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Natural Awakenings National

Greening the Office: Simple Steps Can Add Up

Jan 01, 2009 03:00AM ● By Jay Workman

According to’s informed definition, “Green businesses operate in ways that solve, rather than cause, both environmental and social problems.” While many Natural Awakenings readers are making increasingly better eco-choices at home, our personal habits at work can make a big difference, too.

Ground zero in this crusade is your desk. Consider creating a custom signature for outgoing emails that ends with a message, perhaps in green type, reminding the recipient not to print the memo unless necessary. When you do need to print, use both sides of each sheet of paper. If a laser printer heats the paper on the first pass, making it difficult to manually feed the sheet when printing the second side, try programming the system to print on both sides the first time, so that a four-page document uses only two sheets. It is even possible to become a virtually paperless office, if existing procedures are analyzed for redundancy and inefficiencies and backups are made daily.

Now, move outward, spearheading discussions with coworkers about conscientiously using green workplace systems already in place and brainstorming new ideas. Easy-to-implement initiatives include proper use of recycling bins; additional ways to conserve electricity; and a switch from throwaways to real mugs, cutlery and plates in the break room.

Schedule a ‘green’ bag lunch with coworkers and suggest forming a committee or club dedicated to greening the office. Finding eco-friendly office supplies and new ways to deal with spent items like toner cartridges, and then passing suggestions to management could help the company’s bottom line and single you out as an exemplary employee. Biodegradable bathroom tissue, straws and other lunchroom items, rechargeable batteries and refillable pens all make a small dent in the problem. Together, they add up to real solutions.

Using recycled paper is another way to boost the bottom line. It’s available at all major stationers, but be sure to read the labels; often, the post-consumer content is only 25 to 35 percent. We can do better, preferring paper that weighs in at 100 percent recycled (see Better yet is paper made from agricultural waste (see, such as seaweed, straw or kenaf, a variety of flax. Cutting down trees for paper manufacturing not only consumes a lot of energy and water, it also pollutes our land, air and water.

Green lighting can save dollars and aid the planet, too. Energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs screw right into existing receptacles, but must be properly recycled through a community resource or Home Depot drop-off, because of their mercury content. Newer, light emitting diode (LED) technology can save up to a third of the electric bill. Propose that your employer study these options to see if the investment is viable.

Maintenance staff will appreciate using greener cleaning products for everything from washing windows to floor stripping and waxing. They’ll inhale fewer toxic fumes and be less likely to experience skin or eye irritation.
 If your office “green team” thinks big enough, you just might discover some new innovation that translates from your business to others in the same industry. One example might be distributing an in-house newsletter via email or website, instead of printing and snail mailing it every month.

With a commitment to personal awareness of our local working environment and its connection to community and the planet, we can all become part of the solution.

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