Unless an office has an effective corporate sustainability policy, an enthusiastic green team of employees, and is housed in a solar-powered, LEED-certified building, odds are good the office can benefit from a bit of “greening.” Looking at office operations with an eye toward environmental issues can benefit the bottom line as well as the earth. At the basic level, consuming fewer resources reduces office expenses (i.e. utilities, paper, staff time), but can also increase office efficiency. Greening need not be a daunting task. Experience suggests many offices have “low hanging fruit” – relatively simple and inexpensive ways to make green changes. A little forethought can go a long way. Below are tips for the “typical” office to start saving green by going green:
- Use less paper. Even if the office is not ready to go paperless, determine where and how paper is used. Decide if hard copies are actually necessary. Read email and review documents online. Use print preview. Set printer defaults to duplex printing. Electronically deliver faxes instead of printing.
- Consider environmentally preferable paper. Prices of recycled content copy paper can be comparable to that made from virgin fiber. Lighter weight paper can also provide savings. Quantify the environmental benefits of switching paper with tools such as the Paper Calculator available at org.
- Select energy efficient electronics. Energy Star labeled office products are independently certified to use less energy without giving up functionality. Certified products include computers, monitors, imaging equipment, small network equipment and appliances.
- Manage computer power. Make use of sleep and standby settings so computers will automatically switch to a low power mode after a period of inactivity. Savings can be as much as $50 per computer per year. Comprehensive resources to activate sleep settings on an individual computer or across a network are available at gov as part of its Lower Carbon IT Campaign.
- Send and pay invoices electronically. Save postage, envelopes and paper. Accept online payments.
- Reduce travel expenses. Sometimes a face-to-face meeting is necessary. Other times, a conference call or videoconference will suffice. Make use of smart phone features and apps for free or inexpensive services.
- Opt out of unwanted mailings. Reducing “junk” mail saves time sorting and processing mail. Cancel subscriptions to magazines, journals, books, etc. that are no longer read or are available online.
- Conduct an efficiency audit of the physical office space. Professionals can conduct a formal evaluation. An informal walk through with an eye toward energy and water waste can also identify areas of improvement. Swap out incandescent bulbs for CFL or LED lights. Consider programmable thermostats and motion detector lights. Install low flow toilets and faucet aerators. Efficient products may be eligible for rebates or credits.
- Reduce e-waste. Electronics waste, or “e-waste,” refers to electronics at the end of their useful lives. To extend the life of current devices, keep them clean and maintained. Upgrade current machines (i.e., add memory) instead of replacing them. Lease rather than purchase if you are frequently acquiring new devices. Get protective covers for smart phones. Donate unused electronics to a reputable charity (after data is wiped). After electronics have been used to their maximum, do not simply dispose of the devices. To reduce the global environmental problems with e-waste, recycle devices through a certified electronics recycler. Certified recyclers are independently audited to ensure compliance with environmentally sound and responsible recycling practices (either e-stewards or R2 standards). Manufacturers and retail stores often have take-back programs that also keep e-waste out of the municipal waste stream.
- Educate and engage employees. Staff is more likely to participate and cooperate if they understand the “why” and “how” behind changes. Employees in the trenches often see inefficiencies and solutions that are not obvious to those removed from daily operations.
It’s rewarding (and motivating) to see a difference in the bottom line. If the return on greening investments is not as expected, don’t give up. A programmable thermostat not properly programmed isn’t going to save energy. However, that problem can easily be remedied if it is identified. Follow-ups and a regular assessment – say, on Earth Day – can catch issues and ensure the office and the environment are getting the full benefit of office efforts. FBN
Jennifer Mott is a Flagstaff native, and graduate of both NAU and the James E. Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona. She is a partner with the law firm Aspey, Watkins & Diesel, pllc, where her practice focuses on representing businesses.