How to make your workplace more green

The pressure to reduce our environmental footprint is at an all-time high. Are you doing your bit to help the planet?

We spend most of our waking lives at work, so it’s important that we become more eco-friendly, both as businesses and as employees.

This doesn’t always require big changes to what we do at work.

“Little things do matter,” says Dr. Krista Bondy, senior lecturer in Corporate Social Responsibility & Environmental Management at the University of Bath. “This means turning off lights, shutting computers down over lunch and at night, and using less paper.”

She suggests that every time you use something, you ask yourself why you’re using it, if you can use less of it, whether there’s an alternative and if the alternative is better for the environment.

Ban plastic

Plastic waste is a hot topic right now. Earlier this year Theresa May announced an incoming ban on all single-use plastics in a bid to tackle Britain’s “throwaway culture”.

Among accountants, KPMG is leading the way in helping to reduce plastic pollution. The firm will stop using plastic water cups in all its UK offices by the end of the summer. Each employee will instead receive a metal bottle to refill at office water points.

“They can use it outside of work too,” says Sarah Lindsay, KPMG’s environment manager. “We encourage them to download the Give Me Tap app to locate free drinking water when they are out of the office.”

KPMG also plans to replace plastic cups from their hot drink vending machines with either paper or compostable alternatives.

Go veggie

Food is another area where small changes do count.

Dr. Bondy says: “Consider your lunch – where did it come from and how much packaging is there? Also, how high is the meat content?”

Meat production is bad for the environment. For instance, it’s estimated that over 50% of global greenhouse-gas emissions are caused by animal agriculture. “So, when entertaining, why not take your clients to a vegetarian restaurant for something a little bit different,” says Dr. Bondy.

Reuse or recycle

An entirely paperless office may be “as likely as a paperless toilet”. But we can at least reduce the amount of paper we do use, by copying on both sides and reusing one-sided copies for internal memos and drafts.

And when we’re done with it, it should land in a recycling bin, not a landfill. Recycling paper not only helps save trees, it saves water and electricity too. In fact, recycling one tonne of paper saves 30,000 litres of water and 3000 to 4000 kWh of electricity, enough to sustain an average three-bedroomed house for a year.

Reusing and recycling should extend to more than just paper.

Libby Sandbrook, head of circular economy at charity Business in the Community, points out that our offices are home to other resources that can be recirculated: “Why not support local charities through used office equipment, furniture and materials? You could donate used carpet to housing charities or IT equipment to prison academies.”

She also suggests holding “amnesty days” when everyone brings in unwanted personal items such as phones, suits or woolly hats to be redistributed to charitable institutions. She adds: “Organising these activities so they coincide with World Environment Day and Earth Hour will make you feel part of a wider movement.”

Buy recycled too, including recycled paper, second-hand office furniture and reclaimed wooden doors and flooring.

Beside lasting a long time, wood retains heat more effectively than other materials. Air chambers within wood absorb and hold heat for longer, so if you introduce wood into your office, it will be naturally warmer and will require less energy to heat it,” says Iain Smith, managing director at specialist suppliers A Wood Idea.

Tackle air pollution

Look for other ways to consume less energy, too.

“Gas burnt for heating is a big contributor to air pollution, so lower the thermostat to reduce emissions,” says Chris Large, senior partner at environmental charity Global Action Plan, the organisers of Clean Air Day on 21 June. He adds: “Lowering the thermostat by just 1 degree can also reduce your annual heating bill by up to 8%.”

Large also recommends switching energy suppliers. “Opt for renewable energy tariffs to reduce the pollution produced by power stations.”

Business and employee travel is one of the areas where the environmental impact is the highest, says Dr. Bondy. “Flights produce significantly more greenhouse gasses than car trips, while public transport has a much lower environmental footprint overall.”

If public transport isn’t a viable option, car-sharing reduces the carbon footprint for both commuter and business-related travel.

“For business travel, employers should only approve single-car use in exceptional circumstances,” says Alan Price, HR and employment law director at business consultancy Peninsula. “Even better, why not eliminate the need to travel altogether and use video conferencing or conference calls instead?”

Cycling to work benefits everyone involved, and the environment.

“Through the government’s Cycle to Work scheme, employers can offer – at no extra cost – a valuable employee benefit in the form of tax-free bicycles and commuter accessories worth up to £1,000,” says Steve Edgell, director of independent Cycle to Work scheme provider CycleSolutions.

He explains further: “The saving to the employee is between 32% and 48% of the retail cost. The cost of the bike is covered through a salary sacrifice and because staff effectively reduce their gross pay, the employer then benefits by reducing their own employer’s National Insurance contributions by up to 13.8% of the value of the equipment supplied.”

Finally, let’s not forget indoor air pollution.

Large says: “If you’re thinking of revamping your office, avoid products containing high levels of VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) often found in paints, varnishes, carpets and sofas. Also, switch to fragrance-free or naturally-scented cleaning products, and stay clear of aerosols.”

Iwona Tokc-Wilde is a business journalist.

Related articles