Friday, June 13, 2008

What's your office's environmental impact?

The joke around my office is that I keep things out of the landfill. It's not because of my oft-used blue paper recycling can; it's because of the stacks of documentation and project files I'm cursed with.

Even with a "Web" job, which one would assume is paperless, there are significant paper trails that do develop. System documentation. Printouts of approvals from "problem" clients. Publications that you struggle to keep up with. Memos. Hard copies from proofing from when I can't stand staring at the screen any longer. And more.

The reality is, in a lawsuit-crazy society, and particularly in the industry I work in, we have a major paper trail. And I'm stuck in it, particularly when projects can drag on for months or even years. Even though most of my "trail" is electronic, housed on my personal folder on our file server, there's still a lot of waste.

Paper can't just be recycled; it must be shredded due to privacy regulations. Who knows where it goes. The papers that are "safe" and don't have to be filed (i.e. drafts that I've edited) or shredded come home for a second life as a Sesame Street or Pigglywinks coloring page before they move on for recycling.

For a company that prides itself on community stewardship, recycling has not yet become a serious part of the equation. There are no boxes for can or plastic bottle recycling at the cafeterias or vending machines. Our can container's contents have on occasion found their way to the garbage bin. Our newspapers and magazines, left in the break room, find their way to the trash can. I sheepishly pack any empty plastic bottles into my lunch bag to take them home. And my coworkers were floored when I suggested that I'd take the cardboard boxes to get recycled rather than pitch them in our most recent storage room cleanup.

Thankfully, my employer is working on developing a recycling program, and I can't wait to see the rollout. But it's an interesting contrast when I read today's post on Crunchy Chicken's blog. At her employer, they go so far as to have a worm composting system and, now, food waste compost pick-up at work. Each kitchen will get its own compost container along with posted rules about what items are acceptable for composting. And a Massachusetts public library utilizes rain collection barrels.

What does it mean for us?

Maybe nothing. It may well be that those of us who are committed to small changes keep making those small changes and accept that as enough. (I for one, know worm composting would never happen when we have to worry about the state health department.)

Or, it may be that those of us wanting to reduce our carbon footprints demand more from our employers.

According to the UK's Labour Outlook, published last summer:

    • Seventy per cent of organisations say that they could do more to encourage
      employees to reduce their travel.
    • Ninety-one per cent of organisations encourage recycling, while 83% promote
      the case for reducing energy consumption.
    • Employees actively use the recycling facilities while at work at around
      two-thirds of organisations. This compares to 59% of organisations who say that
      their employees are energy-conscious.
    • Thirty-nine per cent of organisations believe that an environment policy is
      an important recruitment and retention tool for younger workers.

In the States, other surveys are finding that employees are demanding a more environmentally friendly workplace. According to the Christian Science Monitor (as cited by the Vancouver Green Business Journal):

In a new survey by Randstad and Harris Interactive, 87 percent of employees say
it is at least “somewhat important” that their employers offer “green-friendly”
programs at work.

...Whatever approach companies take, three factors motivate them, says Madeline Turnock, vice president of Hill & Knowlton, a public-relations consultancy in Portland, Ore. The first involves altruism; employers know their efforts are good for the environment. Second, they realize that going green makes good business sense. Energy-efficient practices lower costs. Third, they find that green policies help them recruit and retain talent. “People want to work for companies that have strong values and care about sustainability,” Ms. Turnock says.

What can you do today?

So maybe your workplace isn't the greenest, and perhaps it will take a committee or more to move that mountain. That doesn't mean all hope is lost. Take a look at the little behaviors that can reduce your organization's environmental impact.

For starters:

  • Turn off your monitor or computer when you are out for extended periods of time. I am very guilty of neglecting to turn off the monitor myself, but it uses energy even if it's not projecting anything.
  • Likewise, turn off your office lights when you leave.
  • When possible, recycle your newspapers, printer paper, soda containers and anything else, even if it means taking it yourself to the recycler. (Maybe it's worth turning in mileage for that?)
  • Skip the plastic silverware and paper plates in the breakroom and bring your own reusable ones.
  • Likewise, carry your own coffee cup and spoon to avoid styrofoam cups and stir sticks.
  • Make sure you're signed up for direct deposit.
  • Sign up for a carpool or look into public transportation to work.
  • Look into conference calls or video conferencing rather than adding to travel expenses.

Are there other ideas you've seen or tried in the workplace?


Anonymous said...

At our office, we have large boxes to shred confidential material, which then is recycled by the shredding company. Does your office utilize such a service?

One of the docs at our office brought a small trashcan with holes cut into the lid for recyclables. She takes this home with her weekly to her personal recycling bins.

By the way, most of the Lean Cuisine-type trays are recyclable, too. And some places will recycle the boxes for them, too.

For documents or electronic receipts that need to be saved but not necessarily in print, you can use a PDF "printer" to save to your computer. We use these at home when we save our online bill pay receipts, rather than print & file.

Robbie said...

Of course we have a shredding service, but who knows whether things are recycled from there.

The Dr. taking on the recycling effort herself should be applauded!

And I'm in love with the cutepdfprinter free download for my home PC. I rely heavily on Acrobat at work, but stll, a paper trail does ensue. The good news is people are learning how to post comments and changes on PDF proofs.

Thanks for sharing your ideas!