How to Create an Eco-Friendly Office (Complete Guide)

Kayla Naab
February 19, 2020

Reshaping your workplace into a completely eco-friendly office may seem like a daunting task. However, adopting more sustainable practices is not only the responsible move environmentally, but will allow your company to save thousands in wasted expenses, improve efficiency, and it’s easier to do than you might think.

As an Office Manager, you play a significant role in crafting and maintaining an eco-friendly workplace. Just as you would recycle, reduce dependency on single-use products, sign up for paperless billing, and properly dispose of hazardous materials in your own home, why not take that mentality to work? 

If it matters on a small scale, it should matter infinitely more in an office atmosphere. Workplaces are notoriously wasteful by nature. As productivity and collaboration are crucial in any office, employees may not have a second thought of whether or not they should print off that visual to show to a colleague, or quickly grab coffee for the whole team. All of these snap-fire decisions corroborate the hard truths: The average office worker creates 4.4 pounds of waste per day

Creating a more green and sustainable workplace doesn’t just stop with individual waste, however. Considering what’s best for the planet from a comprehensive stance requires us to look at the multitude of factors that impact our globe: deforestation, global warming, electricity use, limited resources, carbon emissions, landfill waste, and much more. Once we see what’s wrong, we can highlight our part of the corporate responsibility toward making things right. 

What Eco-Friendly Really Means:

While the implication of eco-friendly is obviously “what’s better for the planet,” it’s not always clear what IS better, and who should define that. The average person may feel like housing a recycling bin at their desk or refusing a paper receipt is enough of an effort to maintain a healthy environment. Starting is better than idling, but if your company wants to become truly eco-conscious, there’s much more work to be done. 

“Eco-friendly” and “conscious” actions include any choice that does no known harm to the environment or planet. The term “environmentally sustainable” takes that a step further, defined as any action or choice that is responsible for the degradation or depletion of our planet’s many resources. Here’s a comprehensive review of the various “green” terminology you might encounter in the wild. 

Everything is Earth-Related 

The impact that human lives have on the Earth and its resources are beyond our total comprehension. Scientists work ‘round the clock to analyze our inputs and outputs including ozone-damaging, Earth-warming carbon emissions, the sheer volume of our waste production, and the harrowing pace at which we deplete our own resources. The situation is dire, and worsening at an unprecedented rate.

Every vehicle that drives on every road, every non-biodegradable waste product we use, and every nonrenewable resource we use in place of a sustainable alternative adds up. While reusable straws are better than disposable ones and other micro-changes like those can really add up, the individual contribution to global rescue isn’t enough. At the corporate level, we must consider the impacts of plastics, the use of water and electricity, the way we source and produce the things we make and use, and how we can spread the word. 

Don’t underestimate the reach and influence your organization could have on behalf of this global movement. Don’t overlook the big and little ways that your organization could be affecting positive change. 

The Workplace Response to Conservation 

As an Office Manager, we know that adding another task to your already busy schedule can seem impossible. But, taking inventory of how your organization and ALL of its employees function on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis is a necessary first step to inform how you approach reforming your company’s practices.

*Bonus*: It’s nearly impossible to go through a sustainability audit without discovering one or more ways in which your company can cut excess costs and even make things run more smoothly. Learn more about the return of investment for sustainability or S-ROI.

Auditing Your Impact on the Environment

Just as you would analyze and balance your financial expenses, take stock of the carbon and material expenditure in your office. The core question to focus on is - what decisions are currently being made with convenience in mind, over sustainability and eco-consciousness? 

Don’t make any assumptions when it comes to quantity, or else you could defeat the purpose of trying to truly reduce your waste. Talk to employees directly and encourage transparency. Ask employees what resources they use, how they get to work, and what vendors (if any) they work with. Your company’s IT Resource Manager and Cleaning Crews are great places to start to gain the perspective you need to make informed decisions on workplace sustainability. 

After you meet with your team and look over the data, consider a reasonable goal to achieve your idea of an eco-friendly office. Use the quantitative and qualitative data gained in your interviews with team members to create a roadmap for reaching this goal. 

A deeper consideration you can make is how eco-friendly your business partners are. While this doesn’t directly fall under your company’s waste, you can further foster your global impact by actively choosing to work with manufacturers, logistics companies, and other affiliates who are equally eco-conscious as you are.

How to Go Green at the Office

Based on your assessment of how environmentally friendly and sustainable your business is, you should be able to start conceptualizing ways to improve your operations. From internal processes, products, and systems, to external partners and vendors, decide how comprehensive you want this reform to be. Map out a precise plan to effectively roll out changes so that your company and all affected employees are ready to honor your new company culture.

1. Recruit an Eco-Committee of Passionate Colleagues 

Consider the employees on your team that have the most impact in terms of decision making and proximity to waste. You may also want to recruit team members from various levels of your company’s org chart to ensure that all facets of your business operations are represented when eco-friendly decisions are being made. Recruiting team members could be as easy as a simple company-wide e-vite, or it could require some incentive. Eco-committees can meet as often as you see fit, but we recommend at least a monthly check-in to ensure any new practices that you start are being properly carried out, and any new innovations are being considered. 

2. Create a Protocol That Holds Employees and Leaders Accountable 

Based on your team and your company culture, consider the best system to encourage employees to choose more sustainable practices. This could be a rewards system, penalties for not following eco best practices, monthly challenges or a combination of all of these efforts. As long as you’re upfront, fair, and consistent, your team should welcome these responsible changes. Double down on this by helping employees understand what these micro-actions are helping to achieve and celebrating your team when they’ve made a difference. 

3. Provide Resources That Help Employees Live the Eco Culture

Don’t assume your team understands the impact of their workplace behaviors on the environment, or that they know what to do to improve. Connect with local and global resource providers to generate a simple list or a fun infographic that will help employees make better choices during (and outside of) working hours. Ideally, resources are housed internally and dispersed digitally to your team to help employees acclimate to your new eco-conscious culture and save paper straight away. 

4. Make Changes to Vendors, Suppliers, and Processes

While you may be limited by your location, or understandably resistant to changing lasting partnerships, it’s important to understand that your eco-footprint doesn’t just stop with your office. Consider working with partners who share your new ideals. Find out how responsible your current affiliates are. Inform them that you’re considering making a change to see what influence you have to change their business practices for the better. Perhaps you can link up and make sustainable changes together. 

5. Make Changes to In-Office Practices Including Resource Usage 

The average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of paper each year. By transitioning your office practices away from paper use and prioritizing digital visuals, payroll documents, HR documents, meeting notes, and more, you can cut down. Hang signs by the printer and copier and add a memo to all office email signatures encouraging others not to print emails or documents where it’s avoidable. 

Beyond paper, corporate offices use more electricity, water, and - depending on your industry - plenty of other resources. Be conscious about what you use, how you could use something more renewable or sustainable, or ways that you could cut down on usage and waste. Host a team brainstorm to get ideas for your unique business case. 

6. Improve Tech Usage and Disposal Practices

Energy conservation is an easily overlooked aspect of creating an eco-friendly office. Prioritizing energy-efficient appliances, HVAC systems, lighting and machines will not only reduce your company’s energy output, but it will also make monthly energy bills significantly more manageable. It’s also wise to consider sustainability at every stage of the asset lifecycle. When it comes time to dispose of computers, batteries, equipment, and anything else that can be toxic and harmful when trashed. This consumer report offers an overview of your technology disposal options. 

7. Infuse Sustainability into Your Culture

A culture of sustainability should develop naturally by implementing eco-friendly office changes, however, extra affirmation is never a bad thing. Make words like sustainability, green, and environmentally-friendly synonymous with your company culture to ensure that everyone from new recruits to the customers you serve know that your company is (genuinely) committed to eco-consciousness. Consider how the language you use, the values you purport, and the causes with which you affiliate put environmentalism first, even if that’s not their primary category. This is a problem we can all solve together. 

8. Prioritize the Planet While Making Business Decisions 

When you’re making decisions on behalf of your organization, keep environmental efforts top of mind. Choose vendors who center sustainability in their process, use sustainable alternatives to the equipment and products that power your workplace, and when executive decision-makers are at the helm, offer a gentle reminder that the cheapest or fastest option may not be the best long-term, for your budget or the globe. 

9. Partner with Eco-Friendly Brands and Affiliates

Similarly to changing vendors that don’t support eco-friendly business practices, you can also focus on working with eco-friendly brands and business affiliates moving forward. If your company is able, you should also partner with, sponsor, or donate to green initiatives, companies, and organizations. This isn’t just better for the planet, but it’s better for business, too. Customers and clients are keen to work with businesses that care about the same things they do and environmental sustainability is chief among them

10. Make Building and Facility Decisions with Conservation in Mind 

With your current office facilities, and especially any new buildings you may need as you grow, think of ways you can use reclaimed, recycled, or more biodegradable materials. Consider the design of your building with respect to airflow and natural lighting (both can save on HVAC expenses). Install solar panels or a custom wind turbine to curb energy costs and usage. Swap for low-flow toilets in your restrooms and smarter faucets, too. 

If your facilities are set in their ways, make smaller tweaks. Set your thermostat closer to the natural outdoor temperature at night to require less energy production when nobody’s present. Disconnect the lesser-used equipment in your building, where possible. Swap fluorescents for LED bulbs. 

More important than the sum of all of these tips, however, is that you make every concerted effort to put the planet first in all those little day-to-day decisions that this guide can’t anticipate. When something needs to be changed, installed, purchased, or moved, just think: how could this impact our natural resources or harm the environment? 

11. Offer Incentives to Employees Who Make Green Choices at Work and Home

From bringing in and maintaining a desk plant to finding greener ways to commute to work, there’s a lot that your employees can do to make your company more sustainable. Getting buy-in from your employees is a necessary part of creating a truly eco-conscious office. Whether you reward the top percentile or incentivize each green practice individually, find appropriate ways to reward your team for doing the right things. This could come in the form of a sustainability contest and prize, extra PTO, or the ability to work-from-home (conveniently reducing commuter emissions as well). 

Big Benefits for Conscious Companies 

In life, and especially in business, we’re often told that doing things responsibly will pay dividends. For businesses who choose to take a more committed approach to sustainability, dividends are an understatement. The Harvard Business Review provides a comprehensive look at the business side of things, offering a compelling case for going “green.” The review covers every major business benefit catalyzed by a conscious effort toward eco-friendly practice, including risk management, customer loyalty, employer branding, and yes -- big-time ROI.  

Did you know? 55% of global consumers would pay a higher price for services and products offered by companies that are socially and ecologically conscious. That’s not the only way your eco-friendly efforts will pay you back. You may earn a variety of tax credits just for making more sustainable business choices, and you’ll be building a more reputable, cause-based brand that will attract high-caliber talent, enthusiastic new customers, an increase in positive press, and more potential bites from eco-investors during your next funding round. 

Eco-Friendly Resources

Looking for more context and support for your new eco-friendly workplace journey? We’ve got you covered:

  • The Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency - A comprehensive database of state-based incentives for businesses looking to go green. Simply click the state, or states, that are relevant to your business and you’ll be taken to a list of valuable resources available to support the shift to greener practices.
  • Your peers - Here are five companies already mastering sustainability to look up to on your journey towards a greener workplace.
  • C-PACE Financing - Ideal financing for energy improvement initiatives. Available in 30 states. Retrofits afforded through C-PACE financing for the University Club of Milwaukee helped the building expend 30% less energy, totaling to $60,000 in annual savings.
  • Ray Anderson’s profound 2009 TED Talk: The Business Logic of Sustainability - In his talk, Ray discusses his journey to transitioning from an industrial executive who led to environmental waste to being called America’s greenest CEO in 1999. Ray’s company is leveraging technology and sustainable practices to achieve zero impact.

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