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23rd April 2019 | 5 min read
In recent years, businesses big and small have become increasingly aware of environmental concerns within the workplace. There’s a greater pressure on companies to limit their impact on the environment, and as a result, there’s been a shift in how industries operate. Organisations including M&S, IKEA and Unilever have all published sustainability plans, and the environmental consultancy market has grown rapidly, both in the UK and globally.
But it’s not enough; the fact is, everyone’s got to take responsibility for their own carbon footprint – both in and out of the office. With that in mind, here’s a guide to going greener in the workplace.
Though we consume less paper than we once did, huge quantities of the stuff are still used in offices around the world. It’s always greener to use no paper at all, so keep documents digital wherever possible. Don’t make any revisions on printed sheets and keep your work stored safely on digital files, rather than in filing cabinets.
Whenever you do need physical copies of your work, make sure you print on both sides and always recycle the paper when you’ve finished. Ideally, your business should be using recycled paper that’s chlorine-free too. Chlorine and its derivatives – common bleaching agents used in the production of paper – release toxins that are harmful to the environment, particularly to aquatic habitats. What’s more, recycled paper uses 60-70% less energy to make than virgin paper.
And whilst we’re on the subject of greener office supplies, staplers – which aren’t reusable and are rarely recycled – don’t cut the mustard. If every UK office worker used one less staple a day, it would save 120 tonnes of steel annually. You won’t need to use a stapler if you’re keeping your documents digital, but if you did need to bind your work, paper clips are a greener option.
Computers eat up energy, even when they’re on standby; set your computer to energy-saving mode and always switch it off when you leave the office. To improve energy efficiency, install a smart power strip (or smart power bar), which monitors and controls circuitry to prevent electronics from wasting power.
During the day, try to work with the lights off in your office, and replace lighting fixtures with energy efficient lightbulbs to conserve energy resources.
Doing this isn’t just better for the environment; exposure to natural light has been linked to improved performance and contentment in the workplace too. One study, which explored the psychological aspects of lighting, found natural light to be the primary concern for 35% of employees. Offices with few windows were shown to negatively impact staff, who reported feeling cooped-up and isolated; they suffered from claustrophobia and even showed signs of depression.
According to Totaljobs, the average UK employee spends 400 days and £135,800 commuting in their lifetime, travelling a distance of 337,250 miles. But transport is responsible for over a quarter of the UK’s emissions, making it one of the country’s biggest polluters.
By carpooling, biking, walking or using public transport, you’ll be reducing the impact your commute has on the environment. Find out whether your employer participates in any initiatives like the Cycle to Work Scheme, which allows employees to save 25-39% on a bike and accessories. And if you’re able to work from home, do so whenever you can; you’ll be saving the planet and getting the chance to work in your pyjamas – it’s a win-win situation!
The UK produces almost 4 million tonnes of plastic waste every year, according to trade organisation Plastics Europe. Fast food outlets, no matter how healthy they are, tend to serve food in single-use plastic packaging. But last year, the Local Government Association revealed that only one third of the UK’s plastic food packaging is recycled; the rest ends up in landfill.
Wave goodbye to packaging waste by bringing your lunch from home and using a refillable water bottle. It isn’t just better for the planet; you’ll save money and make healthier food choices too. Whenever you can’t take lunch to work with you, eating in can reduce waste; if you do need food to go, check that it comes in recyclable packaging. And if you’re an employer, stock the staff kitchen with reusable plates, cups and cutlery, so that people don’t need to use disposable utensils.
Speak to your colleagues about sustainability and share these tips. By rallying the troops, you’ll raise awareness and accomplish more. Together, you could start a ‘green team’ in your office, examining sustainability within your office and educating fellow employees on environmental issues.
Find out whether your workplace has a sustainability policy and see what this looks like; if improvements can be made, speak to your boss about implementing these changes. Encourage your employer to calculate the company’s carbon footprint; direct them to the business carbon footprint calculator to get started.
Whether you work as a freelancer – either at home or in a co-working space – or are located in a corporate office, eco-consciousness should encompass every aspect of your life. With these tips, you’ll be working towards a brighter future for you and for your family; for your employer and fellow employees; and of course, for the planet.
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