How to lower the environmental impact of the work place?
April 7, 2008 6:00 PM   Subscribe

Strategies for greening the work place?

At very short notice I have been put in charge of a pilot study that will be implemented at my office (within a gov agency). I'd appreciate information on/ links to measures, large and small, that can be taken to make an office, within an existing older building, more environmentally friendly. TIA
posted by InstantSanitizer to Grab Bag (11 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Nothing specific, but I'd watch paper consumption. I'm still fairly new to the office environment, and I can't believe how often someone will print a something out for one tiny bit of information.

Give out water bottles/mugs and take away the styrofoam cups for coffee.

Encourage people to turn off their computers at night, instead of just logging off.
posted by dinty_moore at 6:16 PM on April 7, 2008

You can cut paper use quite a bit by making double-sided copies.
posted by Airhen at 6:22 PM on April 7, 2008

What is this a pilot study of? Just green stuff in general? Do you have a budget?

Here are some random ideas: make it possible for people to turn off overhead lights in favor of task lights, make it so people can control their temperature, provide windows that open and close for natural heating & cooling, put the thermostats on timers, put motion sensors on the lights, install a more efficient heating and cooling unit, replace electric light with natural daylight (maybe even install skylights). (These are the top strategies I remember from when I worked at a place that did architectural energy efficiency consulting for utilities.) Install solar panels.

Institute a "parking cash-out" policy (offer $ instead of a free parking space -- it's law for large employers in California), install bike lockers and/or showers, subsidize transit, have special parking spaces for carpools, and offer other incentives to not drive.

Change out the cleaning supplies. Carpet cleaning supplies are especially toxic (for workers).

There are tons more ideas out there, I'm just brainstorming. There are also tons of case studies online. Besides green buildings, you might google "high performance buildings." I think NRDC's SF offices and the Audubon's NY offices were two very lauded case studies. Good luck!
posted by salvia at 6:32 PM on April 7, 2008

Keep the temperature to 78 or 79 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer. It's insane that office buildings are colder in the summer than the winter, and it wastes a lot of energy.

Make sure that lights are turned out at night. Lights on at night in high office buildings both waste energy and kill migratory birds who fly into the windows.

Install water-efficient toilets. Toronto has a list of toilets that have performed well on a variety of tests. Obviously, not all low-flow toilets are created equal, so do your research. Consider dual-flush toilets (smaller flush for fluids only).

Ensure that everywhere there's a garbage, it has paper and plastic/glass/metal recycling right next to it. Make sure that these aren't all thrown together in the trash by the maintenance guys.

How big is your budget? You should talk to the guys at the Rocky Mountain Institute (or other environmental consultants) about serious energy-saving measures, but they can be big capital up-front costs. Check out the LEED standards for some ideas, maybe.

Also, put plants around the office. Not only do they look nice, spider plants (and others) clean the air.

Get rid of incandescent bulbs. Hey, it's a start.
posted by Dasein at 6:43 PM on April 7, 2008

If it's an older building, you might want to take a look at various insulation possibilities. Extra layer on the windows? Installing an airlock door?

Re: the thermostat. I don't know what the dress code is there, but if you could arrange it so that people can dress very casually and coolly most of the time, I think that could have a huge impact on how the temperature is kept. Everything from instituting "formal Tuesdays" (implying that other days are casual, and big client meetings are on Tuesdays, for example), to providing safe storage for suits so that people can dress up when needed, to providing explicit pictorial guidelines to what is permissible (so people don't wonder what's OK and err on the side of too formal, or too casual), could have a huge impact on how successful raising the thermostat could be. Particularly for your more, ah, robustly-framed folks, it's going to be tricky. You might want to provide small fans on request and then keep track of how often they are run.

Another idea to help along the thermostat issue: if possible, seat the colder people together and the warmer people together. Make sure cold, cold water is available to those who need it.

Finally, I just learned that our local legislature's cafeteria has their own vermicomposting setup. Cool. (Don't look at the photo if you don't like earthworms)
posted by amtho at 7:15 PM on April 7, 2008

I'm a big fan of the master/slave powerboards, which are so badly advertised I'm linking to my blog post with a scan from the manual. Quoting from myself:
Designed mainly for use with computers and their assorted peripherals, this 6-socket powerstrip monitors one, 'master', socket (the PC). When the power usage of the master socket falls below 30W (a typical PC drawing anywhere from 200W to 500W when in use) the four 'slave' sockets are switched off at the board. They come back on when the PC is turned back on. (The sixth socket is a normal socket for convenience.) This means that when your PC goes off you can also have your monitor(s), printer, speakers or any other PC peripherals turned off automatically. Since most PC-related gadgets run off a transformer and have a 'soft' power switch, they're wasting power because they're never really off. This fixes that.
posted by krisjohn at 7:42 PM on April 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Our office - which is a small office located in a massive building - has a green office policy, as far as we can. Our policies include:

- Providing electronic copies of forms and information where possible instead of faxes/letters
- Watching paper consumption, printing only when necessary, printing on both sides of the paper
- Using part-recyled office paper
- One tray in our printer contains paper that's been printed on only one side, and we use that tray when printing informal documents or things that will be faxed
- Not ordering paper cups for use with the water cooler; we use glassware instead
- We use a not-for-profit courier that has an environmental commitment
- Participate in carbon offset schemes when travelling by air
- Using a recycling program to dispose of old computer hardware
- Always turn off all lights and equipment at the end of the day (except the fax)

The building management has removed all but one waste bin from our office, and replaced them with paper recycling boxes, which encourages us to think twice before chucking things away, and that's something a small office could do.
posted by andraste at 7:49 PM on April 7, 2008

You can cut paper use quite a bit by making double-sided copies.

You can also get printers that print on both sides. Brilliant!
posted by radioamy at 8:41 PM on April 7, 2008

We've been through our 'eco-office challenge' recently (in a government office). Key retro-fittable issues (depending on budget and executive support0 relate to power and water consumption, and environmental purchasing.

As already said above:
* lights - you can typically take many bulbs out, most workplaces are unnecessarily bright. Are they fluorescent or do you still have incandescents?
* printers, copiers etc. All have standby functions these days, make sure they're activated. And turned off at the switch overnight/on weekends. Double sided printing set as default. recycled paper.
* PCs and monitors - unless IT demands overnight access to computers, these can all be fully powered down overnight/on weekends
* toilets - we have waterless urinals that work well. Dual flush has been mandatory in my State for many years, but maybe that can be retrofitted?
* Waste bins - we only have paper recycling bins at our desks. To dispose of compostable wastes and landfill wastes we now have to go to the kitchens.
* bicycle facilities - are showers available? Secure cycle parking? Maybe a few execs might have to give up a few car parking spaces (oh the sacrifice)
* car packages - is it basically mandatory for execs to get a car or can they swap that for other benefits (a transit pass?)?
* car pooling etc - can this be supported through a news bulletin etc?
* refurbishments - you can get professional advice on lower impact refurbishments when time comes. Waste avoidance is important, and materials selection

The biggest problem is getting engagement from enough staff. We had 'Champions' who had as part of their position description responsibility for delivering this, though everyone, including senior management, is expected to play their part.
posted by wilful at 1:12 AM on April 8, 2008

I almost forgot -- packing material! You may be able to recycle packing peanuts, those little plastic air pillows, etc. Locally, we bring ours to a UPS store, which accepts the packing material for recycling.

Bonus if you can figure out how to do this without necessitating a lot of extra driving.
posted by amtho at 5:01 AM on April 8, 2008

You should really start with an energy audit; Washington State University publishes a very clear workbook that can help you with that. Guide to Energy Management is the bible here. It may be more industrial than you need but still has a thorough section on employee participation. I'm sort of an efficiency management (building science) student; feel free to email me if you need help running the numbers in order to calculate the energy savings of the measures you implement.
posted by glibhamdreck at 7:53 AM on April 8, 2008

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