Low Carbon: Go Green at Work
You might be the keenest eco champ at home, but when it comes to the office, your recycling ethos goes out the window. Getting your office to go green - and getting your colleagues to think in a more eco-friendly way - isn't as hard as you'd think. Kate Hodal finds out how best to go about it, without losing all your work friends.
I will admit it: I am that annoying girl in the office who turns my colleagues' computer monitors at night, fishes drinks bottles and cans out of their bins, and asks them (nicely) if they really need to print out yet another email.
Ask me if my eco efforts have won me any friends at work, however, and the answer is a resounding 'No!'. I blame this on the vagaries of human nature - the fact that nine out of 10 Britons recycles at least one item at home, but will happily bin a glass bottle while at work.
This isn't entirely the individual's fault, however: while most councils provide recycling bins and advice to homes across the UK, there is no requirement for businesses to recycle any of their waste - and there's usually no recycling service provided for them, either.
But business rubbish makes up 40% of the total waste stream, compared to 10% from the domestic stream - with much of that waste being paper, plastic and glass. While you might consider doing something about it outside your remit, think again: there's actually quite a lot you can do - and you don't necessarily have to lose any friends in the process.
HOW TO APPROACH THE ISSUE
Firstly, don't approach your workplace with all eco-guns blazing, says environmental auditor Donnachadh McCarthy, author of Easy Eco Auditing: How To Make Your Home And Workplace Planet-Friendly.
"You have to approach your colleagues and managers with a constructive point of view and realise that you're asking them to change their current behaviour and habits," he warns.
"The responsibility for environmental services isn't theirs: it's someone else ordering the printer paper or taking the rubbish out. And by asking your colleagues to change their habits, you're making them move out of their safety zone. People hate having their desks moved five feet - let alone being forced to think about recycling."
McCarthy suggests initiating a chat with other colleagues or your manager about what you think your office could do to be greener: could people carshare into work? Are there any glass, plastic or can recycling facilities? Could the office start printing double-sided?
From there, identify who's in charge of what: who buys the toilet paper, printer paper, office stationery, takes care of the waste?
"If you can get on their side," says McCarthy, "you'll only have to convince one person instead of 100 - and that'll make this whole process much easier."
It's likely that your office is already recycling paper waste - but if it's not, find out who's in charge of the waste bins at work and ask for a recycling bin for paper.
Once you've done that, ask for recycling bins for glass, plastic, cans and cardboard - the website Waste Aware Business [www.wasteawarebusiness.org.uk] has an online search facility to find out what companies (or councils) can recycle what in your area.
A good way to ensure that colleagues will well and truly recycle is to put recycling - and not rubbish - bins next to their desks, suggests McCarthy.
"Most of the waste on your desk is paper anyway," he says.
"By reversing the system and having recycling bins next to your desk, and one large bin for non-recyclables in a common area, appeals to the laziness of human nature. You ensure that people recycle without requiring them to stand up and walk over to the recycling bin to do it. And it works: one charity I eco-audited increased their recycling rate by 500% just by taking this step."
PRINTERS AND COMPUTERS
You've seen the electronic appeals on eco colleagues' emails to 'Think before you print', but you might still prefer paper to computer screens. But did you know that the average office worker uses around 20,000 sheets of paper a year? By switching your printer to print out double-sided by default, McCarthy reckons at least 40% of the paper used in the office could be saved by choosing this option.
Try encouraging whoever buys the printer paper and stationery to only buy recycled, as recycled paper uses 50% less energy than virgin paper, and - need I say it? - saves trees from being cut down.
As for your computer, fight the inertia of leaving it on standby when you go home for the evening: you'll waste enough energy to laser print 800 pages of A4. All you have to do is make sure you actually power off - and while it might take a few more minutes in the morning to power up again, you'll have the benefit of knowing that you're helping the planet.
McCarthy is so obsessed with turning lights off in rooms that aren't used that his eco house in Camberwell, south London, can sometimes resemble a flashing disco.
While that wouldn't be helpful in the office, take a look at the lighting at work - are there energy-saving bulbs that could replace some of the conventional bulbs?
If your office is open plan with fluorescent bulbs, why not try working with only half of them on - most offices have windows that allow in quite a lot of light anyway, and your colleagues might like working with natural light.
If possible, try switching off the lights in the kitchen, canteen and bathroom when empty.
Is your canteen stocked with disposable crockery? Why not get reusable items instead, or compostable crockery made from renewable resources like corn resin [www.biomelifestyle.com]? Take a look also at the cups and mugs being used - do your colleagues bring in their own mugs but use plastic cups for water? By asking them to bring in water glasses, you could be saving all that plastic from going to landfill (most plastic cups are made from a hard-to-recycle plastic not accepted by most councils) - a charity that McCarthy audited saved over 72,000 plastic cups a year by asking employees to use their mugs instead.
THE END RESULT
Don't forget about reconsidering how you travel to work: if you drive alone, consider a carshare scheme [www.carshare.com], or find out if your office has a cycle-to-work scheme [www.cyclescheme.co.uk]. But do remember that people take a while to change, and that by working with them, you'll get a lot more done than trying to force them to act or think a certain way.
"People can get really inspired by eco-positive changes in the office," beams McCarthy.
"It can boost morale and make them feel more positive about the company - and that makes for a happy office."
Easy Eco Auditing: How To Make Your Home And Workplace Planet-Friendly, by Donnachadh McCarthy is published by Gaia, priced ÃÂ£7.99. Available now.
Through his auditing company 3 Acorns Eco-audits, Donnachadh provides an environmental auditing service to individuals, families and businesses. See www.3acorns.co.uk for more information.
For more tips on how to green up your workplace, log onto the DirectGov website