10 Easy Steps to Green Your Office

Headline grabbing environmental initiatives announced by multi-nationals may make those running a smaller business think being green will necessitate bold and expensive steps. However, being environmentally friendly is within everyone’s reach. In fact, these practical steps from Rob Fenn at the British Assessment Bureau can help even the smallest business save thousands!

Step #1 – Get a baseline

It’s difficult to improve without first understanding where you are coming from. Before you get started on the other steps below, establish baseline figures so you can then set some targets. This will certainly help raise awareness for the green measures you wish to implement.

How you decide to measure your baseline is up to you, but some figures from WRAP in the UK suggests that, in a year, a best-practice office produces less than 200kg in waste (per employee), has a recycling rate of 70%, uses no more than 3,500 sheets of paper or 6,500 litres of water (per employee).

Step #2 – Cut the paper addiction

How could we not start without arguably the best known step: reducing paper use. Yes, it’s an old one, but are you being as innovative as you could when it comes to paper?

To be more accurate, we’re talking about printing on paper. It’s something we’re apparently addicted to; despite talk of paperless offices, we’re actually using it more than ever. It’s estimated the average office worker prints up to 45 sheets per day. Whilst it would be great if all offices were paperless, the reality is this may not be possible, but here are some ideas which will dramatically reduce your paper usage and subsequent costs:

  • Reduce margins and font size to get more on each sheet
  • Print only the pages you need
  • Print double sided (or dedicate an in-house only printer to printing on used paper)
  • Share copies of print outs in meetings
  • Create a notepad out of scraps of used printers
  • Have a central filing system to avoid needless duplication

Step #3 – Blot out ink use

In the UK, 45m printer cartridges are thrown in to landfill each year. This number can be slashed by using refillable cartridges instead, which are cheaper whilst reducing your CO2 emissions.

Did you know that some printers actually mix colours to get black? You can save ink by looking at the settings of your printers; most have an eco or lower quality setting that suits in-house use. Also, choosing to print in grey rather than black will mean cartridges will last that bit longer.

One final tip is to watch out for naughty printers! Many will say they are low on ink, but there is still plenty of life left in the cartridges. Persevere until that ink cartridge really is empty!

Step #4 – Have a data Spring clean

If your business relies on sending out a lot of marketing materials, you could be wasting huge sums of money through printing and posting by sending them out to duplicate or incorrect entries on your database. This has the knock-on effect of wasting yet more paper and ink.

If this job is something you’re outsourcing, are you checking your printer is using recycled or environmentally certified paper? What about biodegradable inks?

Step #5 – Set up recycling bins

To make recycling as easy as possible, set up recycling bins for the different items that can be recycled in your area. By outnumbering them against standard bins, and putting them in more convenient places, this will encourage your colleagues to think more about what they can recycle.

Ensure your efforts aren’t wasted by keeping your cleaning staff updated on what you are doing, especially if they are the ones disposing of your waste.

Step #6 – Clean up in the kitchen

The kitchen holds as many opportunities as the rest of the office. Water bottles are one of the worst offenders, especially in conjunction with dreaded plastic cups, which are often thrown away after a single use. Instead, switch to a plumbed in water coolers for the office and get everyone to use their own cup! This’ll save unnecessary servicing and transportation costs.

When it comes to appliances, try not to make any purchasing decisions based solely on price. Also consider the energy efficiency of fridges, dishwashers etc. as they are not only better for the environment due to less energy used, but they’ll save you money in the long term.

Step #7 – Start a switch off campaign

Research has shown that it costs around £70 in energy bills to keep a computer running all year. Meanwhile, a PC monitor left on over night wastes enough energy to laser-print around 800 A4 pages! When you factor in printers and other peripheral devices across the whole office, the cost of not turning equipment off can be huge in monetary and CO2 terms.

Your switch off campaign could start with simple reminders to turn off all equipment at work, to encouraging colleagues to sacrifice pretty screen savers and switching off in their breaks too. You could design stickers and posters around equipment in order to reinforce the message.

Another guilty omission by many is leaving lights on, even when rooms are unoccupied for hours. Again, reminders to switch off lights when exiting the meeting room; it’s always cheaper to have them off, no matter how short the time period! Remember to keep the blinds open and windows clean; it’s surprising how often you can have the lights off.

Step #8 – Purge the packaging

A modern bugbear of many is that most products these days are over-packaged (not to mention difficult to get in to!). Yet, this is something often missed when considering ideas to become greener in the office.

Use your power as a buyer to discuss this topic with your suppliers; are packaging materials they use easily recyclable in your area? Could they cut down on packaging or combine orders?

Once you’ve had something delivered, keep a stockpile of the associated packaging so you can reuse it yourselves, especially if it can’t be recycled easily.

Step #9 – Turn down the heat

The ideal office temperate is something that can set off many an office argument! It’s worth noting that just a 1°C decrease in temperature reduces heating bills by as much as 10%, so it’s a much better idea to encourage colleagues to bring in a jumper rather than turning up that dial.

Less advanced offices may not have central controls, so keep an eye on particular rooms; if there are air conditioning units or radiators heating rooms with no one in them, turn them off!

Increasing the efficiency of your heating is inexpensive; you could install heat reflectors behind radiators and ensure they are unobstructed. Boilers are also much more efficient when look after, so check when it was last serviced.

If you have some budget to invest, installing timers could ensure the office is warmed up before everyone arrives, shutting down once up to temperature. A control could also limit use of air conditioning until a defined temperature is reached.

Step #10 – Lay off the credit card

Whilst the ideas above are reasonably well known ways of demonstrating green measures, your purchasing decisions can have much further reaching consequences both environmentally and from a social responsibility perspective.

The ultimate way of managing a resource is by not purchasing it in the first place. So before you grab the credit card for a shiny new printer, is it needed? Could it be repaired first, or could you share printers with another department? If you do need a new printer, have you considered its eco-credentials? Is it be shipped a long distance, and how much packaging will be involved? Did you use a supplier that is committed to being green too?

There are many questions there, and many opportunities too. If you were to commit to using less paper, you could argue fewer printers are needed. This would save the energy required to build and ship it, especially if you can share printers across departments. We also touch on the supplier themselves; image the greater impact you would have if you got all of your suppliers involved!

Now for the tough part…

Hopefully you’ll agree that these steps are relatively easy and straight-forward to implement. However, it can be more difficult in practice to communicate the message organisation-wide, even harder to keep the message going in the long-term.

It will certainly help to report on how far you’ve come against your baseline figures, which can give essential motivation to any colleagues left unconvinced.

Developing environmental awareness into engagement is undoubtedly the most challenging step, so for additional guidance, see the British Assessment Bureau’s dedicated ‘Developing environmental awareness’ article.

Good luck!

Have you turned your office green? Let us hear your ideas! Join the conversation on Twitter @Ways2GoGreen

Clay Miller
the authorClay Miller
I am the creator/writer of and I'm an advocate for oceans, beaches, state parks. I enjoy all things outdoors (e.g. running, golf, gardening, hiking, etc.) I am a graduate of the University of Kentucky (Go Wildcats!!). I'm also a huge fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I was born and raised in the beautiful state of Kentucky.

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