Be Green at Work

Be Green at Work

You don’t have to be a tree hugger or corner-office visionary to devote yourself to greening your workplace.

Still, if you want to have maximum impact -- by minimizing the impact of your office’s operations on the environment, that is -- you’ve got to do more than just drop a few sheets of paper into the recycling bin every day. Here are five spheres of white-collar environmentalism to which you can pledge your efforts.

Color Your Cube Green

The greening of the workplace certainly doesn’t end with individuals’ efforts to reduce the environmental impact of their own office productivity, but it’s a good place to start.

So minimize printing, maximize recycling, turn off devices and task lights when you won’t be using them for a while, and see that your obsolete PCs and tech gadgets don’t get trashed. Spread the green wealth by educating your office manager about firms like Redeem, which recover and recycle cell phones and ink cartridges, donating some of the proceeds to charitable organizations. Finally, audit your own practices by reviewing an extensive list of green office tips.

Attention work-at-home professionals: You are not off the hook. Here are tips from the Alliance to Save Energy on greening your home office. You might even be able to go 100 percent digital, like Jennifer Goodwin, owner of, a virtual assistant firm. “I use no paper or ink," says Goodwin. "I don’t own a printer or fax.”

Put Green Building Issues on the Table

Urge your employer to be environmentally conscious from the get-go when planning a renovation, relocation or expansion of office space. Offices are energy hogs, and buildings overall account for 30 percent to 40 percent of global energy use, according to a report from the United Nations Environment Program.

Even when businesses are tenants rather than building owners, they can substantially reduce environmental impact by adopting standards such as the LEED Rating System for Commercial Interiors, which covers everything from materials reuse to low-emitting paints to controllability of lighting systems.

Maximize Telecommuting; Minimize Business Travel

The savings in transportation emissions -- not to mention fuel costs -- may be the best reason to work from home one or more days per week. Never stop building the case for creating or expanding a telecommuting program.

And for each proposed business trip, ask yourself and your organization if it’s really necessary. Consider the full range of alternatives, such as Web-based videoconferencing and reorganizing sales territories.

When you do travel for business, consider the specific environmental impacts of the trip. Travel by train (less emissions per passenger than air or auto) or try a green car rental agency like EV Rental Cars, which rents electric vehicles in California and Phoenix. For whatever business travel you cannot eliminate, urge your company to offset the associated carbon emissions by making payments to an organization like Carbon Fund.

Paint Every Corporate Department Green

When it comes to reducing workplace environmental impact, it shouldn’t just be between you, the office manager and the facilities department.

Market researchers and product development specialists can ask consumers what value environmental consciousness might add to your company's products. Sales and marketing can exploit your green practices and products to differentiate your brand. Public relations and community relations can trumpet all your green triumphs. Information technology can demonstrate how sophisticated, networked environmental controls can cut utilities costs. Finance can promote green investments that will produce a positive return.

“You can establish a green committee in your workplace to explore how to reduce energy use and provide options to management,” says Rozanne Weissman, a spokeswoman for Alliance to Save Energy in Washington, DC.

Even HR has reason to promote green business practices. “Being green is a great way to attract, retain and motivate employees,” says Ushma Pandya, a client-engagement manager at management consulting firm Katzenbach Partners, where she is a green evangelist.

Communicate to Educate

In countless ways, green workplace programs depend on the everyday actions of individual workers. But sadly, while 69 percent of workers know that their company has an environmental policy, only 32 percent even know what that policy is, according to a survey by staffing firm Adecco.

“Communications is probably the biggest way to help change people’s behavior,” Pandya says.

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