Keeping it Green at the Office

Private Property South Africa
Shaun Wewege

You’ve installed heat pumps or solar geysers; you’ve fitted low wattage and energy saving light-bulbs; you have an arrangement of recycling bins; your rainwater-harvesting system is set up and you even have a composter. But then you drive to work and sit in an air-conditioned office for eight hours before joining the thousands of motorists on a trip back home.

This is one the frustrations the eco-aware will face. You may be doing your bit at home but your daily routine at the office offsets all your hard work. The problem in a work environment is that it requires multiple people to make behavioral changes and in many instances it requires that those in charge draw up official policies. Another issue is related to practicality – minutes for meetings are often printed, a large building may require heating/cooling systems, you may have hundreds of employees using kettles, toasters and other appliances – and that’s before we look at the power needs of your core business. An accounting firm may be able to reduce power usage a great deal more than a manufacturing plant.

Despite these challenges it is still possible to enact small changes that will go a long way to ensure that your office is eco-friendly. It’s old news but car-pooling and using public transport really does help cut costs and emissions. Though it might not always be practical (you may have to catch a few busses to reach your destination), not having to drive could also reduce stress levels.

The tendency to print unnecessarily coupled with the reluctance to recycle means that tons of paper is wasted by companies each year. Running off extra copies, neglecting to proof documents and using print rather than digital media packs all lead to paper wastage. To offset this, print on both sides of paper and use recycled paper (a number of paper producers have green product ranges that are suitable for office applications). You can also reduce paper consumption by registering for a fax-to-email service. Many Internet Service Providers offer this and there are numerous free web-based providers.

Another easy-to-make change is to use a different type of pen. They are not as common in South Africa, but bio-degradable pens are finding their way into the local market. There are pens made from recycled materials, biodegradable cellulose acetate and even pens manufactured from cornstarch!

The tips listed so far have all been relatively inexpensive and easy to implement. Setting up a recycling centre, converting to energy-saving appliances, using motion sensors to switch lights on and off in less-used parts of the office or installing solar panels would come at a greater expense and need to be given the green light from management.

To promote a greener office space, encourage your company to take part in Green Office Week 2012. It takes place in April and the initiative urges offices around the country to find ways of running businesses with sustainable practices. Their website contains useful information and links to green resources that will no doubt of value to the homeowner as well. They outline how each member of an organization can play a part, from the Managing Director down to the Driver. An excellent source of ideas is Green Office Week’s sample Green Office Action Plan.

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