glass windows

We spend so much of our time at our workplaces it’s important to consider how we can make eco-friendly choices there as well. Whether you are an employee or a boss, there are lots of easy and practical things you can do to make your workplace greener.

From using motion sensors to turn out lights in rooms where no one is working to adjusting the thermostat, to choosing recycled office supplies, and even forgoing the office altogether by telecommuting, there’s something on this list that everyone can do.

31 Awesome Ways to create a Greener Workplace

1. Turn out lights in unused offices. Even if you’re just going down the hall for a 10-minute consultation with a co-worker or your boss, switch off the lights in your office.

2. Install motion sensor lights. At a higher level, managers can get motion sensor lights installed so that areas of the building where there are often no people working will have lights that automatically turn off when no one is there. It’s great to have motion sensor lights in the restrooms as well.

3. Use natural light when possible. If you can, skip the overhead lights and use natural daylight. To fully implement this might require some movement of desks, etc. Then you can use task lighting (a simple lamp with an energy-saving bulb on a desk) instead of having a whole ceiling full of lights on when you don’t really need them.

4. Set up recycling containers. In the breakroom and other common areas, if your workplace doesn’t already have recycling set up you can set up your own containers for this purpose (you may need permission). If the waste disposal company doesn’t do recycling for your building you can set up a system where you and your co-workers share the duties of taking recycling materials to a recycling center.

A thermostat on a wall.

5. Re-set the thermostat. Most offices are over-air-conditioned in the summer months. If that is the case in your workplace see if management would have a problem with changing the setting from 74 degrees to 75 degrees, for example, in summer. Even that one degree can make a big difference in energy use.

6. Revamp the breakroom or kitchen. Set up the office “kitchen” with reusable cups and other necessary dishes. Plastic dishes and disposable cutlery are really convenient and cut down on the need for people to wash their dishes in the breakroom. But a lot of that plastic isn’t recyclable and will end up in landfills.

In the U.S. we recycle a lot of plastic bottles and even plastic bags but plastic cutlery and dishes pose contamination issues in the materials recovery facilities and cutlery, in particular, can jam up the machinery because of its shape. Most plastics of this sort are sent to China. But now China is becoming less and less willing to accept these types of “rigid” plastics.

7. Lay off the Keurig – if you can. I love the ease of making a fresh cup of coffee each time with a Keurig or similar single cup coffee maker. And so do a lot of other people in workplaces across the country. Unfortunately, the plastic from Keurig K-cups is not all recyclable at this time. Look for a mark on the bottom to see if it is.

The good news is that Keurig is moving in that direction. But even on the K-Cups that are recyclable, you need to take them apart correctly so that the plastic cup can be recycled without including any foil, coffee grounds or filter parts.

There are actually services like Grounds to Grow On which you can sign up for so that you can just toss your K-Cups into a special bin and then send them away to be dismantled and recycled. So if you can’t bear the thought of going back to a drip coffee pot, or you fear your co-workers will mutiny, you might consider that.

There are also K-Cups that you can fill with your own coffee and use in the Keurig type machines. I like this option a lot. Even if other employees won’t kick the K-Cup habit, you don’t have to be a part of it.

8. Use non-toxic cleaning products. If you have control over what types of products your office is cleaned with then select non-toxic cleaning products whenever possible.

A desk with a large Apple computer, file  folders and a green plant.

9. Go green – literally. Bring more live plants into the office to help with purifying the air and with improved concentration and focus. According to a study done by the University of Michigan and reported on by Texas A&M:

“Keeping ornamental plants in the home and in the workplace increases memory retention and concentration. Work performed under the natural influence of ornamental plants is normally of higher quality and completed with a much higher accuracy rate than work done in environments devoid of nature.”

Texas A&M Agrilife Extension

10. Use paperless hand dryers in the restrooms. If you aren’t in charge of these kinds of decisions you might consider sending a short email to someone who might be willing to make this choice. You could let them know some of the stats.

According to research done by The Climate Conservancy using the average hand dryer for the usual amount of time will cause between “9 and 40 grams of carbon dioxide emissions.” If you use two paper towels, you cause about “56 grams of carbon dioxide emissions.” (Stanford Magazine) Since many people use more than two paper towels, the hand dryer is a much greener choice. Newer higher efficiency hand dryers are greener still. And though the initial cost of hand dryers is more, you save a lot of money over time because you don’t have to keep buying paper towels.

11. Choose recycled paper products for printing and other use. An important part of keeping recycling practical is having a market for the finished product. Recycled paper that’s used as little bleaching as possible is more environmentally friendly than “virgin” paper. Appearances and prices are very competitive when compared to virgin paper as well.

12. Choose other recycled and eco-friendly office supplies. Recycled paper products are just the tip of the ice burg. You can get other recycled items as well like biodegradable pens that use less plastic or reusable pens that allow you to keep the case and just replace the ink cartridge.

You can get staple-free staplers. Yep, if you haven’t tried one of these yet, they are great. They use a punch like device that makes the paper fold in a way it holds itself together. Not only do they save on the material needed to make staples, they also allow you to recycle paper without having to pull staples out.

Biodegradeable packaging and packing tapes are also available and a better choice than non-biodegradable or non-recyclable ones.

An office printer on a desk

13. Print less. This has been a big push for many years now and most people don’t print out emails and things like that anymore. But if you’re giving a PPT presentation you might not think twice about printing out a copy of the slide deck for everyone in the meeting. Instead, get people’s email addresses and let them know you’ll email them a copy.

14. Make your own notepads. Use scrap paper that’s been printed on one side and cut it down to a usable size. I love the size you get when you cut an 8 1/2 by 11 sheet of paper into 4 pieces. Just cut paper in half, then stack pieces and cut in half again. A paper cutter makes this a quick task. It’s become my go-to note size and I actually miss it when I’m out of them. Sure one side is printed on. But who cares. It’s still great for jotting down all kinds of things. Then it can go into the recycle bin!

15. Print on both sides of the paper. When you do have to print something print on both sides of the paper rather than just one side. Most printers have this option. Select it and set it as your default way of printing if your system will allow that.

16. Use Eco-Friendly Fonts. When you know you’ll have to print out a document that you are creating (or that someone else will) you can save ink and printer cartridges by using a font that uses less ink. Century Gothic uses 30% less ink than Arial. So set that as your default font if you can.

LED Light Bulb

17. Change your light bulbs. Switch to LED or compact fluorescent lights as you need to replace lighting in your workplace if you haven’t done this already. Yes, these bulbs cost a little bit more upfront, but the money you’ll save in energy costs will make them pay for themselves many times over.

18. Keep your office updating green. When you’re redecorating an office be sure to take old office furniture and equipment that’s still usable to the thrift or charity store. You’ll benefit the charity and keep these items out of the landfill.

4 people around a conference table having a virtual meeting

19. Hold more virtual meetings. If you have several offices and people are used to meeting in person (even if it’s just across town) you can save a lot of time and money on traveling by meeting virtually via programs like GoToMeeting, Skype, Zoom and many others.

This technology is getting better and better so you’ll still be able to get a lot done with not much in the way of “face to face” dynamics missed. The savings (both in energy used and money spent) soar when you can avoid having to “fly in” to meet. When you consider the employee hours wasted on travel – it’s a real winner.

20. Turn off computers and unplug them when not in use. Most computers, monitors, printers, etc. sit on “stand-by” for hours in a day when they are not being used and the “stand-by” and sleep modes are still using power. Get a power strip to make turning off all your electronics easier by just needing to flip one switch. Always be sure to turn these devices off when leaving for the day.

21. Unplug other “always-on” devices. Your computer is not the only power phantom. Appliances like the microwave, TVs, top of the set cable boxes, and any items that are turned “off” but still showing a light, a clock or anything like that are still using power. It may not seem like a lot but more and more of these devices are running in our homes and businesses all the time and it really adds up.

This always-on energy use by inactive devices translates to approximately $19 billion a year—about $165 per U.S. household on average—and 50 large (500-megawatt) power plants’ worth of electricity.

NRDC Issue Paper

You can read more about always-on appliances here at the NRDC website. The data on the site focuses on homes but these items (especially computers, monitors, printers, etc.) are also present in our workplaces.

22. Hold the Cutlery, please! When picking up carryout food for a quick lunch at your desk or a lunch meeting with other staff members, ask the restaurant to hold the plastic cutlery and use the office’s reusable cutlery.

23. Make it a challenge! If your workplace is fun and up for a challenge make going green fun and create “green” challenges like not using any plastic cups or plastic cutlery for a month and then award prizes to anyone who makes it.

24. Choose office equipment with “green” in mind. When it’s time to replace computers and other office equipment look for greener options like Energy Star models. You can find the highest rated computer models for 2020 here on the Energy Star website.

A building with solar panels on the roof

25. Go Solar. Solar panels and solar energy systems are becoming more efficient and more affordable every year. If you’re in a position to put solar panels on your business now might be a great time to do it. Many churches and smaller to medium-sized businesses are choosing to go solar.

There are lots of great reasons to go solar in your business besides it saving money and reducing your company’s carbon footprint. I’m no solar expert (although I’m learning more and more every day!). But EnergySage.Com knows solar. Here’s a short video they provide that talks about some benefits of solar you may not have thought of.

26. Quit going to the office! Some days that sounds like a dream come true, doesn’t it! This isn’t possible for everyone, but if you can telecommute even one day a week you’ll be saving energy and carbon emissions by not having to drive into your workplace. More and more workplaces are allowing telecommuting – and if you’re the boss it’s something to think about implementing.

Personal Ideas

At this point, you may be thinking that many of these ideas won’t fly in your workplace or that you don’t have any power to implement them. If that’s the case then here are 5 ways that anyone can make their workplace greener (without having to get employer or co-worker buy-in).

27. Carpool or use public transportation whenever possible. This can be tough if you live in an area where public transportation doesn’t go where you need it to or you have to drive long distances to the office. So you have to get creative.

Check with your neighbors. Is there someone who lives nearby who you could carpool with? Is there someone from your workplace who you could meet up with and ride together? Carpooling takes some effort to work out, but the money you save in gas and the reduction of your carbon footprint can be totally worth it!

28. Keep your own reusable mug at the office. Or bring it back and forth with you. You can use a reusable mug to fill up at Starbucks and other coffee houses. Starbucks will even give you a 10 cent discount on your beverage when you bring your own reusable mug.

29. Ditch the brown bag. Bringing your own lunch to work not only saves money and helps you eat better it can save a lot of packaging from fast food places. To make it easier, get yourself a reusable lunch set so you don’t need plastic bags sandwich bag, paper bags or plastic cutlery.

30. Set up your own mini-recycling area. If your company doesn’t recycle that doesn’t mean that you can’t. Bring in some discrete recycling containers you can keep under your desk or in your cubicle so that you can recycle paper, plastics, and whatever items you use at work by taking them home to your recycling bins.

31. Use the stairs instead of the elevator. – Good for your health and good for the health of the planet, climb rather than ride when you can, especially if you’re the only one going up.

Thanks!

Thanks for your interest in making your workplace more eco-friendly! If we want to keep our planet as healthy as possible it’s up to each of us to do our part. Every choice we make can make a positive difference!

Resources:

https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/home-idle-load-IP.pdf

https://www.energystar.gov/most-efficient/me-certified-computer-monitors

https://ellisonchair.tamu.edu/health-and-well-being-benefits-of-plants/#.WNqIoM8rKUk

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