Being Green at Work: How to Reduce Carbon Footprint in the Office

Although many people may be model green citizens at home, new research has revealed that when at work people tend to leave their environmental consciences behind.

The office is not one of the first places we turn when looking to reduce our carbon footprint, slowly but surely that may be changing. A number of tactics, from using recycled paper to making delivery and travel routes more efficient, can be used to “green” your work. A simple act of switching to recycled paper can have a large impact. If an office of 20 people were to switch to recycled paper that could have the same effect of taking 70,000 cars off the road for one year.

When thinking about ways to cut back, we should focus on more than just our homes or vehicles. The workplace, where we spend most our days, is full of things that can be made more efficient, scaled back, replaced, or removed entirely.

But why is it that people tend to become less green when at work? Why are we dragging our eco-feet in the office?

According to James Strawbridge, eco expert and co-presenter of the BBC series “It’s Not Easy Being Green,” states, ‘I think at the moment a lot of people are struggling to convert how green they are at home to how green they are in the workplace. They might recycle at home and be conscious of their waste but as soon as they enter the workplace environment they’re not sure how to proceed with environmental practice.’

When employees are being asked about it, a generic answer could be, “In the workplace, though, I feel it is not just my responsibility to go green. My company doesn’t have an eco-policy in place so few of my colleagues make an effort to be greener. Plus, any cost savings are for the business and as I know I won’t benefit there’s less of an incentive there.”
So what can we do to help put a stop to all this green lethargy in the office?

The main thing we can do is to have an active eco policy in the workplace where there will be rewards and incentives for employees.

Companies should have a green stance on their day to day operations. “Within a lot of companies, once they have understood what their environmental impact is, there will be a lot of low-hanging fruit,” said Jim Peacock, spokesman for the London-based Carbon Neutral Co., which advises corporations on their environmental impact, in a telephone interview. “Simple things like turning off lights will save you money and reduce emissions at the same time.”

Listed below are simple but sure fire hit on how to reduce your carbon footprint at work:

  1. Forget about that sales meeting in Paris.

Instead of having conferences out of the country how about investing in some teleconferencing equipment instead? It is not only cost effective but helps the environment more than you know.

  1. Change your expenses policy.

Lots of people use planes for business travel because they are faster and more comfortable, and you can collect air miles for the next family holiday. How about telling staff they can go first-class if they use the train for a business trip, but they can only travel coach if they go by plane? It will be amazing how fast their bookings change.

  1. Switch off those lights.

Have a strict policy on turning off or minimizing turned on lights at the office. Tell everybody that they have to switch them off as they leave the office. Even better, fix the lighting so it cuts out automatically at 10 p.m. — it is impossible for people to think straight later than that, and they would be better off going home anyway.

  1. Review your supply chain.

Make sure that as many goods as possible are being sourced locally or from environmentally responsible suppliers. You may even wonder if you really need those yellow post-it notes. Send an e-mail instead.

  1. Unplug the computer.

How many of us can even remember that these things have an off switch? Instead we just leave them on permanent stand-by. By switching them off when we’re not using them, we can start cutting down on power consumption.

  1. Get rid of the plasma screens.

When did it become fashionable to plaster office walls with great big plasma screens tuned to 24-hour channels? You can keep up-to-date with the latest happenings on the Web. Unless you’re in the news business, you don’t need it following you around all day.

  1. Turn off the air-conditioning.

Where does it say that people have to be slightly chilly to get their work done? Is there a law about it? We can understand why an office building in the Philippines needs the air-con on during March. It is less clear why you need it in Calgary in March. We have all been to offices where you can walk there in your shirt sleeves, then have to put on your jacket when you arrive because it’s cold.

  1. If you can’t cut, offset.

There are plenty of ways to compensate for those carbon emissions you can’t avoid. If the flight to New York is vital, make up for it by paying for some trees to be planted elsewhere. Or instead of driving the car to work every day this month, take public transport.

  1. Give people an incentive.

It is easy for a company to target lower carbon use. It is harder to achieve it. So make it an explicit financial goal and award everyone a bonus — as long as they meet the target. You can make it as a friendly competition by department or division in your office.

  1. Don’t go to the office at all.

You burn up gasoline getting there and back. Resources are used providing you with a desk and computer. And all so you can keep an eye on your employees. Why not let everyone work from home at least one day a week — after all, it will be one less day they have to complain to each other about their boss.

Watch how Mike Agerbo speaks with Aryne Sheppard from the David Suzuki Foundation on tips on how making your office green.

Like what we’re doing? Want to share your story or tell others? Do you have a green business in Calgary and want to get in front of a large local audience? Let’s build a green community together!