Work is a big part of our lives. You always heard about fun facts such as “you spend 30 % of your life sleeping” or “on average, a person will spend 2 years on the toilet throughout a lifetime”. Well, these are quite astonishing facts. But what about work?
We will actually spend about 90,000 hours at work during our lifetime, which is approximately 1/3 of the average life. That is quite massive. And what we do in the office will definitely affect our lives. But you should also understand that it will have a pretty massive impact on the environment. Most businesses do prefer to think about profitability over saving the environment. I guess that is one of the core values of capitalism. However, there are some small changes that will make your office space more eco-friendly.
I really hope there are some HR managers out there that read this article.
Top picks: eco-friendly office products I wholeheartedly recommend
Over the last five years, I’ve worked in several different companies. All of them had different types of office supplies.
Even though I was slightly annoying to the HR department, I always asked for eco-friendly office products. Therefore, I was able to try a find my favorites among “everything” that could be found on Amazon.
And here they are.
If you want to read more about eco-friendly notebooks, I actually wrote a whole article about them that you can read here. That also goes for something that you should find in the bathroom of every eco-friendly office: refillable soap dispensers! 🙂
How much do offices pollute?
As a rule of thumb, we can say that all places where people meet and spend a lot of time will leave some sort of carbon footprint. Some more than others, but that is a general fact. Offices are one of the places where a lot of people meet every day for a long period of time. That means that the potential “pollution level” is extremely high unless things are done correctly.
1. Law offices are the most paper-intensive in the world. Some studies show that every
attorney in USA will use between 20,000 and 100,000 ( !! ) sheets per year. That is massive.
2. In 2017, paper counted for about 18 % of all landfill solid waste in the USA. About 80 % of the paper usage in the USA and other Western countries can be traced back to offices.
3. In most office buildings, lighting, cooling, and heating will count for about 70 % of the total energy use. That does not necessarily mean that it will count for 70 % of the total environmental impact. It is quite important to understand the difference there. However, reducing your energy consumption is ,of course, an excellent way to make the office more eco-friendly.
4. This might annoy you. Actually, 30 % of all print jobs are never picked up from the printer. When we combine that with the fact that the average US office employee uses 10,000 sheets annually (not as many as lawyers, of course…), you know that there is quite a good opportunity to minimize waste across most offices.
Now you understand why it is important to create an eco-friendly office environment..?
The argument many people use is that “yes, but replacing products and implementing new office rules cost a lot of money!”
Well. Do they really? Let us have a look at that statement.
Is eco-friendly office products always more expensive?
No, they are not. This is a myth.
However, this was the case a couple of years ago. When we did not know too much about the human impact on climate change, eco-friendly products were seen as a “niche”. In other words: they were not popular, were not mass-produced and therefore were quite expensive.
I don’t know if you know this about manufacturing companies, but they lower their cost as they keep on growing. The more they produce of product X, the less it will cost for the end-consumer.
I am very often both recommending and buying eco-friendly products from Amazon. And the development I have seen over the last year or so has been very positive. Not only are there more and more companies offering their eco-friendly products on Amazon, but they also tend to become cheaper and cheaper. I understand that most HR Managers will have a strict budget given to them, but there is no excuse not to buy products that do not harm the environment.
What are some “quick wins” in order to make my office more environmentally friendly?
There are some things that you can do tomorrow in order to make your office more eco-friendly. Most of it comes down to habits, but they should be implemented as rules throughout the whole company. Lets face it: most people are quite lazy. And it is very easy to just continue in the same pattern as we have always done. Change is important, but sometimes a struggle. That is why implementing new, environmentally friendly office rules can be quite a challenge.
These are some suggestions to what you can do in order to make a Greener company:
1) Conservative/strict printing rules
If you really are forced to print something, please make sure that you are doing double-sided printing. And if you happen to don’t print on both sides, you should use the paper for something else in the future.
As I am involved in 100 different projects at work every day, I am pretty much forced to take notes and write down my agenda for the day in the morning. I could use some sort of software to do that, but I prefer paper. And the way I do it is to go to one of the printers that we have and take sheets that have been “misprinted” and use the backside of them. That paper would have been thrown away anyway, so it’s a very positive thing that I am actually using it.
If you need to print out PowerPoint presentations, please use the “Handouts” function that allows you to have six slides on each page. They are smaller, but you can easily read the text.
2) Meetings outside the office
Try to use metro, bike or bus when traveling in the local community. And if you are going to a meeting in a different city, you should know that the train is a better alternative than flying.
3) Plastic waste
Avoid using plastic items that cannot be recycled. Those include cups, plates, forks & knives, bottles, etc.
Dependent on your budget, you should either ask people to bring their own cup from home or buy one for your employees. It is definitely a cool thing to have all employees sitting around the office with a coffee mug with your logo attached. And at the same time, it is eco-friendly.
4) Lights, heating , and electricity
This one is almost too obvious to write down, but a lot of people tend to forget. You should put up some notes around the office saying that people have to turn off the lights whenever they leave an empty meeting room. That is a rule which also should be applicable to any air-condition or heating devices.
Please also remember to only have your computer turned on when you use it. No need to turn on your computer in the morning if you are going to be filled up with meetings until lunch time.
Big multinational companies that work towards becoming more sustainable
I thought it would be great to end this article by giving a couple of quick examples from companies we all know. In that way, you can see that the leading companies in the world are actually working towards becoming less harmful for the environment. So please don’t misunderstand me: 99.99 % of all businesses are still more interested in making money than becoming sustainable. However, there are some major improvements that are constantly being done by the biggest companies in the world.
What is “Greenwashing”?
Before giving some examples, I was thinking that I wanted to explain the term “Greenwashing”. It is a term used on companies that tend to use the terms “eco-friendly”, “environmentally friendly” or “Green” about their products/services despite not contributing at all to a better world.
As consumers tend to support businesses that give a helping hand to the environment, this has unfortunately become quite a popular marketing trick.
The example: Apple
Everyone knows Apple. The tech company founded by Steve Jobs in a small garage in California is now probably the most famous company in the world. And regardless of which side you are on in the “Apple versus Microsoft” debate, you have to admit that they have done a lot for the environment over the last years.
Some of the things they write on their page called “Environment” is quite interesting. Among them is a fact about the energy used in their offices and data centers. In fact, all Apple facilities are now running on 100 % renewable energy. This is a milestone that they achieved in early 2018.
Apple also focus on waste reduction. By late 2017, 22 of their production facilities were considered “zero waste”. In addition to that, they constantly improve their packaging. Millions of Apple products are sold every year. That is a lot of plastic and paper is used to wrap these products. But from 2016 to 2017, Apple managed to reduce the amount of paper in their packaging by 29 %.
These are just some of the green initiatives taken by Apple over the last years. And hopefully, there are much more to come.
The example: IKEA
The Swedish furniture giant IKEA is quite well-known for most of us. Almost everyone that will move home want (or need?) to spend a full day at IKEA to buy furniture and enjoy a lovely meal at their restaurant. More than 800 million guests visit the IKEA warehouses globally every year, which will leave a quite big environmental footprint. And why is that?
Two words: meatballs and wood.
Meat, or beef, is not a very good product for the environment. And we know that the classic Swedish meatballs are the single most popular product in the IKEA restaurants. In order to make their restaurants more environmentally friendly, the company introduced a set of new rules to reduce food waste. Their new initiative is called “Food is precious” and they plan to cut food waste in half by 2020. Ambitious goal.
And what’s up with the wood?
Well, chopping down trees in the forest and turning them into furniture is not eco-friendly. Especially when we also know that a lot of the packaging and manual labor is outsourced to China and other Asian countries. That is a big problem. But IKEA has also announced that they are working to adjust their logistics in order to release fewer greenhouse gases. Let’s hope that is true.
Ikea Research Lab – for a sustainable future (this is really cool!)
IKEA actually have their own lab in Copenhagen where they develop the products of the future. This includes not only eco-friendly furniture, but also food containing insects.
Tech Insider paid them a visit, which you can see here:
I guess we can start to conclude that there are 99 % chance that the office you work in can become more eco-friendly with a few small tweaks. And let me be very clear: it is not only members of the HR department that should care about the overall office environment. All employees should have a saying in this. If you are an environmentalist, which you hopefully are since you are reading this article, you should raise your voice about environmental concerns in “all” situations.
The best way to convince other people in the company will be to point towards the cost. Using less heating, lightning and cooling will reduce the electricity bill. And changing from non-eco-friendly products to eco-friendly products do not necessarily need to mean that the overall cost increases. These are important points to make.
Smaller businesses will often strive to become like the big, multinational companies. That is pretty easy to understand. And now that we see that more and more of them take corporate social responsibility in terms of environmentally friendly processes and products, we know that this is the future. They do not only do this to attract eco-conscious customers. It is also done in order to create a better environment for all of us.
Related questions that might help to clear things up
Q: Will I be seen as “weird” if I ask my boss to develop some more eco-friendly practices at the workplace?
A: Maybe. Thread carefully. Not all profit-seeking businesses are really interested in adapting to getting a “greener” profile. You know best what works for you. If you have a good relationship with your boss, I am sure that you could mention it for him/her. But it might also be an idea to go directly to the HR department with your environmental concerns.
Q: What can I do as an employee to make sure that I reduce my carbon footprint at work?
A: There are loads of things you can do. These are some examples:
1. Go “paperless”. Some industries might require people to use physical papers while signing documents, etc. However, try to use .PDFs and .DOCXs as much as possible. 🙂
2. As employees arent responsible for the water and electricity bill, some might tend to “forget” to turn off the light when they leave the office.
3. Americans alone make more than 405 million long-distance business trips every year. This is a very bad number. Skype, Google Meetup, Slack and other communication software companies have made it much easier to hold meetings between people that are geographically far away from each other. Use them. Do not travel unless you really have to.
4. Commute in a more eco-friendly way. Try not to use your car. There are loads of benefits if you would like to bike to work. However, most people find it easiest to use bus/tram/train.