running a green office

how to establish an environmental policy

Companies often start a green quest by buying recycled paper and having a vague plan to recycle. Someone in the office is nominated to “make it happen” and everyone else carries on as before. The job can be overwhelming and initial enthusiasm soon peters out. In actual fact while any environmental efforts are laudable and it is best to start small and think big, one of the easiest ways to commit to a green office is to establish an environmental policy and take plenty of time to get it right.

In fact research has shown that employees would do more at work (and therefore save businesses money) if there was a clear environmental policy in place. A survey by Envirowise found that one third of office workers took no action whatsoever to reduce the resources they use during the working day. The survey of 1,800 office workers found that even people committed to cutting waste at home lapsed into bad habits at work. This seems to be a symptom of our pressurised workplace where there is often too little time or encouragement for people to make the effort. Survey respondents agreed that clearer environmental policies and greater access to eco-friendly options such as recycling would help them do more at work.

Duport has done the legwork to make the whole process of producing an environmental policy a lot simpler. It takes some time and effort, but there is a checklist of the main steps to take – do not expect your company to be perfect - and information on exactly where to go for help at each stage. Because we are also a small company with a green commitment we know it is not easy to find all the information in one place (hopefully you can learn from our mistakes and the process will be smooth). You should be able to find all you need on the Duport site. As well as checklists and unbiased links to the best websites for further reading, there are also sample policies, emails and memos for your use. The aim is to take the hassle out of greening your company.

The ideal way to get your company green is to have five distinct steps. Commitment, co-ordination, action, auditing, monitoring are vital. Follow these steps and you will establish an environmental policy that is clear, well planned and will actually save money. The policy should be explained to staff, customers and suppliers.

commitment
For the policy to work commitment needs to start at the top. Senior management need to authorise and apply an environmental policy and put in time, enthusiasm, support and resources. Start by writing a short Environmental Policy for your company so you have a checklist to adhere to. Friends of the Earth Scotland claims that an Environmental Policy should state the following:

  • minimise the use of natural resources and lessen the impact on the environment
  • meet or exceed all applicable regulations to the environment at all locations
  • purchase non-polluting and energy efficient technologies wherever possible
  • set its own standards and targets if there are no relevant Government regulations
  • establish an action plan with a regular review of progress
  • measure progress against set targets for resource efficiency and pollution reduction
  • assist suppliers and customers to promote greener products and services
  • report fully the environmental performance of the organisation to stakeholders and communities in a clear and concise annual report

Once the policy is written it should be accepted by the executive, trustees, board members, senior management etc. This document will be your public policy on the environment, and you can now move onto the next two steps which are coordinating responsibilities and taking action.

coordinating responsibilities
If your company is small, appoint a coordinator to take special responsibility for implementing a green commitment. Ideally this should be someone with the authority and resources to see the job through from start to finish. It will save a lot of time if the coordinator can take executive decisions such as what new paper to buy, what recycling system to implement etc. However, regardless of who does the job, do not underestimate the time needed to do it properly.

Larger organisations might appoint a committee to take special responsibility for the company’s environmental policy. This committee should contain staff representatives, the building manager, purchasing officer and senior management, and the coordinator should have access to heads of departments.

Staff support is crucial to your success (as in everything). Going green should be a positive, team-building experience for the office, but without adequate planning, time or resources, can easily cause resentment. Keep staff on board with regular briefings, and implement bright ideas they may propose.

action plan
This falls into two sections. Firstly you need to do a simple “environmental audit” and secondly you need to draft it. Duport has a sample draft copy for you to download.

Walk around the office and check what equipment is left on for long periods of time. Resolve to purchase future equipment with good energy ratings. It the office too hot? Setting the temperature at under 20ºC will save money and make people feel more comfortable. Are lights left on and empty rooms heated unnecessarily? It costs three times more to generate a watt of power than to save it, so using less energy makes economic sense.

Save 20% of your energy bill with a few simple steps. Businesses pay dearly for energy so it makes economic sense to save it. Energy has considerable environmental costs and the burning of fossil fuels is having unpredictable effects on the atmosphere and climate, so there are plenty of reasons to cut back. The 1990s was the warmest decade on record and according t o the Carbon Trust, an independent company funded by the government, 80% of global warming is caused by carbon dioxide, a gas produced primarily by burning fossil fuels.

Check what is in the waste in the bin. Often it is high quality paper printed on one side that could be reused or recycled. According to Friends of the Earth 70% of office waste is paper and it is largely high grade white paper, the most sought after type for recycling, yet only 15% is actually recycled. If we can recycle recycled paper in the office it will make an impact. Using whiteboards rather than flip pad, mugs and glasses instead of vending cups, saving documents electronically rather than in hard copy and avoiding printing emails are easy steps to take. Other simple measures such as setting photocopiers and printers to automatically print double sided and using scrap paper as notepads can literally halve paper consumption and associated purchasing and disposal costs.

Look at the disposable products used in the office. These may be inexpensive and disposable but in reality it would be better to buy quality durable and reusable products which can reduce your purchasing costs. Could you use refillable pens and long life markers? What happens to the laser and inkjet cartridges when they are empty?

Solvents in office products and furniture can cause irritations to your staff and help produce a sick building syndrome. Be aware of polluting chemicals in the office and make a mental note to swoop to healthier alternatives. For instance you can use polypropylene plastics in preference to PVC, buy vegetable based glues, and Ttrichloreathane free correctors and bio-degradable cleaning products. Plants in the office can neutralise formaldahide in furniture. A poor office environment can contribute massively to staff absenteeism. Obviously you won’t change everything overnight, but being aware is half the battle. Enquire about current purchasing policies. Where does the office get its supplies? Are there green suppliers you could use for the same or less costs? Do you make the most of local firm companies?

As you observe your office, talk to staff about their ideas on greening the office. Saving energy and reducing waste are the two obvious areas to target to employees may come up with innovative suggestions.

Find out how many staff walk to work or drive. Would staff cycle if there was a safe place to store bikes, or consider car sharing for example? What about company cars? How many business miles are done and with what fuel? Are the company cars gas guzzlers? Armed with this information you can find out your company’s carbon footprint. Again you won’t be making instant changes but it is important to be aware what you could be doing better and plan ahead.

Look at each aspect of the office and consider the effect on the environment. You may be surprised to find you can make low cost improvements and save money. Consider using an outside company to conduct an environmental audit for you. They will look at all aspects of your company from raw materials used, products energy, waste, transport and the general work environment. Some audits are free especially the ones done online. Contact Envirowise to see if you qualify for a free visit and audit or check out the Friends of the Earth Scotland free online audit, which takes around 10 minutes to complete. Whichever method you choose, it will help focus your ideas for the next step.

Once you have completed the audit and chatted to staff you can draft an action plan. Keep it simple, specific and most of all realistic. Don’t set the company up to fail. Revisions and updates can come later when you have achieved your early objectives. Use the Duport sample environmental policy and adapt to your company needs. This should save you a lot of time.

The plan should say what you are going to do and how you are going to achieve your goals. Set a timescale, but do not be too ambitious as this is a long term project and each step may take longer than you think to implement. The plan may include initiatives such as using recycled paper, collecting and recycling office paper, avoiding using disposable products, reducing energy consumption , operating an office car sharing scheme or financial incentives for staff to use alternative transport methods.

monitoring and communication
Once the plan is in place there is more to do. The coordinator or committee need to keep staff informed and listen to feedback. Some things may not work while others can have a huge positive impact on work habits. More ideas may flow and the action plan may be amended or added to.

How much paper has been recycled, how much has the purchasing paper bill decreased how much less electricity is being used. Use emails and notice boards to keep employees up to date and reward staff for there efforts where possible (in a green environmentally friendly way of course).

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