Sustainability in the office: start small

by Thom van Wijk

Our offices are becoming increasingly sustainable and they need to be. 

Sustainability no longer is a choice but an obligation across all spheres of society, including the workplace. And as we’ve all come to realize all too well: this responsibility is here to stay.

For companies, big or small, it’s essential to adopt practices that encourage employees to prioritize sustainability, as individuals and as an organization. Get your act together, together. 

By prioritizing sustainability practices in the workplace, you are showing you want to contribute to keeping the environment safe – or existing – for future generations. And really, the future of your business, as you will depend on these generations to come.

While not destroying our planet should be everyone’s number one reason to do better, doing good may even be more rewarding. It could help you attract talent, hence grow your business further. Younger and future employees are actively looking for companies to contribute to the health of our environment. 

Companies with sustainable practices increasingly have an advantage in attracting and retaining customers and investors too. If you start doing good now, you’ll be doing better in the future. Remember there was a time people believed that the internet was a fluke and would never impact their business? Not having a green office doing green business may well destroy you in the future.

But where to start? While achieving sustainability in your office may feel like your effect will be too small (compared to what the giants would achieve if they’d just really do better), remember that all our small efforts collectively make a giant impact too. Nothing wrong with starting small.

Save the planet, save on costs

Sustainable practices in the office, like being energy-efficient and using resources thoughtfully  (heat, water, waste), can save your company up to 15-20% on costs. Now there’s an incentive. Some simple examples to save the planet and maybe even your wallet:

  • Analyze your energy reports monthly and look at deviations in day/night consumption – adjust heating of the office/building accordingly.
  • Adjust all lighting in your office to LED (saves energy, lasts longer) and install motion sensors if you can.
  • Replace paper towels with cotton towels or towel rolls (washing and logistics outweigh throwing away paper).
  • Use recycled or bamboo toilet paper.
  • Separate your waste if your office (building) supports it – more and more facility departments weigh residual waste of their tenants and charge them for it.
  • Buy local. When ordering supply for your office, give preference to local vendors to reduce the distance of transportation needed to deliver your office items.
  • Support sustainable suppliers that act with social responsibility and are helping to improve environmental conditions.
  • Choose green web hosting, a more environmentally friendly way to power websites, using renewable energy to maintain servers and domains, reducing the amount of annual carbon emissions.
  • Work from home one or two days a week. Less commuting means less transportation costs and less carbon emissions.

Saving on costs is great through small adjustments in your daily practices, but it will save you so much more in the long run. Choosing a sustainable office demonstrates your company’s commitment to social responsibility, improving your reputation and relationship with stakeholders. It is crucial for your company’s public image and can give you an edge over competitors that don’t concern themselves (as much) with protecting the environment.

How to create a sustainable office environment

So how do you go from what you always did to adopting new sustainable practices? Adopting sustainability in the workplace isn’t a task you can implement alone. You need the cooperation of your employees or team. It starts with education on why it’s important to your business and how everyone can support this goal and really make a difference. You can also encourage participation by providing incentives for compliance. 

Install supporting reminders that help employees be mindful of the energy used in the office. For instance, you can have signs to remind people to switch off the lights before they leave the office. Over time it will become a habit. Share results on how the company is improving and set new goals. Start by supporting small conservative, and energy or waste-saving actions to see fast results. Maybe even designate a small sub-team as your sustainability ambassadors. Engage your employees by asking for their input, source ideas from them and value their input. Maybe even host a workshop to bring life to all the ideas.

An effective way to communicate about sustainability in the office, is to encourage the principles of “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle”.

Reduce, reuse and recycle

Reducing, reusing and recycling means buying less and creating less waste; make your footprint smaller. There are many ways to implement these principles in your workplace and they will really make a difference on a daily basis.

Go paperless

Don’t just use recycled paper but print less, or just don’t have a printer at all. Choose digital communication over printed media any time you can. Use cloth instead of paper towels. Use old fashioned mugs, cups and glasses instead of disposable paper cups. Put reward systems in place to “bring your own mug”, if you have the luxury of having a coffee bar in your office. 

Less junk

Don’t use plastic cutlery or plastic bags. Use refillable water bottles.

Choose eco-friendly products like non-toxic cleaning supplies. Support organic lunch options and don’t waste food. Choose recyclable materials, decorate your office with second-hand furniture.

Minimize E-waste

Donate or recycle your office devices that are no longer in use. Don’t buy what you don’t really need (yet); we all have a lot of gadgets and electronics just lying around. Extend the life of your electronics by taking good care of them – avoid overcharging the battery, keep your devices clean, buy a good case/sleeve for protection. Recycle electronics and batteries in e-waste recycling bins.

Traveling for work

Reduce commuting. Have a work-from-home policy one or some days a week. Use public transport, support cycling to the office, support carpooling and/or drive electric company cars if you can also provide charging points. Reduce the amount of unnecessary business trips; host your gathering online. 

Less storage in the Cloud

Minimize data storage. Data storage centers are responsible for 2% of global carbon emission – right up there with the commercial airline industry. Data centers use copious amounts of energy to keep their servers running and grant you access to any of your photos, e-mails and documents 24/7. 

Be smart with using energy and resources

Block out the sun during hot days. Wear a sweater on cold days. Turn down the heat to 18 degrees Celcius if you’re the last to leave the office. Turn off lights if you’re the last to leave the office. Turn off your computer when you go home. 

Start small but start today

Implementing a sustainable office really is the only way to go. The transition won’t happen overnight but it’s definitely possible. Take small steps to keep it manageable, it will help you clearly communicate the desired actions to your employees to get them onboard. 

People, Planet, and Profit can go hand in hand. Start with a little step, start today.