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Practical Steps to Be “Greener” in the Workplace

February 19, 2014 by Dr. Jon Warner in Sustainability

Practical Steps to Be "Greener" in the Workplace

Organizations are generally aware that they should adopt more environmentally-friendly or “greener” approaches these days but may struggle to know exactly what they should do in practical terms. Some simple changes of approach achieve a lot and in this brief article we will therefore look at ten steps that can be relatively easily taken.

1. Review lighting needs

Artificial lighting often accounts for anywhere from 30-50% of the electricity used in office buildings and more in industrial locations. You should therefore:

  • Make it a habit for employees to turn off the lights when they’re not using a room or space and to utilize natural light whenever possible.
  • Make it a policy to purchase long-term sustainable light-bulbs and fixtures, which use far less energy than regular lighting. You can also look at installing timers or motion sensors that automatically shut off lights when they’re not needed.

2. Review computer/systems efficiency and effectiveness

Computers in business can waste enormous amounts of electricity over a full year.

  • Encourage employees to turn off computers when they are not being used for long periods—and the power strip it’s plugged into—when they leave for the day. Remember, screen savers don’t save energy.
  • Make it a policy to invest in energy-saving computers, monitors, and printers and make sure that old equipment is properly recycled.

3. Review Paper use and Printing

The average office worker goes through 8-10,000 sheets of copy paper a year so we should therefore:

  • Make it a habit to print on both sides, or use the back side of old documents for faxes, scrap paper, or drafts. Avoid color printing and print in draft mode, whenever possible.
  • Purchase chlorine-free paper with a higher percentage of post-consumer recycled content. Also consider switching to a lighter stock of paper or alternatives made from bamboo, hemp, organic cotton, or similar materials.
  • Recycle toner and ink cartridges and buy remanufactured ones.

4. Encourage no paper wherever possible

  • Encourage employees to think carefully before they print: they need to ask could this be read or stored online instead?
  • When anyone receives unwanted catalogs, newsletters, magazines, or junk mail, wherever appropriate, request to be removed from the mailing list before you recycle the item.
  • Make it a policy to post employee manuals and similar materials online, rather than distribute print copies (which also makes them easier to update too).

5. Recycle extensively

  • Make it a habit to recycle everything your organization collects. Just about any kind of paper you would encounter in an office, including fax paper, envelopes, and junk mail, can be recycled and so can old cell phones, PDAs, or pagers.
  • Make it a policy to place recycling bins in accessible, high-traffic areas and provide clear information about what can and cannot be recycled.

6. Use recycled materials wherever possible

  • Make it a policy to purchase office supplies and furniture made from recycled materials, wherever you can. This may take some research but some supply companies specialize in this.

7. Review Employee food and drink practices

  • Encourage employees to bring their own mugs and other dishware for drinks or snacks or meals they eat at the office.
  • Provide reusable dishes, silverware, and glasses.
  • Switch to Fair Trade and organic coffee and tea, and buy as much organic and local food as possible for parties and other events. Provide filtered drinking water to reduce bottled-water waste.

8. Review travel policies

  • Encourage employees (with managers taking a lead as role models as much as possible) to take the train, bus, or subway when feasible instead of a rental car when traveling on business. If you have to rent a car, some rental agencies now offer hybrids and other high-mileage vehicles.
  • Invest in videoconferencing and other technological solutions that can reduce the amount of employee travel.
  • Make it a habit to carpool, bike, or take transit to work, and/or telecommute when possible. If you need to drive occasionally, consider joining a car-sharing service.
  • Make it a policy to encourage telecommuting and make it easy for employees to take alternative modes of transportation (through subsidies perhaps).

9. Reduce your consumption where possible

  • Encourage employees to review all consumables used to see if the rate of consumption can be slowed or more can be gained from the asset than currently.

10. Create a healthy office/workplace environment

  • Make it a habit to use nontoxic cleaning products.
  • Make it a policy to buy furniture, carpeting, and paint that are free of volatile organic compounds.
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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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