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Everyday Environmentalist

Green Your Office

"If everyone at your workplace adopts at least one of these tips, it can amount to big changes for our environment…and your company's pocketbook."

Rebecca Goodstein, member of the Conservancy's green office team

By Rebecca Goodstein

You don't live at your office (although some days it feels like you do), but you can still do your part at work to be as environmentally minded as you are at home. These simple suggestions can be easily implemented to make your workday a little more sustainable:

  • Green commute! American workers spend an average of 47 hours per year commuting through rush hour traffic. This adds up to 3.7 billion hours and 23 billion gallons of gas wasted in traffic each year. There are many ways to cut your carbon footprint (and commuting costs) by changing the way you get to work.

    Bike, walk, take public transportation or carpool. There are a lot of local groups and networks like Nuride to help you find people to commute with or even bike with you on your first ride. If you are attached to your car or don't find green commuting as convenient as driving, try alternating driving with a greener option once or twice a week.

    For a totally free and green commute, try telecommuting — no cost, no gridlock, no angry parking lot attendants…

  • Get a plant for your desk. Indoor plants act as filters that suck up all the pollutants created by your computer equipment while also cooling the air in your office. Plants cool air through a process called transpiration that transfers water from plants into the atmosphere. This allows them to act as a natural air conditioner, keeping the office a little cooler during the warm summer days.

  • Green your lunch. Bringing food prepared at home cuts down on the tremendous amounts of waste and packaging that restaurants produce daily. Lunch brought from home also tends to be healthier, have a more realistic serving size and is a better value. Take it a step further and make your lunch from fresh, local ingredients purchased from a farmers' market. Wash down your lunch with a cup of fair trade, organic coffee or water from the water filter, not from a disposable water bottle.

    Better yet, eat the lunch you've brought using a "green kit" to reduce waste from disposables — keep utensils, a canteen and a bowl or plate at your desk to eat your lunch with, and bring it to catered meetings or parties. Use a cloth or towel as a napkin, and dry your dishes with it after you wash them.

  • Take the stairs, a simple and healthy energy-saving alternative to the elevator.

  • Save paper. Print on both sides, use a note pad made from scraps or don't print at all — and encourage others to do the same. In addition, ask your office to buy chlorine-free paper made with a high percentage of postconsumer waste; then recycle the paper when you're done with it. Creating recycled paper saves 55 percent water as compared to producing virgin paper. Recycled paper also takes 60 to 70 percent less energy to produce than paper from virgin pulp.

    In addition, set up your Word program default to have narrow margins and your printer to print double sided. If more text fits on each page, you will end up saving paper over time when printing these documents.

  • Encourage your office to adopt green practices. Work with your executives to implement a recycling system, encourage green meetings, adopt green purchasing practices, turn down the thermostat a few degrees, install compact fluorescent light bulbs and provide incentives for green commuting.

    If your office is ready to take it a step further, start composting kitchen scraps, install low-flow or composting toilets and form a green committee to educate your colleagues. Consider upgrading your actual building to make it more sustainably designed and take advantage of new recycled building materials and emerging energy-efficient technologies.

  • Take your name off unwanted catalog and newspaper subscriptions. U.S. catalog production uses 53 million trees and enough water to fill 81,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools each year. In addition, Americans waste about 8 hrs per year dealing with junk. What a waste! Catalog Choice is a free service that allows you to decide what gets in your mailbox. Use it to reduce mailbox clutter while helping save natural resources. You can still get your daily news fix by reading newspapers online.

  • Save energy. Turn your computer off at the end of the day, and put it on energy-saving mode during the day; most computers have the option to go to "sleep" or default to a screensaver after periods of inactivity. Don't forget the copiers, postage machines and printers while you're at it. And just as you do at home, turn the lights off when you leave your desk, the conference room or the bathroom.

  • Use videoconferencing to meet "face-to-face" with remote colleagues instead of traveling. Download the free software for Skype and use it to videoconference. This online tool saves considerable money and the carbon footprint associated with traveling to meet in person.

The biggest thing to remember about making green choices at work is that small actions can make a big impact. If everyone at your workplace adopts at least one of these tips, it can amount to big changes for our environment…and your company's pocketbook.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not represent those of The Nature Conservancy. 

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