5 simple ways to green up your office for Earth Day and beyond
Earth Day is on April 22, and it’s a critical annual reminder to do what we can to protect our environment and help preserve Mother Earth.
On this day, you’re likely to see captivating news stories featuring environmentally conscious projects and interviews with people volunteering to clean parks and plant trees. Many times, young people get in on the act as schools and youth groups make their contributions to Earth Day efforts. While they don’t get as much press coverage, there are countless small- to medium-sized businesses that are also making significant contributions to saving our planet every day, all year long. I would submit that the actions these businesses take are just as important as the one-day Earth Day efforts that shine in the media spotlight.
While Earth Day isn’t about scoring media coverage or praise, it is about taking a moment to step back and recognize the impact of our actions on precious planet Earth. I recently watched a 60 Minutes profile on the legendary Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an immense accumulation of plastic (mostly from littering and illegal dumping) floating in the sea between California and Hawaii. The effects of this human-caused blob on human and marine life are appalling!
So now the question is, how can we be kinder to the environment?
Recycling used to be a simple answer, but recent concerns question its long-term viability. For instance, China now limits imports on certain items — including plastics — for recycling purposes. Here in the U.S., domestic recycling is, quite frankly, more difficult and costly. While recycling has its place, it is no longer the catchall solution it was once chalked up to be.
The current barriers to recycling serve as red flags and urgently call us to become more cognizant than ever about the types of items we choose to purchase for work or home. Our responsibility for the effects it will have on Earth spans from the time we acquire an object until we dispose of it. I believe that small, consistent, and positive actions — adopted by the masses — will go a long way.
What can businesses do to make a difference to reduce waste and protect the planet? Below, I’ll share the steps we have taken at our office in the hope that it will encourage and inspire as well.
1. Reduce reliance on single-use plastics.
Look around your office to see what types of plastics you and your colleagues use. Are any of them single-use plastics (i.e., plastic water bottles, plastic utensils, plastic packaging) that you need only once and then toss in the trash or recycle bin? If you’ve answered yes, consider these suggestions for replacing these items with reusable alternatives:
- Purchase filtered water for your office (or fit a faucet with a filter) and encourage employees to use reusable cups and containers to fill up.
- When you need small portions of pre-dispensed water, look to environmentally friendlier products like boxed water packaged in recyclable, biodegradable containers (we are sourcing these for our office and now offer boxed water for sale to our customers).
- Encourage employees to forgo straws or use biodegradable versions instead of plastic ones.
- Just say “no” to all Styrofoam — it takes many years for this material to break down, causing strain on environmental resources.
And don’t stop here. Keep looking around your office for more ways you can start to eliminate use of plastic.
2. Switch your lighting.
Look to use LED light bulbs wherever you can — they’re more energy efficient, less toxic, and better for the environment than traditional bulbs like fluorescents and incandescents. LEDs are up to 80 percent more efficient, and a huge advantage of LED is that it converts a much larger percentage of energy into light than traditional bulbs. They also contain no toxic elements like fluorescents can, which are especially harmful when it’s time for disposal.
LEDs also have an excellent quality of light, so that fewer are often required to achieve the same level of brightness. If that weren’t enough, LED lights last up to six times longer than traditional lighting, so you don’t have to replace them as frequently.
3. Look at what you throw away.
Take notice of what you put in the trash. Can some of these items be recycled? Perhaps. I often find that more items are recyclable than most people realize. Case in point: the sturdy plastic straps that hold a carton of office paper together and keep the box closed are recyclable. Surprised? Don’t worry; many people don’t realize this.
Not sure what is recyclable and what isn’t? Here is a great resource with this information. Click on the different categories at the top of the page to get more detail or feel free to ask me. Part of my job — and personal mission — is to stay on top of recycling trends.
What about composting? About two-thirds of the waste in your office trash is likely commercially compostable, so check with your building or facilities manager about taking your compostable waste to a local composting facility.
4. Improve your office air quality.
This idea is simple — add plants to your office decor. Not only will you make your office more beautiful, but you will also improve air quality. From the fern to ficus, here are some of the top air-cleaning plants you can easily add to your office.
In addition, examine your office carpet for contaminants and the ducts for mold, insects, or rodents to determine if cleaning is needed, and consider a local HVAC company to clean and maintain your furnace each year.
5. Look for opportunities to carpool or rideshare during the work day — or even hoof it.
We are all automatically programmed to drive our vehicles every time we need to go somewhere, whether near or far, and regardless of whether we’re alone. To help reduce carbon emissions, check and coordinate opportunities to share a ride with your colleagues, whether to a meeting, lunch, or home and back. Many of us don’t think twice about driving solo to our destination without asking if anyone else is going to the same place and needs a ride. Better yet, if it’s a short trip, see if you can walk! The added benefit here is that you get some exercise, as well.
Here is my challenge to you and your officemates as we head into Earth Day 2019: Look at your office habits with a fresh set of eyes. Investigate changes you can collectively implement to reduce your carbon footprint in both the short and long term.
And remember, every step we take to help our planet — no matter how small — has staying power far beyond the glare of camera lights. Even if no one else knows the important steps you take, Mother Earth knows and she’ll be proud.
Rose Molz is president of EZ Office Products.
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