20+ tips for a Sustainable Office
Updated: Mar 28
Most of us spend a lot of time in an office, whether this is at home or on a location (or swapping between both), a large chunk of the day is spent in an office. But did you know that the office is quite a wasteful place? Paper waste is the biggest contributor to office waste. The average US office worker uses about 10.000 sheets of paper each year (approximately 40 sheets of paper each working day). Most of this paper ends up in the trashcan while about 45% of office paper ends up at the landfill. What is even more staggering is that the production and mainly disposal of waste bring high costs with it. This can sometimes be as high as 4% of a business turnover. So, it is about time to not only save some money and reduce our office waste production.
The biggest contributor to waste in an office is the amount of paper waste. This is luckily easily reduced.
Keep documents that don’t need to be printed digitally. Do you prefer to read on paper instead of a computer? Transfer the document to your e-reader and read from that and use a word/pages document to take notes while you are reading. This way your notes are immediately digital while you save paper by not printing the document.
I have to admit, sometimes printing something is unavoidable so how do we do this as eco-friendly as possible.
When you print on two sides of a piece of paper you can save half the amount of paper you are using.
Avoid using virgin paper when you need to print something but opt to go for recycled paper instead. Yes, this paper is a little less white (which is great as fewer chemicals are used!) but I am not bothered by it and neither will your coworkers. I think even your clients might appreciate it that they are working with a company that cares about the environment and chooses recycled paper to print on.
Did you know that most inks are petroleum-based? Printing ink consists of several components which are a mixture of ingredients including solvents, colorants (pigments or dyes), resins, varnishes, and additives including drying agents, waxes, and lubricants. Go for eco-friendly ink the next you are on the market for new ink. However, there are several options to choose from but no ink available today that is 100% free of non-renewable resources or chemicals but there is one type that comes pretty close. Algae Ink comes the closest as it comes with either a water-based or a soy-based carrier. As mentioned before, there are no inks out there at the moment that are 100% free from chemicals so even if you see a soy-based ink label, it does not necessarily mean that the carrier is 100% soy. But, in my opinion, it is best to choose an ink that has as few as possible non-renewable resources so choose an eco-friendly ink that is accessible to you in your sustainable office.
Another wasteful place in the office is the office kitchen. All the disposable cutlery used, wasted food that is forgotten in the communal fridge, and the incredible amount of coffee cups disposed of are all unnecessary waste.
Let's start at the start of the day and eat a decent breakfast. This will avoid impulse snack buys later during the morning because you are getting hungry. Make sure that there are a decent amount of carbs in there so you are filled and make sure that are some protein in there as well to maintain feeling full throughout the morning. I prefer to eat oatmeal in the morning that is topped with walnuts and pecans for some protein and I also add some raisins because I have a sweet tooth but I don’t want to use sugar. This keeps me going until about 10 am (I have breakfast at 6 am) and then I have a piece of fruit that keeps me going until lunch.
This brings us to lunchtime. Lots of large offices have a canteen where you can get your lunch but, is this the most eco-friendly/healthy lunch you could get? Probably not as most canteens have lots of deep-fried, very unhealthy snacks.
To make your lunch more eco-friendly (and healthy) you could prepare your lunch at home and take it with you. For most of us, it might be more convenient to make several so we save time and we are good to go for a few days. Salads work well for this as they are easy to bring but I often bring leftovers from the previous day with me for lunch.
Restock the office
Whenever there is a celebration there is often an overload on disposable plates and cutlery used. The office I worked at all had a dishwasher so the use of disposables could be completely avoided. If your office is similar, switch everything up with decent plates and cutlery so the next office celebration is a lot less wasteful. If a dishwasher is not an option see if you can switch the plastic disposables for paper or bamboo ones. These not only have an eco-friendly resource they also can be composted to avoid waste going to landfills.
While you are at it, also switch all the disposable cups for decent ones. They are much nicer to drink from and again avoid a lot of unnecessary plastic waste. Did you know that those very convenient insulated disposable coffee cups are made from unrecyclable styrofoam? It is better to avoid those and use a real mug when you are drinking coffee at your sustainable office.
Avoid the use of a single-serving coffee cup maker. Again, these individual cups are a lot of unnecessary waste. If changing to a more eco-friendly coffee-making method is not possible as changing the coffee maker can be difficult in some offices, see if changing it up to composable single-serving cups is an option.
If you haven’t gotten one by now, it is time to make the switch because the average person uses 156 plastic bottles per year. This is not necessary and easily avoidable by switching to a reusable one.
You could fill your bottle from the 5-gallon bottle in the communal kitchen but you could also check if it is possible to have a water filter installed. This way you avoid drinking water that is polluted with micro-plastics. Water that is packed in water usually remains there for a rather long time. This could be months but sometimes also a year. During this time, the water remains in contact with the plastic packages. Research has shown that more than 90% of samples tested from the world's most popular bottled water brands contained microplastics. On average, each liter bottle of water sold contained 325 pieces of microplastic. These include polypropylene, nylon, and polyethylene terephthalate.
So, installing a water filter might not be such a bad idea.
If there are no recycling options in your office yet, show some initiative and start recycling. Place recycling bins in the right places. Start small to not make any too drastic changes like the first start with recycling only paper. When recycling paper has become the new norm, you can add a new recycling bin like one for plastic. This way the change is slow and your coworkers might be more open to it. By making them more aware of the fact that recycling is an option and the benefits it has to our environment you have a greater chance of succeeding with your recycling.
Not only the office itself produces a lot of waste, but also the office kitchen produces a lot of waste. Not only by lots of used coffee grounds but also by food leftovers and by ditching single-use plastic.
Lots of this waste is organic waste meaning it could be composted and repurposed. Place a composting bin in your office kitchen to promote composting of organic waste. You might need to bring the bin home to make sure organic waste is indeed composted but if you are willing to make the adjustments you could reduce the amount of waste in your office kitchen considerably.
The biggest thorn in my eye when I was still working in a large office was the immense amount of orders that came in every day. Each member in our office was encouraged to order items they needed by themselves. This ranged from office supplies to lab equipment (I worked as a scientist in a lab). This improved the independence of each employee but it also increased the waste products of each team member. Because sometimes different people from the same team ordered at the same place. Lots of this waste could have been avoided if we would have placed orders as a whole team instead of individually. This not only would have saved us lots of cardboard waste, but it would also reduce the waste of the company we ordered from. No wonder the average office employee produces about 2 pounds of paper and cardboard waste.
Most offices use lots of supplies to get the work done but how sustainable are each of these supplies?
If you are like me and you would like to write things down every once in a while because that way you remember everything better, you need a notebook.
Recycled paper notebook
Lots of notebooks are made with virgin paper while recycled paper notebooks work just as well. These beauties are made from 100% post-consumer recycled paper that is recyclable at the end of its life. No need to feel guilty when using this notebook in your sustainable office.
Do you want to take it a step further? You will be wasting no more paper with this environmentally-friendly 32 page dotted grid reusable notebook. It can be used endlessly by wiping clean with a damp cloth and starting all over with the created blanc page.
Did you know that in the U.S. four million pens are thrown away every day? Opt to go for a reusable pen or pencils. Did you know that there are plantable pencils out there? Once you have used them up, you can plant them and grow your herb garden. Isn’t that awesome?!
Go for paper tape as an alternative to sellotape as this is again plastic that will end up in the trashcan soon. A stapleless stapler can be used to remove the need for staples in your soon-to-be sustainable office.
If your sustainable office hasn’t converted from a traditional energy supplier yet, switch to an energy supplier that uses renewable energy sources like solar and wind energy. Solar panels could make your office even more energy neural. Some smaller energy-saving changes you could also make are to change all your standard incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) or LED bulbs and always select the most energy-efficient electronics. Electronics should only be turned on only when needed. So turn everything off at the end of the day.
Most of the electronic devices in our sustainable office contain hazardous materials that need special care to be disposed of properly. So, please, never just put electronic waste into the trashcan. So what are the other options?
When a device is broken, first see if it is possible to repair it. If you can’t repair it yourself, take it to a specialist who can do it for you. This not only saves lots of possibly hazardous waste, but it could also save lots of money when you don’t have to buy a new device.
When an electronic device has reached the end of its lifecycle and repairing is no longer possible. Please recycle your device. Many companies offer to take back the devices that are broken so they can properly recycle them. Make use of these possibilities to create an even more sustainable office.
A green office
Add one or a few plants to your office. This is not only appealing to the eye, but plants also filter pollutants from the air. Plants not only emit oxygen, but they also emit water vapor which is a great natural way to cool your sustainable office. Yes, plants are natural air conditioners.
Most of us go to the office by car but don’t you have colleagues who live relatively close by? Why not comment together and save the gasoline of a car ride. Not only will you save money this way, but you will also help the planet.
You could also use public transport or use a bicycle if your office isn’t that far from a ride. I used to have a colleague that biked 22 miles (35km) to work every day… For me this is a bit too much but if you like to bike, why not?