green office week: top tips for greening your office

Submitted by turbosprout on Tue, 2011-04-19 12:03

flat screen monitors, office plants, smiling workers... it's green office week: pic - green path guideflat screen monitors, office plants, smiling workers... it's green office week: pic - green path guideGreen Office Week (GOW) [18 - 21 April 2011] is an initiative started by Dictum, a South African specialist publishing company, in 2010 (incidentally they also initiated National Bosses Day back in 1990).

Focus days
This year Green Office Week has four focus days, which I think is a good idea:

Mon 18 - Make it happen Monday
Monday is all about printing and paper use.

Tue 19 - Choosy Tuesday
Focus on getting and using greener office supplies and equipment.

Wed 20 - Wattage Wednesday
How to reduce your energy consumption

Thurs 21 - Thoughtful Thursday
Think about how to use technology to reduce your environmental impact. You can of course think about other non-technocentric ideas on Thursday too!

Great office greening resources
There are some excellent resources for greening your office. One of the best we've come across is the Project 90x2030 Green Your Office Toolkit, a 48 page (3.8 Mb PDF) download, with case studies and local examples. It provides action sections covering Energy, Water, Waste and Travel and P90230 have also developed an online office audit tool which you can use to record your impacts and view actionable suggestions.

The Green Office Week website has a really good, concise 8-page Green Office Action Plan (GOAP) download (355 Kb PDF) which has many tips and ideas spanning seven areas: Paper, Energy, Water, Green Purchasing, Waste, Carbon Footprint, Green Events. There is also a download by GOW outling the aims, simple tips for each day, getting buy-in from co-workers, and info for the boss.

In keeping with the focus days, here are urban sprouts top tips for Green Office Week for Printing, Office Supplies, Energy and Technology.

Printing (or not)
If you're going to download the resources above (they're worth keeping close at hand) you'll want to consider the best way to print.

The average UK office worker prints out an estimated 1500 sheets of paper each month, most of which is discarded within 2 days and some of which is reprinted. When it comes to printing, the first thing is to be absolutely sure you need to print it. If you wish to store something for reference material it is better to archive electronically (easier to search for it in your gmail account than it is to retrieve from a paper based filing system).

If it is a document that you have drafted yourself, first check it thoroughly (spell check, print preview). Many printing errors can be avoided by doing a last minute check.

Meeting agendas can be sent via email and displayed in a powerpoint presentation, instead of printing for each meeting attendee. Media packs can be emailed or transferred to flash instead of printed, etc

Print settings
I usually change the following settings when printing:

  • double-sided: change from one-sided to print on both sides of the page
  • pages per side: change from 1 to 2, if the font size of the document is greater than 10pt and if you wont' suffer from eye strain reading it!
  • colour: change from colour to greyscale to save on ink

Using the first two settings above means you can shrink a documents print footprint to a quarter, so a 48 page document becomes a 12 pager (saving 36 pages in a single action!)

We have a Canon MP530 in our office, which although not used much, is quite an ink guzzler. The multifunction printer (scanner, fax) is about 4 years old and we have paid it's price a few times over in ink cartridge purchases. Our model has 5 ink cartridges (Magneta, Cyan, Yellow, Black, and Large Black). And if buying genuine refills at R 250 a pop its easy to see why the ink has cost more than the printer. Obscurely, although printing in grey-scale, colour is also used which is a deliberate ploy of the manufacturer to ensure you buy more ink.

We have kept our original cartridges, and get them refilled at Inky which reduces the cost by half. Using non-genuine ink may affect print quality, or void manufacturers' guarantees so you'll need to check this, but on an older printer it shouldn't matter.

If you have a laser printer your toner cartridge may be recyclable.

Paper that has been printed on a single side can be re-used in the printer (just put it facing the right way!). You can also print on recycled paper. We don't go through much paper - a ream lasts us most of the year. Currently we're using Mondi's Green Range Premium 160CIE, which the labelling tells me "consists entirely of FSC certified paper from sustainable forests, Totally Chlorine Free (TCF) paper and 100% recycled paper from our top quality segment". It also has WESSA's logo on it and is ISO 14001 certified. Not that I am naive about FSC certification (it has shortcomings) or some of Mondi's environmental transgressions (ask local communities about the environmental impacts of plantation grown timber and pulp industry by-products).

Five years ago it was hard to do business without a fax machine, thankfully this is changing (albeit still to slowly for my liking). Save on printing by receiving your faxes via a free fax to email service. Or if a larger organisation install a fax server. You can reduce printing on the recipient side for a fax you send by not having a separate cover sheet. Just type FOR ATTENTION: at the top of your document. Or ask for an email address and scan your documents and email them

Choosing greener supplies and equipment
When considering the equipment and supplies to make your office function think about the environmental impact in producing, using and disposing of your office goods.

When considering two products with the same function you should be asking questions like, which:

  • will save you energy (more energy efficient in it's use, look for certifications like Energy Star, and European energy usage ratings eg. A vs D)
  • contains no or fewer toxins (cleaning products having certified organic ingredients for example)
  • was more environmentally friendly to produce (which use fewer natural resources, certifications to do with manufacture like ISO 14001, FSC)
  • is biodegradable or easily recyclable (paper and cardboard packaging instead of plastic)
  • use fewer resources to operate (e.g. printers that use less ink, toilets that use less water)
  • is more durable or repairable (sealed units may not be repairable, competence and availability of after sales service)
  • is made from recycled content (recycled paper for example)
  • is non-ozone depleting (chemicals used in aerosols or refrigeration)

For example your humble office pen, can now be made from a high percentage of post-consumer waste recycled paper, cardboard or plastic, or made from a biodegradable cellulose acetate. Pens can be single fill and disposable or refillable and reusable. The barrel (the bit containing the refill) can itself be 100% recyclable. The ink inside the pen can be more or less environmentally damaging. And more or less long lasting (some brands advertise up to 1.2 miles of writing ink).

Look for eco-friendly ranges at your regular stationary or office supplies outlet or chat to your online supplier about introducing more options. More alternatives will only become available in South Africa if we as consumers, workers and procurement officers make our voice heard.

Check out Masons Office Supplies for some green office supplies and Intelligent Marketing for office promotional items.

Reducing energy use

Electricity is mainly used in the office to heat or cool space, provide lighting and to power machines (pc's, copiers, coffee machines...) that keep office workers productive. For this post I'll consider some tips for lighting and powering machines off.

Office workers, bound to indoor desks, need light to work. And having lighting available for every employee and switched on for at least 8 hours a day has got to add up to a lot of money when looking at your annual electricity usage. Here are some tips to make your lighting more energy efficient:

  • Natural lighting is healthier than artificial lighting and should be maximised at any opportunity. Open those blinds to bring in extra light.
  • Ensure external lights are turned off during the day.
  • Turn off lights for rooms or areas that are not in use. Place "Turn off if not in use" stickers next to these switches.
  • Board rooms, meeting rooms, rest areas or other areas that are infrequently used or only used at certain times of day can be fitted with motion sensors to turn the lights on.
  • Where halogen downlighting is used, these can now be cost effectively replaced with LED lighting technology that will quickly pay for itself.
  • Bring lights closer to the working surface. It's no good having a bright light located many metres above its subject, lowering lights may mean that you can use less powerful globes. CFL's for example can be used on the desktop instead of brighter, higher wattage fluorescents metres above the work space.
  • Replace any incandescent lighting with CFL's.
  • Fluorescent lighting technology has also moved on and switching T8 fluorescent tubes and fittings to the T5 technology can save about 40% of the electricity used by T8 technology.
  • Office fluorescent lighting requires current regulating ballast systems and the widely used magnetic ballasts (which produce much heat byproduct) can now be replaced by electronic ballasts and achieve a saving of 12 to 15%.

Powering off devices
A bit of a no brainer, but with most office workers using PC's it makes sense to turn the darn things off while not being used. If you're a small office you'll need to do this manually, but corporates can install software that powers the PC down or put's it in hibernate mode.

Office urns, water coolers and equipment only used at certain times of day could be on a timer plug. Equipment like photostat machines or faxes should have their power saving settings enabled so that they also partially power down when not in use.

Better use of technology
Employ technology to help drive down your energy costs and bring about a greener office:

Technology like email, Virtual Private Networks, conference calls makes distributed home working a reality in some industries.
Software can be used to manage the powerring-down of desktop and server computers.
The availability of Multi-function devices (scan, copy, print, fax, make coffee - we wish) mean that one purchase will suffice where previously you had to own many different devices.
Video-conference and conference call technology can obviate the need for business travel and should be more widely used.

Other aspects to consider
Green Office Week this year chose to focus on Paper, Supplies, Energy and Technology, but there are other important focus areas to reducing your office ecological footprint.

Chief amongst these are that you cannot manage what you cannot measure and so to take greening your office the next step entails that you perform an eco-audit of your office. If you are a small organisation you could do this yourself for larger companies or corporates this necessitates using a professional environmental audit service and putting together an environmental action plan.

Water can be conserved in the office environment too through implementing low flush toilets, waterless urinals, harvesting rainwater for office gardens etc. For more ideas read our green your water guide

Management of office waste through recycling and composting is another issue to consider. Recycling collection companies can be contracted to collect your recyclables and an inhouse bokashi bin or worm farm could be used to capture carbon and improve the parking lot garden's soil. For more ideas read our green your recycling guide

The greening of office events and management of office biodiversity are also topics to consider for your green office. Don't wait until next year to give these other areas your attention!