Save the earth and save $$
June 14, 2012 8:35 AM   Subscribe

My employer is NOT green, Help!

I'd like to suggest to my employer that they put into effect some, simple, environmentally friendly practices, but when it comes down to it they are primarily concerned about the bottom line. So for this to have any chance at moving forward I need figures (and or real life examples) that will show them the cost saving benefits of being an environmentally moral company...that is where you come in!

The first 2 easiest suggestions I have are encouraging the use of only 1 restroom paper hand towel, and to power down all monitors after leaving for the day (especially weekends), but I'm struggling to find money data, and or case studies, that support these obvious positive and simple green initiatives.

What other easy and data-backed green ideas could we employ?
posted by doorsfan to Education (33 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Working from home? Barring that, working 4 10-hour days instead of 5 8-hour days? (saves electricity around the office & gas for workers)
posted by jabes at 8:43 AM on June 14, 2012

Instead of throwing out printed documents you're done with, save them for scrap paper (assuming that's not a security risk.) The people in the accounting department were constantly printing spreadsheets to give to one another, and they always did it on scrap.
posted by griphus at 8:46 AM on June 14, 2012

If you use any power strips, there are ones that cut power to individual sockets so they don't leech electricity even when off. That would require investment up front, however, and I really don't know how much energy they save.
posted by InsanePenguin at 8:48 AM on June 14, 2012

The paper towel thing is a no go because everyone hates being told what to do in the restroom. People will make fun of you. Go for the scrap thing like griphus said, or personally offer to turn off monitors on your way out. The key to this is not actually facts as much as it is being sociable, pleasant, and making it easy on everyone.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:48 AM on June 14, 2012 [25 favorites]

encouraging the use of only 1 restroom paper hand towel

This is not a reasonable request, so don't suggest it.

I think your goal should be to focus on managing electricity and office paper waste.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 8:48 AM on June 14, 2012 [8 favorites]

Look at your local electrical company's website - they should have tips on saving electricity and therefore money.

You'll need to revamp your argument - not 'green' as in 'environmentally friendly' but 'green' as in 'cash.'

I don't have a lot of data (still digging) but from memory:

Lights on motion sensors, especially in low-traffic areas. Task lighting instead of area lighting. Natural lighting. Improved window seals and laminates. Timer for air conditioning - no personal or local aircon controls. Centralized refirgerators (in breakrooms, eliminate personal refrigerators), Encourage ridesharing/carpooling. Easy access to recycling collection points.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:49 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

From my own experience, big costs are typically heating and cooling. Better insulation / windows, better airflow, and changing the thermostat are probably the biggest things you can do. Turning lights off and computers off at night (especially desktop PCs, or at least make sure they go to sleep) will have a reasonable impact on electricity bills. Having printers and copiers set to go to sleep after a few minutes will have a reasonable impact too. 'Pull printing' in which the printer doesn't print until you go to the printer and press a button cut printer consumables costs in half at one company I worked at -- turns out a lot of printing is unneeded.

A lot of 'green' behaviors unfortunately result in negligible savings and your boss is right to be skeptical.

There exist armies of consultants who can do an energy audit and save your company money in the long run. This might be worth considering. You will not be able to make a realistic business case for most of the improvements without a pretty serious time investment, but these consultants can.
posted by PercussivePaul at 8:51 AM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Hold on a sec. First of all, has your employer asked you do this work? Is this a specific task/project with a billing code? Is it in your area of expertise?

Or, are you taking it upon yourself to be the Green Lone Ranger in your company, and spring all this on them without notice?

If the latter, stop whatever you're doing and formulate a proposal to your manager, so that you can get internal support. It may take a while -- stuff like this always has to go up a chain. You might also learn that other efforts are in the works.
posted by gsh at 8:52 AM on June 14, 2012 [8 favorites]

Oh, yeah, and seconding everyone who says to not even start with the bathroom. No one will take you seriously if you try to tell them what they should be doing in the can.
posted by griphus at 8:52 AM on June 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

Things like powering down monitors are pretty trivial to do from on high, assuming that you have IT folks that manage your computers and can globally change energy saving settings.

Enabling wake-on-LAN, so that patches and updates can be pushed out in the middle of the night, while letting the computers sleep the rest of the time, is a great way to save energy.
posted by rockindata at 8:53 AM on June 14, 2012

The first 2 easiest suggestions I have are encouraging the use of only 1 restroom paper hand towel, and to power down all monitors after leaving for the day (especially weekends), but I'm struggling to find money data, and or case studies, that support these obvious positive and simple green initiatives.

That's because the benefits to the company are minimal at best, but they represent a significant hassle. I don't know what your company does, but I'm betting its utility bill is a tiny fraction of its total expense structure, and turning monitors off over the weekend would save a tiny fraction of their utility bill.

Also, one paper towel per go? Seriously? Just not worth it, and makes you look like a Soup Nazi.
posted by valkyryn at 8:53 AM on June 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

Can you make some of it easy and fun? Such as putting up a recycling bin for cans and bottles, and use the money you get from returns (taken as given that returns are something you can get paid for in your area) to pay for a party after X amount is raised, etc.?
posted by xingcat at 8:56 AM on June 14, 2012

Look at your local electrical company's website

our electric company offers free residential energy audits. I wonder if yours does, and would do a workplace.

I agree that the smaller activities are trivial - being measurably green is a bigger, more infrastructural project.
posted by Miko at 8:58 AM on June 14, 2012

Sometimes it's possible in a small company to sidestep management and do some things on your own. In my last company, I put recycling boxes under my desk for paper, plastic, and cans. This got people thinking about it and when they expressed an interest, I offered to bring in boxes for other areas. I took on the responsibility of emptying the boxes when they were full and taking the stuff for recycling. Several people thanked me for this and it got even very conservative people to recycle at least some of their waste because it was no hassle for them. Again, not feasible in a big company, but it worked in this case.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 9:01 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

At a former employer of mine, we formed a green team with the help of HR and DID THE RESEARCH.

Then recommendations were made in the form of a proposal to HR and senior management. Some were taken.

Contact your local waste management and utilities - they may have a business greening initiative that will help you.
posted by k8t at 9:02 AM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

How do you even know that limiting people to one bathroom paper towel is worth it, even if you could achieve perfect compliance? I always use multiple bathroom paper towels at my workplace, because my hands are too big for them to be dry with just one paper towel. I have to use multiple paper towels to be sanitary and healthy. The "one paper towel" standard is arbitrary and discriminates against larger people. You say you want the company to be "environmentally moral" — but isn't the word for what you're doing: "moralizing"?
posted by John Cohen at 9:15 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

At my job, we've had good luck implementing green policies where it's one person doing a thing (usually something that's already part of their job responsibilities) that accomplishes something for the company as a whole. As opposed to playing bathroom paper towel nazi.

Examples: All copy paper is 100% recycled. We buy energy efficient equipment/supplies wherever possible. We've installed a plumbed-in water filter as opposed to a five gallon cooler (or worse, bottled water). Our waste management company recycles and we provide all the necessary bins for sorting. We use nontoxic/eco-friendly cleaning products. Stuff like that.

I work in film, which uses A LOT of paper. The production I'm on now has instituted a digital distro policy for most of our crucial documents (schedules, scripts, call sheets, directions to locations, etc), with paper copies provided on an as-requested basis. We also cut short our script revision "color chart" (i.e. the standard that creates those nifty multi-colored scripts you sometimes see) so that we order fewer different kinds of paper, thus eliminating the waste of opening a ream only to use a few sheets. Especially since the fancier colors aren't available in recycled versions.
posted by Sara C. at 9:17 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Some ideas here and here, including another suggestion for an energy audit.

Also look into tax credits. There are all sorts. One of my benefits sets aside pre-tax dollars for the purchase of transit cards or bike commuting gear.
posted by hydrophonic at 9:18 AM on June 14, 2012

Make everyone watch this video: paper towel ted talk.

Actually, since you can't *make* anyone watch it, you could just share it around as a funny thing you found. It's more likely to have an effect than trying to order people around.

Better to set up a recycling stream.

If your company is consumer-facing in some way, it can also be good PR to take some greening initiatives and talk about them. I can't think how you'd get hard numbers out of this, but possibly it's worth mentioning.
posted by nat at 9:21 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Vis-a-vis the towels, since everyone else has much bigger/better suggestions: the best way to manage paper towel use is to install paper towel dispensers that dispense one towel at a time (rather than releasing a wodge of them or unspooling a long sheet). That way, people who need more towels can take them, but no one will end up with more than they need merely because the dispenser is poorly designed. Also, making one towel the baseline helps people get out of that "grab a fistful, throw most of them away hardly damp" mentality.

In general, "cultural" green practices seem less effective because they rely on persuading people to change their habits for little immediate reason and reward, and they rely on hectoring to gain compliance. Structural green practices - a towel dispenser change rather than a change of people's thinking about towels - is more effective. Plus eventually everyone gets used to using fewer towels and using a huge stack starts to seem weird. Free your structures and your mind will follow, so to speak.

This, of course, requires investment and doesn't save much money since towels are so cheap.
posted by Frowner at 9:24 AM on June 14, 2012 [5 favorites]

It's really difficult to implement stuff like this unless absolutely everyone is on board. In my office we have one person who is really good about reusing scrap paper, but at the same time, they get annoyed by the overpowering A/C in the office, so they open their windows instead of just putting on a sweater, thus forcing the A/C to work even harder. I can't imagine the former cancels out the latter.

BUT. Really the easiest way to start is to print out less stuff. If you're having a meeting with 10 people attending, don't print out 10 copies of all the documents - print out 5, make people share, and project something on the wall instead. If you're printing out a long email chain, edit the document first so that the last 4 pages of it aren't just endless blockquotes of signature blocks. Ask people to submit paperwork to you electronically so it can be forwarded around to whoever needs it, instead of having to print out individual copies for everyone.
posted by elizardbits at 9:30 AM on June 14, 2012

Sending out e-cards instead of Christmas cards is something you could suggest without seeming like an eco-busybody.

The paper towel suggestion is not a good one for the reasons others have suggested, but would it not be more cost-effective in the long run to have hand-dryers available to people? Or to get people to throw their paper towels in a paper towel bin which can then be sent to recycling?
posted by mippy at 9:32 AM on June 14, 2012

Do you have an IT department? They could be a big help in this endeavor. Duplex printers can be set to print double sided by default (meaning if you want to print single sided, you have to manually change the setting). Group policy can be implemented to have monitors shut off after some period of time (as opposed to power wasting screen savers) and for desktops to go to "sleep" after a period of idleness. These things don't require anyone to change their habits and cost no money other than the time the employees take to set the policies up, which should be minimal. There's no reason not to do this, so long as you already have the infrastructure in place, unless your IT department is mind-blowingly busy.

If you don't have an IT department, you might just have to encourage people to change the power settings on their computers manually. Printer defaults can usually be established on the printer itself.

Make sure there are recycling bins in everyone's workspace and all common areas (especially by vending machines). If it's just as easy to throw it in the recycling as in the trash, people will recycle more. Look into what your municipality offers in terms of recycling services; they may even provide bins for free?
posted by radioaction at 9:42 AM on June 14, 2012

Also, awareness in a small office can cost very little, if nothing. See if it's okay to send out e-mails about becoming a greener office. Ask if you can hold a discussion about how people can voluntarily become greener in the workplace.
posted by xingcat at 10:25 AM on June 14, 2012

Turn down the air conditioning. I use a space heater at work because I can't concentrate while shivering. I am sure keeping the temperature at 65 + running my space heater costs a lot more than keeping the temp at 68. How much more depends on your square footage and the type of air conditioning you have.
posted by desjardins at 10:28 AM on June 14, 2012

Tips and tricks for office tenants
posted by djb at 10:32 AM on June 14, 2012

Bike commuters will arrive at work happier and more energetic, even if they drive most of the way and only bike the last 10 minutes. If they bike for 20 minutes, they'll also arrive thinking more clearly. (Study cited in the business-friendly Money Library.) Biking will stimulate employees' neuron growth and hence their ability to solve problems for the company.

Bike commuters are also said to take 15% fewer sick days; I haven't tracked down the study behind this figure, but it's probably among those listed by the CTC. Bike commuting is surprisingly less likely to kill you than to save you from dying of e.g. heart disease.

Bike commuting saves on parking costs.

Your employer can encourage biking by providing bike parking and post-commute showers (I imagine the latter is especially important in Dallas), e.g. by subsidizing membership at the gym across the street, or simply by not raising an eyebrow when employees are soaping their armpits at the restroom sink.

If you'd like organizational back-up for recruiting your employer & colleagues, you might use the National Bike Commute Challenge, whose toolkit includes posters, sample-emails, rewards, and comparative local data.
posted by feral_goldfish at 10:43 AM on June 14, 2012

My IT dept. set computers to power down monitors when not in use, and to set power-saving features as the default. It was worth the effort because it saves a lot of electricity; not just for the computer, but also for the cooling saved because the excess heat was not produced.

People fight like crazy about thermostats; if it was up to me, the AC would be at a higher temp. I hate having to dress warm in summer. And I'd keep the heat lower, because it seems silly to dress cooler in winter. Window film, blinds, etc., can make a big diff. in cooling/heating.

Who pays the AC electric bill? That's who you have to convince. Check to see if there are regulations requiring recycling for businesses. I'm in Maine, businesses over a certain size are required to have recycling programs. Texas might not have the same attitude. The AC/heating issues are economic; it still amazes me that companies don't look for these savings. In any case, find the advocacy agencies in your area; they can help you do the research that will help you convince people.

Paper towels in the bathroom are not worth the effort and argument. Office paper recycling is. Also, getting a company to use recycled paper, even though it may not be a bright white, etc, but it will please many clients, etc.
posted by theora55 at 11:05 AM on June 14, 2012

put a tree sticker on the paper towel dispenser. that kind of thing always gets me.
posted by changeling at 11:13 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

At my job they stopped stocking styrofoam cups for coffee and asked us to bring in our own mugs. Along with this change we were rewarded with tastier breakroom coffee! Tasty coffee and less landfill waste: win-win!
posted by sleepykitties at 11:59 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

As long as the styrofoam gets recycled, it's nearly impossible for ceramic cups to be more green. Studies have been done.
posted by gjc at 1:20 PM on June 14, 2012

But as that article you linked to pointed out, they rarely do get recycled. Plus I imagine most people would be bringing in a mug they already had at home.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:32 AM on June 16, 2012

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