Celebrating Earth Day, the Workplace Way
There’s something I feel I should get off my chest: I am a self-proclaimed Earth conscious person, yet I tend to fall short each year on Earth Day. Blame it on Tax Day, or being excited about the weather warming up, but regardless I usually don’t realize until the week of that Earth Day is here. It’s a day that celebrates the birth of the modern American environmental movement and pays homage to the pioneers who had holistic and sustainable visions for our planet before this, and somehow I always seem to miss it.
This year I’ve challenged myself to extend an Earth Day celebration beyond my home life and into the workplace, and I encourage you to do the same. Greening your business can have lasting impacts on many environmental challenges we are faced with today. You don’t have be a business owner to be the catalyst for change in the office; there are many ways to lessen the business footprint on the environment at all levels of leadership. Many businesses worry that making green decisions may cost them money, but running a cleaner, more efficient business is a cost saving measure that can have immediate effect.
Below I’ve laid out a few examples of how a typical office can attain goals of sustainability. No need to limit yourselves to these recommendations though, there exists a wide variety of tips out there tailored to specific industry – these just happen to be an excellent place to start.
As the California drought looms, it is time to get serious about the water used in offices. Whether you are a small business with one bathroom and few employees or a large company, a full assessment of your water system use can be an important tool to realizing where water is consumed and wasted. Start by evaluating the last two years of your companies’ water bill and consider the reasons behind peak times. Times of year that you find to be water-intensive can be mitigated by repairing leaks, implementing smart landscaping and irrigation, updating old products with those labeled WaterSense and handling any waste products or hazardous materials in a dry and safe manner.
Travel and Transportation
Travel is one of the most energy-intensive business components on Earth. Greening your business’ travel operation can save energy and money. Many companies rely on face-to-face meetings, but with today’s advancing technology video conference calls are almost as good as meeting in person and can save travel time and energy. Many companies have started empowering employees to apply energy savings to their commute - encouraging and rewarding carpooling, walking or biking to work, taking public transit, and allowing employees to work from home. Businesses that rely on shipping or delivery routinely can increase efficiency by eliminating truck idling, reducing packaging size and weight for lighter, smaller loads, and applying the SmartWay program to improve supply chain efficiency.
Consider the variety of computers and equipment found around the office and take a full inventory of what is in use, what is extra, and what is or could useful but is not utilized within the organization. Be sure to consider repairing or updating old and used equipment before replacing it. If something must be replaced, research donation options for old equipment. Always recycle old electronics if donating is not an option - in California it has been banned to put CRT monitors and televisions in landfills. For equipment that needs to be replaced, always choose the most energy efficient option such as a laptop over a desktop, which conserves 80% more energy. Always turn off equipment when not in use and power down any power strips.
Lighting accounts for 30% of a typical office’s energy use. That is a huge opportunity to reduce energy consumption. Switching out-of-date lightbulbs to newer options can have a dramatic impact. But don’t take my word for it, contact SBC’s Sierra Nevada Energy Watch (SNEW) team who can provide free energy audits and retrofit lightbulbs for regional Sierra businesses.
The reality is this list just scratches the surface of opportunities for a greener work environment. Look around at your work situation and see where easy and small improvements can be made to start the effort. You’ll find that going green in the workplace can be both financially and ethically rewarding, it can be a catalyst for creativity and foster a stronger community by leading by example, collaborating with partners, and uniting employees to work together – I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Earth Day!