Environmental concerns are a growing priority among the world’s leading companies. Climate change and environmental sustainability initiatives have cast eco-friendliness into the spotlight.
In an increasingly global economy, no company can afford to ignore the environmental impact of business, especially when efficient environmental management can have a positive impact on your bottom line. Many customers today see their dollars as votes and prefer to back businesses that share their concern for saving the planet.
A large percentage of advocacy and regulatory efforts focus on massive energy consumption by data centers or the climatological impact of enterprise logistics, but organizations with smaller IT footprints can still make a difference. And if an effort to go green can help lower costs and increase productivity, all the better.
“Going green” perfectly aligns with your business goals to save money, remove clutter and improve your processes. Here we share five ideas for creating a more environmentally friendly office.
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1. Choose post-consumer recycled content, like paper
Favor when possible products that boast a percentage of post-consumer recycled content on their packaging.
- Every ton of 100% post-consumer recycled paper used will save 24 trees.1
- Recycling aluminum and steel can save 75% of the energy over using new materials to make steel- and aluminum-based products. 1
“Post-consumer” recycled content (defined by a percentage) is the amount of a material, such as paper or glass, which has been recycled after being used. This means the material would otherwise be headed for a landfill.
Every product has its content certified by the supplier in terms of its post-consumer recycled material. Want to make your office more eco-friendly? Look for items, such as paper, with the highest percentage of post-consumer recycled content.
Virtually any product can contain post-consumer material. Other examples include mouse pads and other desk accessories, scissors and other metal-based products, pencils and file folders. The Forest Ecology Network estimates the typical office supply vendor should have 2,000 products with some post-consumer recycled content.
According to the Smart Steps to Sustainability report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), almost one-third of municipal solid waste in landfills is made up of paper and packaging. Reducing your business’s paper-based waste and recycling can help save precious landfill space, which is growing more limited by the year. Take just a few steps to minimize the amount of paper waste your company generates.
Working this way can have a “trickle-up effect,” which impacts a much larger scope than many realize. According to business consultant Heather Clancy, “paper production is second only to petroleum in terms of energy used by U.S. industries.”
Using significantly less paper can have a ripple effect on our environment. Trees prevent soil erosion, scrub carbon dioxide from the air and convert it to oxygen. Not going through the process of cutting them down, transporting them to a factory, reducing them to paper, and then shipping that paper to stores reduces pollution at every step.
Plus, this saves energy and limits the amount of fossil fuels that need to be consumed in the process, from the trucks used to transport trees and paper, to the coal-fired power plants needed to run the paper factories. And that reduces the amount of drilling or mining required, and so on.
2. Choose eco-friendly, biodegradable cleaning products
- More than 85,000 new chemicals have been introduced in standard household products, and the EPA deems 70% of them as possibly harmful to human beings. 2
- The EPA claims phosphorus, one of the chemicals it calls "Volatile Organic Compounds" (VOCs), represents up to 40% of certain cleaning products — dangerous for the water supply. 3
Today, you’ll find a variety of “green” cleaning products: antibacterial soap for your office bathroom, floor cleaner, glass and wood solutions for cleaning desks and computer screens.
Next time you shop for office cleaning supplies, examine the labels for eco-friendly properties. Green Seal is a great resource that rates the environmental impact of cleaning products.
You can also look for bio-based products. Bio-based products are made partly from biological materials and are therefore biodegradable and less of a long-term burden on the environment. The EPA’s BioPreferred® program looks for products with at least 25% bio-based material, which it believes is the minimum for a positive environmental impact.
Examples of bio-based products include soaps and other cleaning products, inks and toner cartridges for printers, furniture and shipping containers. Look for BioPreferred-certified products here.
3. Replace old lights with LEDs
According to the Department of Energy, LEDs are far more efficient than traditional bulbs.
- Energy-efficient lighting can save 25-70% in energy use.4
- Traditional incandescent bulbs have a life span of 750; energy efficient LEDs can run for 30,000 hours. 5
Your old incandescent bulbs are likely costing you more money than their more energy-efficient LED counterparts. That’s because the traditional incandescent generates most of its energy as heat instead of light. So, unless you’re standing by the bulb to stay warm, most of the energy your old bulbs generate is wasted.
The Department of Energy’s report on Solid State Lighting notes that 40-50% of the total light output of fluorescent and incandescent lamps can be lost before it exits the fixture. In other words, switching from old fluorescent lamps to LEDs for office lighting can, in many cases at least, double the useful life of each light.
According to the US Department of Energy, if light-emitting diode bulbs, or LEDs, largely replace the incandescent bulb in homes and offices over the next 20 years, we will reduce lighting electricity demand by a third and keep 40 new power plants from needing to be built.
Moving to LEDs where possible is clearly good for your business’s bottom line. And consider this fact, also from the Department of Energy’s report: LEDs offer the potential for cutting general lighting energy use nearly in half by 2030, saving energy dollars and carbon emissions in the process.
For a helpful overview of the pros and cons of each type of bulb, read this feature from Green America.
4. Get an energy audit for your office
- Every degree on your thermostat can save you 1-3% on your bill. 6
- An audit can save 30% on a business’s energy costs. 7
Conducting an energy audit is another great way both to improve the environmental friendliness of your office and to cut costs.
Many organizations now conduct comprehensive audits, investigating all aspects of energy efficiency: heating and cooling systems, insulating, air sealing, lighting, water, and the power consumption of equipment.
Making even minor changes to your office’s temperature can add up to energy conservation and major savings. According to a US News & World Report feature, for example, if you typically keep your room temperature at 75 degrees and then set your thermostat to 72, you could save 9% on your utility bill. With a programmable thermostat, you can easily adjust different settings for after hours.
As for water, the EPA’s WaterSense program identifies products that use less water for manufacturing and ongoing use. The agency claims that the products certified under WaterSense are 20% more energy-efficient than similar products without the certification.
Examples of water-saving products include weather-based irrigation systems, water heaters, sinks and faucets, showerheads, toilets and urinals. You can look for WaterSense-certified products here.
Most energy auditing firms will offer you a proactive energy-management plan, with ideas for improving efficiency and cutting costs. Taking advantage of energy audits help save your business money while making your workplace more eco-friendly. To give you an idea of what to expect, here’s a great presentation on best practices for office energy audits.
5. Move environmentally unfriendly tasks to the cloud
- Every year, Americans send 135,000,000 tons of trash to landfills. 8
- Increasing the efficiency of energy use and data storage could cut 30% of power use in businesses. 9
So what makes an office environmentally unfriendly, anyway? In a word: stuff. Paper, computer hardware, toner and ink cartridges for faxes and printers, IT equipment.
Want to “green” your office quickly — and save money too? Cut down on the stuff. Recycle old hardware like outdated computers and phone systems.
Equally important in reducing the waste your business generates is disposing of it properly. Many products contain harmful chemicals that cause damage to the environment, while others are made with small amounts of valuable elements (like gold) that, if extracted, can save energy and resources otherwise needed to mine those elements again.
The National Center for Electronics Recycling (NCER) tracks 25 states that have laws on the disposal of electronic products such as computers.
The Impact of Fax Machines
As long as businesses require a signature on the dotted line, we will have the need for fax technology. However, this doesn’t mean we’ll always need fax machines. Regardless of whether you call it internet fax, online fax, electronic fax or fax by email, it adds up to the same thing: faxing without ink or paper.
On average, we each use 10,000 sheets of paper every year. That’s more than an entire tree for each of us to print, mail, and fax a year’s worth of business documents. Cover sheets consume extra paper with every fax we send. Even worse, all that fax spam and advertising eats up paper as well.
Energy Star, a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, considers fax machines among the most "energy-intensive" types of business equipment. When you use an online fax solution, it doesn’t just make it more cost-effective and convenient for you and your organization—but also the environment. Emailed faxes are not printed unless they need to be. This saves paper, trees and ink.
Not-So-Obvious Ways Going Green Benefits Business
You already know making your office more eco-friendly can have the added benefit of saving your business money. Reducing paper waste, switching to more efficient energy sources for lighting, air conditioning and other utilities — these moves are good not only for the environment but also for your bottom line. Here are 3 other ways “going green” can be smart for your business.
1. Going green means a better reputation for your business
With environmental responsibility a major topic of discussion in the news over the last several years, more consumers are expecting the companies they do business with to implement eco-friendly practices.
According to the Smart Steps to Sustainability report from the US Environmental Protection Agency, 73% of consumers believe it is important companies have good environmental records, and 75% say businesses should provide details about their companies’ impact on the environment.
If you want to differentiate your business from your competitors, and attract green-minded new customers, one great way is to demonstrate your commitment to the environment by establishing sustainable practices in your business — and letting the public know you’re doing it.
2. Going green can bring you better talent and make your business more productive
Making your business eco-friendly can help you attract not only more customers and better PR — but also attract more productive and like-minded talent to support and further expand your green initiatives.
A recent UCLA study finds the staff working for eco-friendly companies is 16% more productive than employees at businesses do not make environmental responsibility part of the culture.
There are many reasons for this. First, with the environment such an important issue today, the more talented and sought-after employees who can pick and choose where they work are obviously making the green commitment of their would-be employers a factor in which jobs they take.
Also, as the UCLA report finds, employees working for green-minded businesses tend to feel better about their jobs — they are helping to make a difference — and translates into higher levels of productivity. Bottom line: Going green means making green!
3. Going green can create big tax breaks for your business
As a recent feature in the Houston Chronicle’s Small Business section points out, implementing green practices in your business can also generate significant tax breaks.
Here are just several examples of IRS tax credits offered for companies that switch to renewable energy sources such as solar or wind power, and for businesses whose official vehicles are hybrids or other eco-friendly cars or trucks.
A Big Boost to the Environment
If you need more reasons to “go green,” consider this: When you implement some simple, eco-friendly practices in your business, you can also reduce your overall operating expenses. For example, businesses that switch from traditional faxing to internet faxing can save money while having a significant impact on helping to save the environment. The ability to work with less paper not only conserves trees, it reduces the burden on paper mills, meaning less carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere.
Opting for an internet faxing service is one way to reduce both paper and power in the office. The time has come to fax green.
- Stanford University: http://bgm.stanford.edu/pssi_faq_buying_recycled
- GreenBusinessNetwork.org: http://www.greenbusinessnetwork.org/gbn-members-advocate-for-toxic-chemical-reform/
- San Francisco Chronicle: http://homeguides.sfgate.com/household-cleaner-affect-environment-79335.html
- US Department of Energy: http://energy.gov/energysaver/articles/energy-efficient-holiday-decorating-tips
- US Department of Energy: https://www1.eere.energy.gov/buildings/ssl/sslbasics_ledbasics.html
- EnergyHub.com: http://www.energyhub.com/blog/how-much-is-one-degree-worth
- US Department of Energy: http://energy.gov/energysaver/articles/do-it-yourself-home-energy-audits
- Waste Management World: http://www.waste-management-world.com/articles/2014/03/combined-u-s-recycling-composting-rate-drops-to-34-5-for-2012.html
- ENERGYSTAR: https://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=power_mgt.datacenter_efficiency_storage_mgmt