Let’s face it, America is a nation known for its energy inefficiency, and it can often feel hard to truly make an impact in the massive carbon footprint we have created through the last few decades. In fact, over sixty to eighty percent of our energy is wasted yearly and, in 2012, the energy wasted by our economy could have powered the United Kingdom for seven years.
On top of this, the average American spends over 100,000 hours in the office in their lifetime and nearly four in ten workers in the United States report working over fifty hours a week, putting us as the nation with the longest working weeks in the world. With this being said, the average office building takes up twenty kilowatt-hours of electricity and twenty four cubic feet of natural gas annually, equating to about nineteen percent of an office space’s costs going towards this energy.
Although it may not seem like much, to put it into perspective, the average office space spends $1.34 per square foot on electricity and 18 cents per square foot on natural gas and up to eighty percent of this electricity is wasted. Plus, natural gas emissions actually harm our environment and is the main cause for global warming.
So how do we take this information and learn to make changes in our own office spaces to reduce the waste of energy and become a greener and more sustainable business overall?
Here are 10 ways to reduce your workplace's carbon footprint and your office more sustainable:
1. Paper: Printing & Recycling
The world produces nearly 300 million tons of paper every year and, in the last 20 years, the consumption of paper products has increased from 92 million tons to 208 million, a growth of 126 percent. Of course the United States consumes the most paper per capita (upwards of 500 pounds annually) than any other country in the world, with each individual using more than 700 pounds of paper a year equating to over six individuals combined in Asia’s paper usage and over thirty people’s paper usage in Africa.
To top this off, the country uses over 68 million trees a year to supply this massive amount of paper and, despite this, it is seldom recycled properly. Yes really. Paper is one of the most common solid waste products found in landfills with 26 million tons being recorded in 2009.
The most shocking fact is that the largest category of paper used in America comes from offices and yet, 23 percent of Americans don’t recycle. A whopping 45 percent of the paper used in an office setting is trashed by the end of the day equating to over a trillion sheets of paper per year worldwide hitting the bottom of a trash can within the span of eight to ten hours.
Related Post: What You Didn't Know About Recycling.
Is your mind boggling yet? Are you thinking how you and your workplace is contributing to this chaos? Good. That's the point.
So what to do?
Implement ways to recycle and reuse paper in your office and get your entire company involved in the process. Here are things you can do to reduce paper waste and encourage recycling:
- Put recycling bins in your office
- Initiate an office recycling incentive program where people are rewarded for their efforts with simple gifts such as money for a snack pantry or dinner vouchers to local restaurants
- Remind people not to print unless they have to
- Encourage double-sided printing if they do need to print
- Go paperless
- Don't fax, just scan and email
Similarly, you can encourage your company to recycle cans and bottles as well which will allow you to take them to recycling locations (that's if your state has a container deposit scheme) and receive money for them which can be spent on company luncheons and other fun work events.
With the average plastic bottle taking over 450 years to biodegrade, this can be an amazing way to reduce the amount of plastic you send to landfills and give back to your fellow employees as well.
2. Computers: Applications, Screensavers & Laptops
A typical desktop computer uses 65 to 250 watts and the average monitor uses about 20 to 40 watts. Combined, the watts of electricity used are fairly immense. And if you're not putting your computer in sleep mode when you aren't using it and shutting it down at the end of the day, by year end, you will have spent nearly $650 simply to run your computer.
However, if your computer is energy efficient and you remember to put it in sleep mode and shut it down, by the end of the year, you will have only spent $5.50 on running said computer. If this massive cost saving isn't incentive enough, I don't know what is!
These simple actions can actually save businesses billions a year. In fact, US workers waste $2.8 billion yearly in energy cost by not shutting down their computers and, according to a study by Harris Interactive in 2009, over fifty percent of US workers are guilty of running their computer overnight.
As if the money aspect wasn't bad enough, these energy-sucking machines emit 20 million tons of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere!
Here are the best ways to reduce your computer's energy usage:
- Avoid running any applications that you aren't using as these applications use energy
- Remove the screensaver on your computer as it wastes more energy than allowing the monitor to simply dim
- Purchase laptops when the need arises as it is more cost-effective and energy efficient
One other thing to consider is ‘phantom energy’. Although you may not realize it, your computer is constantly taking electricity from the outlet it is plugged into, even when turned off, known as ‘phantom energy’. A great way to avoid this energy drainage is by using power strips that are shut off nightly which remove all electricity from said computers rather than some electricity.
3. Air Conditioning: Doors Closed, Heat Off & Filters Changed
If you live in a colder state, you may not need to worry about this too much. However, no matter where you live, understanding the impact of your workplace heating and cooling systems is handy knowledge to possess.
Now a central air conditioner unit uses 3500 watts and costs nearly $250 a month whereas a small AC unit uses only 500 watts and costs only $35 a month. Air conditioner units use up six percent of the electricity produced in America and come out to an annual cost of around $29 billion for US homeowners. Because of they are energy inefficient, 117 million metric tons of carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere according to a study conducted by the Department of Energy.
Before installing an air conditioning unit, do your research and find one that is as energy efficient as your budget allows. Make sure to check the seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) rating of the model you are considering purchasing. Making the effort to do your homework will save you money in the longer term and help to minimise your office's carbon footprint.
Similarly, you can choose to utilize an AC unit that does not use Halogenated Chlorofluorocarbons (HCFC’s) in their coolant system as these are extremely harmful to our ozone layer and are one of the main benefactors to the ozone hole.
4. Lighting: ‘Make The Switch’ to LED & CFL lights
Lighting is little more than an afterthought in the average office building, but by switching from incandescent light bulbs to LED or CFL lights, you can actually save over $75 a year.
The average incandescent light bulb wastes ninety percent of the energy it produces whereas a CFL light lasts ten times longer than an incandescent bulb and uses over eighty percent of the energy it produces. In fact, Wal-Mart operates 3,200 stores and switched over from the incandescent bulb to the CFL bulb a few years back. In one year, they saved over $6 million in energy costs just by making the switch.
Now the LED light bulb is actually even more effective than its CFL counterpart. LED lights last over 25 times longer than incandescent light bulbs and use ninety percent of the energy it creates, which means only ten percent is wasted. Similarly, the LED bulb can last up to twenty years and you can even choose to install dimmers and motion sensors to save you even more energy.
With over twenty to thirty percent of an office building’s cost going towards lighting, installing energy efficient lighting is an easy way to make a green difference and cut operational costs.
5. Product Check: Local Items & Foreign Company Standards
Whether you get coffee from a local vendor or paper from a company based overseas, the standards and energy-efficiency of this company matters. By choosing companies that endorse energy efficiency and green alternatives, you can reduce the amount of paper, plastic, and oil it takes for them to deliver to your workplace. Partnering with other like-minded eco-conscious businesses makes sense, especially if your company aims to be "environmentally-friendly" and values sustainable business practices.
Therefore, choosing more local organizations to supply your office products or eco-friendly companies that offer biodegradable and environmentally-friendly products, you will reduce the amount of energy and fuel your workplace indirectly consumes.
6. The Commute: Encourage Cycling & Carpooling
The United States consumes over 18 million barrels of oil every day. In turn, the average person in an average car uses about 12 barrels yearly to drive to and from work spending almost $8,220 on vehicle running and maintenance costs. Compare this with a bike which only costs $308 a year to maintain and uses zero fossil fuels to operate.
Now if riding a bike is impractical due to distance, why not consider a carpool system which can help to reduce your carbon footprint, strengthen work relationships and save you money?
7. Volunteering: Volunteer at Local Organizations With Staff
This doesn't seem like a 'green office tip' but it is in a way. Just hear me out...
Studies suggest that volunteering can make you happier and grow your business because when your employees are involved in the community, they form a bond with each other and to their environment, making them more mindful of their impact on others.
So why not encourage your office to volunteer at the local community garden? By learning to work alongside your fellow coworkers in a non-work setting, you can learn more about your community and your peers and expand your green initiative even further in the process.
And if your company consists of a high proportion of millennials, volunteering is a wonderful way to to keep these individuals happy at work since studies show millennials are generous and love to help out their local community.
By turning your green initiative into a weekly volunteering effort, you can help countless community gardens, farms, shelters, and organizations become more 'green' and highlight your business as a leader in workplace sustainability.
8. Buy Reusable: Forgo Paper, Styrofoam, and Plastic
You may not realize how much paper plates and styrofoam cups your break room actually uses in a year, however, the statistics are unsettling. Every year, Americans throw away enough paper and plastic cups, plates, and utensils to circle the equator 300 times. On top of this, 47,565 styrofoam cups are thrown away in America every minute averaging out to 25 billion a year!
By reducing the amount of paper, plastic and styrofoam used in the office, you can significantly decrease your company’s effects on landfills and promotion of non-biodegradable items and save money in the process.
Better yet, get rid of single-use disposables altogether and suggest people bring in their own reusable mugs and cups.
9. Plants: Turning Natural Gas into Oxygen
Methane gas has 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide and stays in our air for around nine to fifteen years. Since the industrial revolution, the concentration of this gas in the atmosphere has gone up by 150 percent. The natural gas emitted by office buildings contains methane as well. Similarly, your car, your computers, and your AC unit also emit this harmful gas as well as carbon dioxide.
One easy and affordable way to promote a better air quality and reduce the amount of GHG emissions your office has yearly is buying plants for the office.
Indoor air quality is two to five times more polluted than the outdoors and can lead to illnesses such as asthma and headaches. Plants take this pollution such as carbon dioxide, and turn it into oxygen, making the air fresh and clean. So choosing the best plants for indoor air quality will help to reduce your greenhouse emissions and all it really needs is a little bit of time, water and sunlight to give your office a ‘green thumbs up’!
10. ‘Green Team’: Incentives and competitions
Are you struggling to get the people in your office to take sustainability seriously? You're probably too heavy handed on the subject matter. Avoid lecturing and layering the moral guilt and make the journey light, fun and easy.
One way to do this is by creating incentives such as monetary rewards or gift vouchers, or running competitions that allow people to feel excited and happy about making eco-friendlier choices. By making sustainable work practices a game rather than a chore, you'll get much more buy-in from your colleagues.
And if you notice them recycling their bottles and cans, reusing paper, or rejecting disposable plates and utensils, acknowledge these good deeds and give them some positive encouragement. Kind words can go a long way.
Now over to you: How does your workplace promote sustainability or help to instil sustainability values? Are there any other eco-friendly workplace initiatives that we've missed? Please share your comments below.