So, you’ve taken all your toxic cleaning products to the depot, switched all your lights to compact fluorescents and started to hang up your laundry instead of using the power-hungry dryer at home. But then, when you get to work, the bathroom sparkles with chemicals, the lights and computers have been left running all night and the only cups available in the cafeteria are made of Styrofoam.
No wonder many of us feel like a split personality between David Suzuki and a private Airbus-flying Saudi prince, the green version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
So, it’s time to turn our green eyes to the office.
Challenge: Make one green change at your workplace.
The Motivation: Most of us spend more time at work than we do at home. Shouldn’t our offices then reflect our environmental ideals? If you recycle at home, why wouldn’t you expect to do it at work, where you spend twice the waking hours?
Plus, when it comes to combating climate change, that’s where we can make more headway. In Toronto, more carbon emissions spew from industrial and commercial buildings than they do from residences, according to a recent report by the Toronto Atmospheric Fund.
Think about it this way: if you change all the light bulbs in your home from incandescents to compact fluorescents, you might save about 800 kilowatt hours — just under a month’s worth of your home’s electricity. But, if you get just one floor of a downtown office building to turn off its lights at night, that could mean 24,000 fewer kilowatt-hours of electricity — enough to power 20 homes for the entire year!
Plus, you might just then convince all the people who work there to start lighting down at home….
Process: Choose one thing you can realistically change. Make is something you are passionate about. Here, at The Star, a colleague got infuriated at all the paper being unnecessarily printed. So, he printed up the instructions on how to set the computer to double-print documents, and posted it above a popular printer. Now, more than a dozen reporters have changed their printing ways….
Some examples of campaigns you could launch (these are all things we are looking to implement at The Star, but Peter will write about that later):
- Reduce your workplace’s office paper use – by setting all your photocopiers and printers to print double-sided by default. If they are older models without that option, set up a system where used paper is stocked back in the machines for a second use. If you workplace uses virgin tree pulp paper, try to convert them to stock paper with at least 30 percent recycled content – saving not only trees, but energy and water. If you are worried about quality, note the U.S. government has printed exclusively on the stuff for almost 10 years. The Seattle city government uses only 100 per cent recycled paper and reduced their paper use by 21 per cent to pay for the difference. To see how many trees your workplace could save, check out The Paper Calculator.
- Computer down. When you leave at night, turn off your computer. And get your colleagues to do the same. Make it a policy. Just by doing that, you’ll cut every computer’s electricity use by a quarter.
- Light down. Do you work in one of those buildings where the lights glow 24 hours a day? If so, can you find out who controls the off switch and convince him/her to flip it at night? If not, can you convince him to change the lighting for a more energy-efficient kind? If you are lucky, and work in a place with an old-fashioned on-off switch, you could post a sticker above it reminding the last person out to flip it down.
- De-Styrofoam your workplace. More than 8 billion disposable cups are tossed in Canada every year. Make your office an exception. One easy solution is to head to Value Village and buy all your colleagues second-hand porcelain cups for 25 cents each. Or, you can do what Toronto Community Housing did, and have special corporate coffee mugs – with lids – made for all the employees.
- De-Auto the office. Three-quarters of Canadians drive alone to work. Set up a carpooling database for your colleagues, so they know who near them is driving to work. Or, could you reserve better parking for people who arrive with more than themselves in the car?
Most of these are easy things a company could do to make a difference. But, bureaucracy moves slowly. So be patient. Form a workplace green team to help you work on some basic goals. If get really serious, can bring in a corporate sustainability consultant to draft up plan for you.
Cost: Your time.
Savings: For the company, less electricity means less money – sometimes a lot less. It’s estimated the average bank tower could save $2 million a year by turning off the lights at night. The company will also gain improved employee morale, loyalty and a stronger public image, according to a recent report by the Society of Human Resource Managers.
For you, you’ll save your green conscience.
-- Catherine Porter