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Tips for a Greener Office

To begin, no green renovations, big or small, will make an environmental dent if the company who employs them manufactures unsustainable products or services.

However, any personal change among employees, let alone the habits of an entire office are certainly worth the effort. Though it would help if the office wasn’t situated in the headquarters of an oil company.

That said, there are numerous, often simply over-looked, altercations that will improve the productivity and efficiency of an office.

On a personal level you can begin by using refillable pens. Over 5 billion pens are bought and tossed out by Americans each year, most of them of the disposable variety. Replacing them with refillable pens is a significant, if practical start.

If you can, use food grade ink made from vegetable dye. You can find biodegradable pens as well, just keep in mind the corn or potatoes used to make them may well be the products of pesticide use on industrial farms.

If your office receives unwanted mail in the form of unnecessary correspondence or catalogs, it is best to return the mail to the sender, instead of recycling it. You’ll probably want to phone the company first, requesting your company no longer receive such mail. If that doesn’t work, simply write, “not at this address, return to sender” on the envelope and place it in the mail. This should remove you from their mailing list and keep you clear of junk mail in the long term. Saving on paper and your precious time.

When you find the printer out of ink, don’t be so quick to throw the cartridge out. Most ink-cartridges can be safely used up to four times, despite discouragement from the manufacturer’s print. This will save your office up to 90 percent on the cost of a new cartridge, and will detract from the 40 million pounds of waste generated by ink-cartridges every year in the U.S. Even better, if you are in the position to do so, suggest that your office buy a printer or copy-machine with a long-lasting print drum, as it will only require toner refills.

On a larger scale, it helps to buy energy-efficient machines and to conduct virtual meetings when flying is unnecessary. But some changes are less obvious.

Take clothes for example. Who says business has to be stuffy? It is both more comfortable for employees and better for AC costs if you allow everyone to wear clothes better suited to the climate. This doesn’t imply that everyone should wear shorts and flip-flops, but perhaps shorter sleeves and fewer layers. If an occasion requires, you can always create a space for employees to stow away more formal attire. Doing so will greatly reduce air-conditioning costs, as every degree away from the natural temperature can add up to twenty percent of the overall AC cost.

If you provide your employees with uniforms, again, it is important to choose climate-friendly attire. It is equally important to consider the fabric. Cotton may seem a better choice, but is the most chemical-intensive of all crops. Both cotton and wool require a lot of water to produce as well, the latter leading with 20,000 gallons of water used for every pound of wool produced. You also don’t want to use nylon, or poly- well, poly anything really – as these materials will not degrade naturally. This may appear to limit your options, however, using organic cotton, wool, or hemp is always a good choice.

Every year, the average American will release 2.2 tons of carbon dioxide just from driving to and from work.

While you cannot dictate your employees’ choice of transport, you can encourage smarter travel by providing employees with public transport passes – or at least maps of local transit routes and work-accessible bicycling routes. If you are an employee and the above is not available to you, try to organize carpool schedules with your co-workers.

True Green at Work, Kim McKay and Jenny Bonnin, with Tim Wallace, National Geographic, 2008

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