running a green office

growing green at Duport

Duport decided that as a responsible business it would take action to modify its consumption and vastly improve the company’s green credentials. It has been time consuming and at times frustrating - perhaps we were naïve when we started out - but it has been a positive experience and has changed attitudes in the office.

Over the last five months we have implemented many practical changes and more will follow as business processes change and new structures evolve. This green journey, which also involved calculating Duport’s carbon footprint and taking responsibility for offsetting it , is an ongoing challenge.

Director Lizzie Hick took charge of green changes in the office and immediately tackled recycling. Recycling is the easiest first step to take and it meant we could instantly reduce our landfill. At the same time we also cut back on paper use in the office, started to email more and axed unnecessary paperwork. But we quickly realised that proper structures needed to be put in place to reduce consumption effectively. The process of the business would have to be changed and this would be a long term goal.

Lizzie researched recycling on the internet, starting with local authorities. After all, if anyone could help guide us and point us to good local companies the council would know about them. Not so. They would not give out the names of any local businesses for fear of bias or preferential treatment. It did put us in touch with council subcontractors but they only dealt with large companies that have masses to recycle. Not only that, but they were far too expensive. For recycling to work it would have to be cost effective.

Lizzie spent endless hours on Google searching for local, affordable companies. Seven local companies were finally contacted, but none were suitable. Basically, Duport was too small for firms to be interested. Most stipulated a minimum of 10 sacks of recyclable waste to be collected on a strict weekly basis. Even if we had that amount of waste where would we store it and wouldn’t it constitute a fire risk? Costs were prohibitive. Duport has 15 staff, including two part timers, and does not produce nearly enough recycling for a weekly collection. One collection a month was what we had in mind.

Duport contacted the management company for permission for an external paper storage collection. Verbal permission was granted for two lockable bins, which could be sited in a specific place. All we had to do was find a suitable, local company.

Lizzie eventually found the perfect company but not because of her diligence on the internet. She saw a recycling van in the High Street, spoke to the driver, thought it sounded promising and did some further checking. Importantly, the company was local and flexible pick up was not a problem. It was a family business and a member of the Independent Waste Paper Processing Association and could comply with our wishes.

Duport could rent two lockable, 450 litre wheelie bins, which would be emptied on demand. Once the bins were full we could ring up and the waste would be taken within a couple of days. Perfect.

After a helpful chat on the phone, Lizzie arranged a site visit to check that confidential shredded material was securely dealt with. Once satisfied, she went a step further, found out which mill the paper was sent to and checked that it is genuinely recycled.

Duport also bought recycle boxes from the company (to place near desks) which the cleaner now empties twice weekly into the outdoor wheelie bins. When the bins are full collection is just a phone call away. A separate confidential service is also available. Duport does not have to sort the paper waste into categories and it does not matter if the odd staple or paper clip strays into the box. This is important for us. Staff simply do not have time to sort paper waste and there isn’t space to store extra containers. The simple new system was outlined to everyone in the staff meetings and backed up by emails. So far it has been very successful.

“I am very satisfied with the recycling company and the service we get. It was worth waiting for. I only wish they had advertised themselves more”, says Lizzie.

Despite sharing a building with several other companies, Duport did not talk to the other businesses about joining in and sharing the costs. We felt it was too complicated to work out a fair system. But now we have a simple system in place others in the building could use the same recycling company and set up their own systems. We plan to pass on the knowledge we have gained.

Lizzie continues to takes home all cardboard, tins and plastic bottles for recycling. She has always done this because she is passionate about recycling. It is also cheaper than any other method. She tries not to nag if we occasionally get it wrong, but in reality the secret of the system’s success is its simplicity. Although it took about a month to get the system up and running we now have a recycling system we can be proud of.

Lizzie turned her attention to energy consumption in the office. Duport shares gas for heating and hot water with the rest of the building and is not in a position to dictate changes to the gas supply. But we have our own electricity supplier so decided to convert to an energy company that invests in renewables. Again, finding out the details was time consuming. There is plenty of information out there, but when you want specific answers to questions it is far more difficult. Lizzie eventually chose Ecotricity, but it is frustrating because we are tied our current contract until June 2007. Ecotricity, which has been around since 1996, invests its money in clean forms of power like wind energy and actually builds new renewable energy sources. This year it invested £7 million in wind energy and is recommended by the Soil Association and WWF.

In the meantime free Carbon Trust stickers have been slapped everywhere to remind everyone to turn off lights, shut down computers and close doors. The Carbon Trust website is a very useful tool for small businesses. There is lots of free help and information, and we made good use of it.

As a company, Duport is now much more aware of its responsibility to reduce energy. Computers are turned off appropriately and the photocopier is not allowed to linger on standby. And, because it takes a while to warm up, the photocopier is about to be put on a timer, so it turns on automatically thirty minutes before staff arrive and after they leave.

We all try to remember to close the doors, but it doesn’t always work. Part of the problem is that two doors do not close properly without a good slam, and it is easy to forget despite the visible reminders. Devices are now being fitted to automatically close doors: “I don’t want to nag staff, I just want to make it as easy as possible”, says Lizzie. Another problem is that we share communal areas which we do not have control over.

Lighting is another issue to be tackled. Initially it caused a dilemma in the office - it would be more energy efficient to replace the fluorescent lights immediately, but then we would be creating more waste for landfill. We had the same issue with kitchen equipment. Duport agreed a company policy which is to use what we already have and replace when necessary with suitable alternatives.

Lizzie has bought an energy power saver. The EPS Power Saver, which costs around £70, actively monitors and improves the power factor of appliances and claims to save 10 to 20% of the electricity bill. It also claims to optimise the voltage and current demands to reduce the active power/kWh demands. It plugs into any socket and is small 126 x 138 x 80 mm (5 x 5.5 x 3 inches) and weighs 500gms. We don’t even notice it.

There is also a new office battery charger which recharges AAA and AA whether they are rechargeable or not. A normal battery can be recharged up to 100 times, but it does depend on the quality of the battery used to start with. Staff with battery operated mice use it the most. Lizzie found it on the Doctor Energy site, which she likes.

In a bid to switch to recycled paper for letterheads and office paper, Duport contacted the National Association of Paper Merchants (NAPM) which has proved very helpful. To gain the NAPM approval mark for recycled paper it must be manufactured from a minimum of 75% genuine paper and board waste fibre, no part of which should contain mill produced waste. Lizzie simply chose an appropriate paper from the NAPM approved list and contacted our current supplier. Surprisingly we managed to get the same quality paper at the same price. Duport now uses Greencoat Offset, from Greencoat. Our paper is uncoated, 100% recycled and bio-degradable. It is produced using Totally Chlorine Free (TCF) bleaching.

“We were pleased to stay with our local supplier, with whom we have a good relationship and also get the recycled NAPM branded paper at the same price”, says Lizzie.

Likewise we are very happy with our stationery supplier which offers a bespoke service. Fortunately it is about to supply and stock the full range of 100% recycled envelopes and other products which Duport uses. The plan is to use up existing stock by April and then transfer to 100% recycled envelopes and other stationery. Ink cartridges/toners have always gone back to suppliers for recycling, but we are now looking into using more environmentally friendly cartridges.

When we first mooted Duport’s responsibility to become a green company, Lizzie decided to treat everyone to fruit smoothies instead of chocolate cakes for our weekly staff meetings. Not only would we be green but we would also be healthy. It was a nice idea, albeit expensive, and gave business to a new local company, but in the end staff gluttony won the day and everyone voted to return to the chocolate fix! Going green is one thing but depriving staff of chocolate is perhaps a step too far! We will no doubt have more success when we switch to eco friendly cleaning materials.

Duport also produced green office policies. We looked at best practice and now, in the staff handbook, we display our environmental policy and green purchasing policy. We are doing what we can. As we create policy documents we also put them on our website for other businesses to freely adapt and download.

Clearing out the office clutter has also had a positive effect. Staff have appreciated the cd cases, speakers, mouse mats, keys and endless other paraphernalia. Computer manuals and other unwanted items went to charity shops. There is more space, the office looks better and a staff budget has been implemented for posters (frames provided) which employees can eventually take home.

Perhaps the biggest change will happen in the next six month when Duport re-brands. Duport is going through an evolutionary process and the whole company and its systems will change. It will give us the opportunity to search out the best environmental printers to reprint our brochures, to redesign our business making far more effective use of pdfs and to cut down and save on post and packaging. 2006 was the first year we sent electronic Christmas cards to customers - we used the Envirowise website for ideas but designed and personalised our own Duport cards. It was a success and made us realise we could do far more electronically.

Duport will continue to reduce, reuse and recycle. We will use less paper, less energy and use more environmentally aware processes and consumables. We now know that the Duport office (including all staff travel to work) released 26,500 kg of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in 2006. Next year this carbon footprint will be lower and in the meantime we are looking into the best ways to offset this carbon. Initially we thought about tree planting but current thinking is to offset using a variety of carbon offsetting companies (choosing some from the government approved list and some smaller companies we like the look of). Duport is still researching this, and like the rest of this green process it is not easy to arrive at answers that will make a difference. But when we have chosen which companies we like best we will let our customers know.

No doubt we have made mistakes and still have lessons to learn, but at least we are taking responsibility and have started our green journey. We will regularly update our customers on the progress we have made. And we hope that our experiences will help our business customers. We have not lost sight of the fact that people are in business to make money. If change is time consuming or expensive it won’t happen. That is why Duport has put together a large section of informative articles with free downloads and links to the best websites. We hope this will save time and money and to help small businesses start turning green.

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