Green Office Tips

Save PlanetWhilst the headlines are often grabbed by large, multi-nationals organisations when it comes to impressive green savings, there are still tangible benefits to be had at a lower level. In fact, almost any business with an office or administration element can slash costs and their impact on the environment. This guide provides numerous green ideas and tips so that SMEs can get started at little or even zero cost. These tried and tested principles are also compatible with some of the requirements within the ISO 14001 standard.

Establishing your goals

Before you can get an idea of what reductions and savings can be had, the measurement of your current output (paper, consumables, packaging, water and energy) is essential. This will enable you to establish goals, track your performance and boost morale. It is good practice to have a baseline year, so clear comparisons can be made year-on-year.

How you measure your environmental impact is up to you, but some like to measure what they use in terms of how much is used per member of staff. This can help make things appear more ‘real’ and therefore gain more awareness.
WRAP have published some typical figures that can be used to benchmark office performance:

  • Waste
    A best-practice office produces fewer than 200kg of waste per staff member per year.

  • Recycling
    A best-practice office – operating efficient recycling schemes for paper, glass, cardboard, cans and toner cartridges – can achieve a recycling rate of up to 70%.

  • Paper
    A best-practice office can use as little as seven reams of paper per staff member per year (there are 500 sheets of paper in a ream).

  • Water
    A best-practice office building should be using no more than 6,500 litres of water per person per year (or 25 litres per staff member per day). Where an office has a canteen, cooking and cleaning will increase this to around 40 litres per staff member per day.

Improving resource efficiency

As the above may have made obvious, clear savings can be made by simply using less in the first place. Waste isn’t just down to using an unnecessary amount of paper, inefficient systems and poor working practices can also be to blame. The good news is that systematic action on waste could save between £400 and £1,000/year for every employee.

When purchasing, it is worth asking yourself the following questions first:

  • Is it really needed?
  • Could equipment be refurbished?
  • Am I buying more than is needed?
  • Is the product over packaged?
  • Can it be reused?

You can also consider many products by how recyclable they are. Again, ask yourself:

  • Is it made from easily recycled materials, such as paper, glass or wood?
  • Are its component materials easy to separate for recycling?
  • Is the packaging easily recyclable?

You can help the environment by sourcing from local suppliers, who travel less to get products to you. This helps both the local community and lessens your impact on a wider scale.

You may already have established, trusted suppliers you don’t want to change. The likelihood is that they will be keen to please loyal clients, so push them to use reusable packaging and group deliveries to reduce unnecessary travel. Try and get to a stage where you are choosing ‘green’ suppliers.

Quick Wins

It’s estimated that the average office worker uses up to 45 sheets of paper per day, of which over half is considered waste. Using both sides of the paper can reduce use by up to 50%, so ensure that all printers are set to double-sided as default. If you don’t have a printer able to do this, dedicate one printer tray to used paper that has been flipped over. Don’t forget to produce posters near any printers and photocopiers to remind staff!

Encourage everyone to question why they are printing; does everyone in this afternoon’s meeting really need a copy of the same document? On your computers, you can reduce margins, font sizes and set multiple pages to print on one sheet to slash your paper usage.

Many offices have too many printers. Aim to avoid having desktop printers as the convenience often means more documents are printed than necessary; instead have a centralised bank of printers.

In the UK, 45 million non-biodegradable printer cartridges end up in landfill each year. The good news is that you can instead purchase remanufactured cartridges with the same quality, saving you money whilst significantly reducing CO2 emissions. Remember to send back your empty cartridges so they can be refilled once more!

When it comes to your marketing materials, you can cut needless over-production by ensuring your contact databases are regularly updated with no duplicate entries. You can talk to your printers about what paper and ink they use for your corporate brochures, business cards etc.; they should be able to tell you about their environmentally friendly alternatives.

Make recycling easy by setting up recycling bins for paper and plastic. By having them outnumber standard bins, this will encourage staff to think harder about what can be recycled. To ensure consistency, make sure cleaning staff are briefed on what you are doing and that recycling is part of their contracted work. If you manage your own waste, the Waste Directory can give details on local paper recycling. Alternatively, if you share office space, get together with other businesses to save costs.

A well known quick win is moving away from plastic cups. Many offices still use these with their water machines, but their single use purpose makes them a bad move for any organisation wanting to boast green credentials. Replacing water bottles with water coolers will help too, reducing service charges and transportation costs.

Whilst screen savers look nice, they are a needless waste of energy. Ask staff to switch off their computer monitors on breaks; contrary to popular belief, switching off computers and monitors more than once a day will not harm them. Switching off is the preferred option as energy saving settings only save around 10% of energy used. You could fit energy saving plugs that automatically switch off peripherals when PCs are switched off.

You could take things further with a ‘switch off’ campaign. It’s always cheaper to switch off lights no matter how short the time period. To remind staff, place stickers above light switches and design posters and emails to repeat the message.

Next Steps

The quick wins listed above are just a handful of ideas that can reap surprising financial and environmental rewards. As you tick these changes off, there are still plenty of other initiatives out there to try. Some may require that little bit more effort, but the gains can be even higher.

If a computer is getting slow or a printer is starting to make strange noises, investigate getting them refurbished rather simply replaced. If they must go, but are still working, could old equipment go to a local charity or school? Engaging with your community on environmental issues is a great way to demonstrate Corporate Social Responsibility.

Office furniture is also better off used again by someone else rather than simply thrown away. It’s estimated that for every tonne of furniture reused, 4 tonnes of CO2 is saved.

When it does come to inevitable new purchases, try to pay close attention to the energy efficiency of equipment you are buying. Retailers increasingly display the rating for electrical equipment; look out for stamps such as the Energy Star Standard.

As you get your own house in order, it is time to think about who else you can influence and persuade to think green. Whilst many SMEs rent office space and so don’t make the decisions for shared services, they are in a position to be strong influencers. For example, within the office toilets, huge savings can be made by considering the following:

  • Install hand dryers instead of paper towels
    Energy costs may increase marginally, but it eliminates ongoing purchasing, disposal and consequent landfill.

  • Install proximity lighting
    Lighting that comes on only when someone is in the vicinity saves money and emissions.

  • Install Dual Flushers
    Popular in residential bathrooms, dual flushing gives the user a choice of two flush volumes and can now be fitted to cisterns installed before 1999.

  • Install Push Taps
    A push tap controls the amount of water used. It will automatically stop after a preset delay, normally up to 20 seconds. There are a variety of alternatives that achieve the same affect and save up to 70% of water.

Similar savings can be had when it comes to heating, so it is worth finding out how heating and cooling systems work in your office so you can help them become more efficient for you.

  • Reduce the temperature

A 1°C reduction in temperature saves heating bills by as much as 10%, so encourage staff to wear a jumper instead of turning up the heat!

  • Turn off when not in use
    If you have the ability to control temperature in particular rooms, make sure radiators or air conditioning units are turned off when not required.

  • Use controls and timers

Your heating could be set to warm the office before everyone arrives in the morning and then automatically shut down when an optimum temperature is reached. Similarly, set the air conditioning to come on only when temperatures exceed 24°C.

  • Install heat reflectors
    Install heat reflectors to the walls behind radiators to improve their efficiency. Make sure radiators are kept clear by not placing furniture in front of them.

  • Check your boiler
    A serviced boiler can save up to 10% on heating costs, so ensure it is serviced when recommended.

  • Open the blinds
    Natural light should be used as much as possible to avoid unnecessary use of lighting. There are daylight blinds that redirect light to the ceiling to avoid glare. Speak to your cleaners so the blinds are closed at the end of the day, helping to keep the heat inside.

In challenging times, you have more influence over your suppliers than ever. Talking to your delivery companies about packaging is worthwhile; do they use environmentally friendly materials? Do they use too much material in the first place? Are you reusing the packaging? You can help your suppliers take those first steps by showing them our guide on writing an Environmental Policy. In the future, you could require all suppliers to demonstrate some kind of green credentials, be it an Environmental Policy, an industry standard or a formalised environmental management system such as ISO 14001.

Getting people onboard

We hope the article has given food for thought if you’ve been struggling to think of green initiatives to try. We realise that implementing all these changes is easier said than done. For success, there needs to be clear senior management commitment towards your green goals and constant reminders given to staff to stop them going back to their old ways. It will certainly help to report on your improvements having already measured your baseline, which can give vital motivation to any staff who are left unconvinced.

For more ideas on staff engagement, see our dedicated article on achieving buy-in on green initiatives.

This green business advice article was written by The British Assessment Bureau, providers of certification to the ISO 14001 environmental standard.

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