A mom at my daughter's school invited me to her office this month. I was her New Year's gift to the staff - to start off the decade by committing themselves to going green. Pretty cool boss! I spend more time greening people's homes (especially nurseries) than offices so I was thrilled for the opportunity.
My approach was two-fold. I met with the office manager first to go over everything from supplies to ventilation to cleaning products to the containers they microwave their lunches in. Then I sat down with the staff to explain why I was there and the steps that they could take to help green their office, and their lives.
There was so much to talk about and good discussion brought on by great questions from the staff. The following are five of the most important to-dos I discussed with management followed.
1. Cleaning Products
Whether you're using an independent cleaning person or the building management has a staff in place, now is the time to switch cleaning products to greener versions to drastically reduce indoor air pollution and to avoid adding questionable chemical residue to our waterways. Obviously this is easier to do when you don't have to go through building management. But even if you can get a building to change one product to green, you'll really be making a difference.
2. Energy Initiatives
Change light bulbs to LEDs and compact fluorescents, put up signs reminding staff to pull the plug at the end of the day on things like coffee makers and microwaves, and to turn the power off on their computers. Standby times many computers equals energy hog. If your electric company offers green energy sources like wind power, switch to these.
3. Paper Products
Set up a digital file sharing system and make an initiative to print as little as possible. Paper should be 100 percent recycled, and either unbleached, or bleached without chlorine. When you do print, use both sides. (Speaking of printing - refill ink cartridges rather than buying new and look into soy ink over conventional ink.) And reuse anything that is printed on one side only as scrap paper, reducing the need for new notebooks in the office. New notebooks, toilet paper, paper towels, business cards and more can all be found in eco-friendlier versions. Choose these. If you send out many mailings at work, revamp your packing materials similarly. Reuse boxes, shred papers for packing material, look for padded envelopes containing recycled fiber, buy no- or low-VOC packing tape.
4. Speak to your landlord
If you don't own your office space, you're going to have to turn to management to help you reach your green goals. Check in (especially around lease renegotiating time...) to see if he/she would be willing to use an exterminator who uses less toxic pesticides? Find them via GreenShieldCertified.org. Suggest that they do an annual energy audit. Ask to be notified when they're doing renovations or exterminating or anything that will be using a large amount of toxic materials so you can know, suggest better solutions, and warn your employees. Telecommuting on those days may be wise. Also - ask them to give you the full report on their recycling program so you can make sure whatever you're attempting to recycle in your own office is actually being recycled.
5. Stock Your Kitchen
Much of the waste that is created during the day in an office is takeout food containers, coffee cups, water bottles. If you have a kitchen, use it. Simple things can make a huge difference. Fill a cupboard with reusable mugs, plates, glasses, and utensils. Stick a bottle of eco dish soap by the sink. Put in an under the sink water filter. Plug a coffee maker into the wall. Take it a step further by filling it with Fair Trade/organic coffee and putting organic milk in the fridge. You don't need plastic or wood stirrers; you have spoons in the cupboard. Sugar and tea also come in Fair Trade/organic versions. Bulk sugar has less packaging than individually wrapped paper packets. Coffee filters, like all paper products, now come in unbleached versions. A good choice. If you have a microwave, put a few microwave safe glass containers in the cupboard. It's not a good idea to put plastic in the microwave. If you have a bottle of hand soap or sanitizer in the kitchen, make sure it doesn't contain an antibacterial (like Triclosan).
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