Let me share with you something I’ve learned over the years:
Most people want to do the right thing with their businesses.
They want their business to be green. They want it to be sustainable. They want it to align with their values.
The challenge is that they’re just not sure how to do that. In many cases, they’ve made a few changes and then they get stuck.
The list of tips below is designed to jump-start your sustainability efforts. There are many green initiatives that you can start in the workplace that will make a difference!
- This is where it all starts. Make sure that your company’s mission statement reflects your values. For example, a good mission statement can include commitments to practicing social and/or environmental responsibility and stewardship, to creating a specific positive social impact, to creating a specific positive environmental impact, or to serving a target beneficiary group in need.
- Establish a green team for your company. A green team will give employees an opportunity to contribute to the development and implementation of your sustainability initiatives.
- Provide training for your employees on sustainability. A simple way to implement this is to hold “lunch and learns” where you either bring in a speaker, share a video, or facilitate a discussion on a topic related to sustainability. Use this curated list of sustainability videos to get you started.
- Consider allocating a small training budget for employees to attend conferences, seminars or online trainings and then have them share with co-workers what they learned.
- Work with Human Resources to include sustainability in your onboarding materials for new hires. New employees should learn about your company’s commitment to sustainability, existing sustainability policies and practices, and how to get involved with your green team.
- Create opportunities for employees to understand the broader impacts of their work, align their work with their personal values, and celebrate success. These are some of the employee engagement strategies recommended by the experts.
- Help all employees understand that the company values sustainability by including it in job descriptions, onboarding materials, training programs, and performance reviews.
- Replace all T12 fluorescent lights with energy efficient lights such as T8s or LEDs. Those overhead fluorescent lights in your office may or may not be energy efficient, depending up what type they are. Be sure to upgrade to T8s or LEDs to save both energy and money.
- Upgrade all your light bulbs to LEDs. Saving energy will also save you money, and LEDs will save you quite a bit compared to CFLs (and incandescents, if you still have those!).
- Install occupancy sensors to automatically turn lights off and on in areas where lights do not need to remain on all the time. Areas well-suited for sensors may include conference rooms, restrooms, the mail room, and storage areas, as well as individual offices.
- Use smart power strips that will turn off peripheral equipment when the primary device is turned off. For example, when you shut down the computer connected to a smart power strip, the connected monitor and printer will be turned off, too, helping you to save energy without having to rely on employees having to remember to turn everything off.
- Enable sleep mode and power saver features on computers and other equipment. This will reduce the power consumption when these items are not in use.
- Take advantage of natural lighting. It doesn’t make sense to have lights on when the sun is shining, but many offices do this. Consider rearranging desks and workspaces as necessary to allow for better lighting.
- Shift as many of your business purchases as possible to support local vendors. Whether it’s your office purchases, your business cards, or the caterer that you use for business lunches, supporting local vendors is an important way to keep money circulating within the local economy.
- Set up an environmentally preferable purchasing policy for your business. Having clear guidelines in place that outline what you can purchase and what you can’t will ensure that your purchases are aligned with your business values, even if you have turnover in purchasing staff.
- Double-check your copy paper to make sure that it has recycled content, or better yet, that it has post-consumer waste. Some paper companies market their paper as recyclable (of course it is!), which misleads customers into thinking that they’re purchasing recycled paper when they’re not.
- Develop a supplier policy to screen your suppliers for positive social and environmental impacts. For example, look for certifications such as B Corp, Green Business, or Fair Trade certifications for the businesses and products that you work with and choose those over their non-certified counterparts
- Replace older toilets with low-flow toilets. Water scarcity is one of the biggest challenges in global sustainability, and toilets are generally the biggest source of water consumption in a typical office environment.
- Install low flow faucet aerators on your bathroom and kitchen sinks to save reduce your water usage. Aerators will control the flow of water coming out of the faucet, and you an easily attach aerators that will reduce your flow to 0.5 GPM (gallons per minute) in the bathroom and 1.5 GPM in the kitchen.
- Replace all disposable products in the staff kitchen, including plates, cups, and utensils, and use reusable items instead. If you need to make the business case to management to get approval for this, look at how much you spend each year on disposables and compare that to how much it will cost to purchase a set of plates, glasses, and utensils. The change will usually pay for itself in a short period of time.
- Replace paper towels with hand towels in the company restrooms. This is actually one of the more creative approaches to eliminating paper waste that I’ve been seeing more and more. Employees can each have a peg with their own towel, and a basket with towels can be provided for guests. At the end of the week, all of the towels are washed and clean towels put out the following week.
- Set up proper signage for each waste, recycling, and compost receptacle and staple samples of items to show which bin it should go into. The added visual element will help people to sort things properly.
- Check out Recycle Where? to find out if and where you can recycle items that aren’t already picked up by your waste hauler. It’s a one-stop-shop for finding where you can recycle anything from plastic film to styrofoam peanuts.
- Set printers to print on both sides of paper as a default. You’ll automatically cut your paper costs by 50%, so you’ll save money as well as resources (and, when necessary, people can always switch to single-sided printing for jobs that require it).
- Right-sizing your waste bins can help reduce costs by ensuring that you’re not paying too much for your bins. To right-size your bins, check each of your bins to see if they are a correct size for your waste levels and look for items that are incorrectly sorted, such as recyclables in the garbage. If your bins are half empty or have the wrong items in each bin, contact your hauler to adjust the sizes.
Reducing Your Carbon Footprint
- Calculate the carbon footprint for your business. There are many ways to do this, and the process can get quite involved. However, a good way to at least get started is to use the Cool California Small Business Calculator.
- Set up a bike rack for employees and customers. As a bonus, have a couple of community bikes that can be used by employees at lunch time and invest in a couple of extra bike locks that people can use if they forget theirs.
- Look for tools and resources to help your employees reduce emissions and save money by carpooling and using public transit. If you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, check out the Spare the Air Employer Program.
- Implement a community service policy for your employees. Volunteer programs have been shown to increase employee engagement, and they’re also a great way to give back to the community.
- Establish a charitable giving policy for your company. Consider partnering with a nonprofit organization that you can support regularly or allowing employees to select which organizations they want to support.
Measurement & Tracking
- Set a baseline for your water, energy, and waste usage. These are three areas where your business probably has a significant environmental impact. As the saying goes, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” so establishing a baseline usage will help you track the effectiveness of your sustainability initiatives.
- Set specific goals for your sustainability initiatives. Setting baselines and tracking metrics will allow you to see the effectiveness of your efforts and also help make the business case to management.
- Take the B Corp Quick Impact Assessment to quickly and easily benchmark your company’s sustainability performance.
- Get certified as a Green Business. If you’re in California, this is a great option for you to use an existing framework to green your business.
- Get certified as a B Corporation. B Corps are a growing international movement committed to harnessing the power of business for good.
Share this list with your green team.
Check off the items that you’re already doing, then mark the sustainability initiatives that would be 1) easiest and 2) most impactful for your business if you were to implement them. Review the ones that you’ve marked, prioritize them in the order in which you would like to complete them, and get started.
The benefit of identifying both the easiest and most impactful ones is that you’ll be able to both get some quick wins and have a significant impact.