Explore the many ways you can reduce your environmental impact in the office.
Climate change is an escalating threat to businesses and communities across the globe. As part of our ongoing dedication to sustainability, Apex Systems recently hosted a climate change webinar, featuring Shea Cunningham, ASGN’s Director of Sustainability.
Shea is a sustainability planning expert with over 20 years of hands-on experience across multiple industry sectors, from the community to international levels.
In the recent webinar, she explores tangible ways people can reduce their environmental impact at work.
"The solutions really are at hand," Shea explains. "The technologies are out there, we just need to get more people fired up and activate it."
If you’re interested in fighting climate change and implementing more sustainable practices into your life, Shea has a plethora of advice on how you can be an integral part of this effort in the workplace.
RETHINK TRANSPORTATION HABITS
Reevaluate transportation habits when commuting to and from the office.
"Even if you carpool once a week with a work colleague, that makes a huge difference over the course of a year,” Shea says.
Small changes make a difference over time.
Take public transportation instead of driving if that’s possible for you.
"By reducing the growth in vehicle miles of travel, easing congestion, and supporting more efficient land use patterns, public transportation can reduce harmful CO2 emissions by 37 million metric tons annually," reports the American Public Transportation Association.
Or if you’re looking into getting a new vehicle, consider purchasing an electric or hybrid car.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency specifies, “Electric vehicles typically have a smaller carbon footprint than new gasoline cars, even when accounting for the electricity used for charging.”
EAT A PLANT-BASED DIET
Eating plant-based meals makes a difference, even if it’s just once a week. A Harvard School of Public Health study found that “Participants who consumed healthy plant-based diets…had lower greenhouse gas emissions and use of cropland, irrigation water, and nitrogenous fertilizer than diets that were higher in…animal-based foods.”
Create a fun challenge with coworkers to do Meatless Mondays for office lunches. It’s easier to follow through on initiatives like this when you have other people holding you accountable.
JOIN YOUR COMPANY’S GREEN TEAM
Looking for a simple way to make a difference in the office? Join your workplace’s environmentally-focused community group. If your company doesn’t have a team, become a sustainability leader and work with HR to create one.
“I've been on many different green teams over the years,” Shea states. “It's always been a great way to meet cool people, and working together is inspiring.”
POST SIGNAGE AROUND THE OFFICE
Educate officemates by creating signage that outlines what items are recyclable, what must go to the landfill, and what can be composted. Post the signs by the recycling and landfill bins as a quick reminder.
It can make a big impact and prevent people from accidentally contaminating the recycling stream.
You can also share infographics and other educational materials with colleagues.
REDUCE FOOD WASTE
Feeding America reports that 119 billion pounds of food are wasted each year in the U.S. Sadly, workplaces produce a lot of food waste.
Donate office leftovers to your local food bank or encourage coworkers to take food home so food doesn’t go to waste.
MAKE SMALL CHANGES
Implementing subtle changes in the office makes a big difference over time. Start small and see how easy it is.
A few quick ways to reduce your environmental impact at work include going paperless as much as possible and bringing a reusable water bottle to the office instead of drinking from single-use plastic bottles.
For coffee, use a French press or communal pot rather than disposable K cups. Instead of plastic cutlery, consider reusable or compostable utensils.
Bring your lunch to work in a reusable lunchbox instead of a plastic grocery bag. “It takes about 20 years for non-recyclable plastic bags to decompose on land,” Shea says. “And the average lifetime of a plastic bag is only 12 minutes long. Think about how many plastic bags are used every day.”
ADVOCATE FOR ECO-FRIENDLY SUPPLIES
From cleaning supplies to energy-efficient lighting, there are a lot of items in the office that can be updated to be eco-friendly. Start by asking what cleaning supplies are used in your office. Suggest using green cleaning supplies if the company doesn’t already.
Ask if the company can reassess the energy efficiency components it uses, from laptops and digital devices to lights. Bathrooms and closets in the office could benefit from occupancy sensors, which is when lights switch off automatically when there's no motion in a room. LEDs are much more energy efficient than incandescent lights, which can be an easy swap.
“Another way to make a difference in the workplace is by simply building awareness about how shutting computers off at night or putting them in power-saving mode really does make a big difference,” Shea explains.
INVEST IN A SUPPLEMENTARY RECYCLING PROGRAM
Unfortunately, most office items can’t go into the mainstream mixed recycling system. Luckily, supplementary recycling programs exist for this very reason! Shea recommends using a company like TerraCycle.
“They take any item that you can't put into the regular recycling system, including office supplies like tape dispensers, plastic bags, and K cups,” she explains. The trash TerraCycle collects is transformed into raw materials to make new products. Each week, the company recycles millions of pounds of materials, diverting them from landfills and incinerators.
Terracycle and other similar programs like Ridwell cost money, but there are some free local options as well. Shea encourages you to research what is available in your area.
“Local programs very similar to TerraCycle will take materials and turn them into decking, playground materials, construction materials, and that sort of thing,” she states. “It is a wonderful resource to have so you're not throwing stuff into the landfill.”
TerraCycle also has a page that helps you find free recycling programs. A lot of brands, from Pantene and Rubbermaid to Gillette and Tide, offer free programs. If there aren’t any designated drop-off spots near you, there are mail-back options where you send the used items to TerraCycle to be recycled.
Consider implementing an office initiative based off these programs. Pick a brand or two and consolidate everyone’s used items to periodically mail or drop off.
Shea recommends the following books, podcasts, and movies as helpful resources for additional learning.
- How to Avoid a Climate Disaster by Bill Gates
- Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer
- Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming by Paul Hawken
ENVIRONMENTAL NONPROFITS TO SUPPORT
If you are interested in donating to environmental nonprofits, Shea recommends the following organizations:
WATCH THE WEBINAR
Watch the full webinar for a more in-depth analysis of how you can help fight climate change!