Where to Start in Greening Your Workplace

From wind power to office plants, associations have many opportunities to choose more environmentally sustainable options—on a macro and micro scale.

Recycling office paper no longer cuts it. So, beyond the familiar mantra of reduce, reuse, and recycle, where can an association start to make its workplace greener?

Corporations have taken some bold steps that might be difficult for most associations to fully replicate, but implementing pieces of them on a smaller scale might be perfectly doable. For example, as part of Microsoft’s commitment to going carbon neutral, it imposes an internal carbon fee on all its business groups. The fee goes toward carbon offsets and other projects to neutralize the company’s carbon use. This means that as each group budgets its air travel, it also has to budget for carbon offsets for that travel.

With that in mind, here are some different areas where your association can boost its green efforts:

Carbon offsets. While Microsoft’s approach might be too much for most associations, you can purchase carbon offsets through terrapass that fund renewable energy and methane capture projects. At the same time, associations can help staff be more aware of their department’s carbon footprint—including staff and member air travel—and consider ways to monitor it and reduce it.

Energy. Your office’s energy use is likely to be a large portion of your association’s environmental footprint. How do you go about becoming wind- or solar-powered? APPI Energy can help assess renewable energy options, and the Green-e website includes a search for green power and renewable energy certificate programs. Other energy-saving tips: Turning office equipment off—rather than leaving it in standby mode—and installing motion-activated lights.

Your headquarters. If you’re heading to a new space, LEED certifies green buildings—those that are designed and built to reduce waste and negative effects on the environment, decrease lifecycle costs, and maximize the building occupants’ health and productivity. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do in an old building. LEED also has a program for existing buildings: LEED for Building Operations and Maintenance, which certifies the building for operating sustainably rather than for its design.

Trash recycling. Office recycling programs for the basics like paper, cans, and bottles are common, but what about everything else? Many items that we typically throw away can be recycled, but not through our regular recycling channels. Terracycle offers zero-waste boxes for all the other stuff—you fill it up the box and send it back. The company has all-in-one boxes that you can put nearly anything in, as well as more specialized ones, including a coffee capsule box for offices that use single-cup coffee machines.

Compost. Another way to reduce the amount of office waste that goes to the landfill is to compost, and it doesn’t have to be messy. Services like CompostNow collect the compost and clean the designated compost can.

Plants. Office plants can improve indoor air quality, as well as improve your well-being and productivity.

Beyond these ideas, another important aspect is to get your staff involved. A sustainability team can pay attention to these and other sustainability-related issues, as well as educate other staff about them. A walk- or bike-to-work day can encourage staff who usually drive to choose no-car options when possible. And a volunteer project with staff or members pulling invasive species out of a nearby park or trail gets people outdoors and boosts morale.

What has your association done to make its workplace greener? Tell us about it in the comments.

(ilbusca/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Allison Torres Burtka

By Allison Torres Burtka

Allison Torres Burtka, a longtime association journalist, is a freelance writer and editor in West Bloomfield, Michigan. MORE

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