By: Kristen Mueller Santiago –
Organizational sustainability practices are becoming expectations rather than options as consumers and employees shift their focus to living greener lifestyles. In fact, a 2017 corporate social responsibility study conducted by Cone Communications reported that 71% of millennials “expect companies to continue improving their environmental and sustainability efforts.” They also hope that companies will pave the way for social and environmental change, rather than just peddle products.
Most people are happy to support a business that stands for something and will do what they can to contribute. Moreover, consumers themselves want to be part of social change; 87% use advocacy for social change as a determining factor for doing business with an organization. As a new Radius CoWork member, I’m thrilled to be a part of a model organization for sustainable business practices in Erie, Pennsylvania. Radius has started a conversation in this city and continues to champion social and environmental change through their ongoing improvements.
Armed with today’s sustainable products, energy-efficient improvements, and knowledge, all businesses have the opportunity to make small changes that have the potential to make a massive difference. Whether you’re looking to reduce your business’s carbon footprint or trying to find ways to cut office spending, “greening” your company will produce a far greater return than your initial investment.
Waste Not, Want Not
The first move your company should make is implementing a company-wide recycling program. According to research conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency, approximately 262 million tons of waste is produced every year, of which only 34.7% is recycled and composted.
Providing multiple recycling bins in high-traffic areas and educating staff on proper sorting and recycling limitations will foster a recycle-friendly culture in your office. If employees know what types of materials get the green light, and if their work culture fosters support for the program, they may be more inclined to participate.
You can even take your recycling program a step further by discouraging the use of disposables. If your workplace has a kitchen or common dining area, you should provide washable dishes and utensils for your employees. Eliminating the need for plastic bottles, drinking straws, disposable to-go cups, and styrofoam containers will cut back on the amount of garbage collected in the office, and subsequently reduce the amount of rubbish that ends up in our landfills.
Along with recycling bins spread around the office, Radius’s kitchen-café offers washable glassware, a variety of shared coffee and condiments, and a permanent purified drinking water filter. Giving the people in your organization sustainable alternatives will cut back on waste as well as promote a sense of community built around a common cause.
Ditch The Doggie Bag
Some restaurants are beginning to acknowledge policies like BYOC—or Bring Your Own Container. If your cohorts are frequently eating out at lunchtime, encourage them to pack their lunches, bring their own reusable containers to restaurants, and visit restaurants within walking distance to reduce the use of an emissions-heavy vehicle. According to research conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, walking instead of driving can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 80% per 1.5 miles traveled.
If your company provides breakfasts or lunches for business meetings, you can purchase from locally-sourced grocers, order from restaurants that purchase from local vendors, and choose establishments that use low-impact policies. One way to evaluate a restaurant’s environmental impact is to look for the Green Restaurant Association’s Green Restaurant® certification.
Sourcing food locally reduces the amount of transportation required for ordering and delivery, which we know clouds up our air with carbon emissions. Next time, pick up your food for office meetings and special events, and eliminate the need for unnecessary to-go containers for every individual. Members at Radius have done this by taking advantage of a prime office location—there are dozens of great restaurants, shops, and cafés all within walking distance.
If your staff is anything like the members of Radius, they’re probably powered by caffeine. Providing fair trade, organic, low-impact coffee and tea discourages the use of coffee-shop disposable cups and straws. It also encourages knowledge of the source and environmental impact of the brand you’ve chosen. Moreover, composting used coffee grounds is a great way to enrich plant soil. Radius purchases all of their coffee from a local roaster that is committed to organic and fair trade sourcing. Making small adjustments to old habits can go a long way.
Excessive paper use is a disease that has plagued the offices of the world. The paper industry is the primary cause for the destruction of the world’s forests, and according to research compiled by The Green Project, the paper industry is the fifth largest consumer of the world’s energy.
There are a few simple ways to reduce paper consumption and cut back on plastic ink cartridge usage, which include:
Signing up for paperless billing
Advertising online, rather than in print
Recycling ink and toner cartridges
Buying remanufactured ink and toner cartridges
Including a “green reminder” in your email signature to encourage recipients to only print necessary emails
Switching communications and subscriptions to digital (employee handbooks, memos, publications)
Printing on recycled paper
Printing on both sides of paper using wider margins and smaller font
Printing in draft mode to reduce ink usage
Removing your company from unneeded mail lists
If your company produces a product rather than a service, consider redesigning your packaging to reduce your paper and plastic usage. This will save money on materials and cut down on shipping costs as well.
When designing packaging, choose recycled and recyclable shipping supplies, and order products from companies who use these supplies minimally. As a next-step, update your out-of-date mailing list. It’ll prevent dead-end mailers from heading straight to the landfill.
Radius does a fantastic job of promoting a paperless workspace. As soon as a member joins the office, they are added to a digital, member-wide communication software. This has helped connect members to anyone within the organization, eliminated the need for some in-person meetings, and provided members with a space to collaborate, establish ride sharing possibilities, and socialize.
Reduce, Reuse, Upcycle
According to a publication by Environmental Leader, millions of metric tons of office furniture and equipment end up in landfills every year. To reduce the number of these large hunks of trash, consider recycling or upcycling your old or broken office furniture. For example, old doors make visually captivating desks, books and encyclopedias can be repurposed into tables or shelving, and some places have even used car parts and bowling alley lanes as countertops. Also, you can purchase used or second-hand office equipment, as well as donate your gently used models after replacing them.
At Radius, we have the benefit of sharing office space and furniture with every member in the organization. In fact, sustainability is at the core of the coworking model. Rather than purchasing, outfitting, and maintaining a building, Radius members share an office and all of its amenities. This is especially beneficial for businesses that do not require the use of an office every day of the week.
Furthermore, computers and electronic appliances are major landfill nuisances. When purchasing new appliances, upgrade to energy-star rated models that reduce the usual energy consumption of most electronic products. Additionally, consider buying recycled or refurbished electronics and appliances when possible, as well as recycling or donating your old ones.
Some office supply and electronics stores even offer computer recycling or buyback programs, such as Best Buy, Amazon, and Target. Further, if you live in Erie County, you can check out ErieCountyPA.gov to find out more about where to recycle your electronics.
When evaluating your business’s environmental impact, think about the amount of “disposable” office supplies that are tossed each year. Reusable and refillable pens are a great alternative to cheap plastic pens and may save money in the long run. Post-consumer waste (PCW) products are available replacements for printer paper, toilet paper, paper towels, and other kitchen and restroom trash. Moreover, stocking the janitorial closet with biodegradable cleaning products will reduce the amount of harsh chemicals that end up in our waters.
Energize Your Business
Energy consumption is an invisible yet significant threat to our planet’s environment. The U.S. EIA reports that the annual measure of carbon dioxide emissions from energy consumption in the United States has seen a steady decline in the past decade. Although it is good to see the positive effects of companies and individuals taking steps to help bring that number down, the number is still nearly 50% higher than it was 40 years ago. A few preventative measures you should consider for your business include:
Hosting your computer servers with green hosting
Using power strips to better control electric usage
Turning off/unplugging electronics when not in use
Disabling screensavers on computers
Taking the stairs instead of the elevator
Switching to alternative energy sources (solar, wind, hydropower)
In addition to the obvious cost benefits of greening up your company, you should look in to the tax credits that are available for certain energy efficiency upgrades, including the Business Energy Investment Tax Credit, the Solar Investment Tax Credit, and the “Green” Building Tax Deduction. If you own your building or are allowed to make updates as a renter, seal any cracks in the roof and windows to save on heating and cooling usages.
If anything, you should make the simple switch to LED light bulbs, rather than dull incandescent lighting. The initial investment in these bulbs may seem steep, as they typically cost more, but LED bulbs last 25 times longer than their antiquated counterparts. Plus, LED bulbs are cooler, use 75% less energy, and burn much brighter, according to The U.S. Department of Energy.
Companies should utilize natural lighting as much as possible, and make use of desk lamps instead of lighting an entire room. If you often forget to hit the switch at the end of the night, consider installing motion-sensor lights to do the job for you. At Radius, we enjoy the benefits of prevalent natural light in almost every room, as well as power strips and energy-saving monitors at each desk.
Re-Evaluate Your Commute
While modern vehicle emission standards are improving, The Union of Concerned Scientists reports that one half of Americans live in areas that don’t meet federal air quality standards. In fact, nearly 30,000 annual deaths are attributed to inhalation of poor quality air, of which is 50% caused by vehicle emissions.
To combat the impact our daily commutes have on our lungs, you should try public transportation, biking, and walking. Consider implementing a ride-sharing program, or offering incentives for participating in “no-drive-days”.
With telepresence capabilities, some positions may not even require an on-site desk. Remote working is easy with video conferencing, screen sharing, and cloud networks. If you need vehicles for your organization, upgrade to those with high emissions standards and green fuel alternatives.
New at Radius is a bike-sharing program, which will help reduce the amount of driving needed for those meetings that are just out of walking distance. This coworking space has two community bikes, available as necessary. Allowing members to use Radius bicycles will get members of the community thinking about their own vehicle usage, and perhaps will inspire other businesses to follow suit in this convenient and environmentally-friendly practice.
Use Manpower For Plant Power
As the old adage goes, actions speak louder than words. Talking about new programs and policies is great to begin the conversation, but dedicating employee time to make a physical difference can go a long way.
When planning different team-building activities, forego the office awkwardness and consider getting your hands dirty. Some great community improvement activities include cleaning up a local park or beach, picking up street-side garbage, planting trees and gardens, and volunteering with local conservation organizations. Landscaping projects around your business will improve curb appeal, and help contribute to your area’s overall value.
What’s more, placing plants inside and outside the office can have great positive impacts on the air quality in the area. Studies conducted through Texas A&M University show that plants help to improve mood, reduce stress, increase energy levels, and improve relationships.
Share Your Good Deeds
Change won’t happen overnight, and there’s no way to use every green practice that I mentioned. But if your business implements even just a few of the above recommendations, you’ll start to notice the innumerable improvements that stem from these minor changes.
Whether you’re a company of five or five hundred, there are plenty of ways to contribute to improving our collective quality of life and to sustain the longevity of Mother Earth. Green improvements show commitment and care to your employees, your community, and the future of humanity, and may inspire others to follow your example.
Finally, there’s nothing wrong with sharing your company’s positive actions or garnering some earned media for your good deeds. If you’re looking for a strategy to highlight your green initiatives, contact us at Ethos Copywriting for all of your digital marketing needs.