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Going Green in the Workplace

There are endless ways to create a greener workplace from using recycled products to installing doubled-paned windows for better insulation. The best way to start is by taking small steps. Here are a few ideas you can work with.

1. Green up your commute. Since your workday begins when you arrive, let's start with how you get there. The best-case scenario is to telecommute by working from home. Today's technology--e.g., video conferencing, instant messaging and online seminars--has made this a reality. However, if your office can't be home based and walking or biking is not an option, consider carpooling with two to three other like-minded people or using public transportation. Other alternatives are purchasing a hybrid or electric vehicle or switching from an eight-hour workday, five days a week to a 10-hour workday, four days a week. This will cut your daily commute time by at least 20 percent and give you longer weekends.

2. Go digital. The greenest paper is no paper, and one of the most effective ways to be more eco-friendly in your office is to reduce paper waste. Switch from a fax machine to a fax modem to send and receive paperless documents. Use electronic forms whenever possible, and e-mail letters and documents to be read online rather than printed out. Have staff members take their laptops to team meetings so they aren't printing reams of reports. An added bonus: Storing files on your computer saves time, money and space. Just don't forget to backup, preferably to an off-site data system. You can also use compact flash drives to easily and efficiently transport and share documents. Not only are they more convenient than CDs, but most have security features to protect sensitive data.

3. Read the green print. When printing is unavoidable, use the draft mode on your printer and make double-sided printing your default. The same rules apply to your copier as well. You should also use 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper. Glenn Croston, author of 75 Green Businesses You Can Start to Make Money and Make a Difference, also recommends using software from printgreener.com to avoid printing excess blank pages and converting documents to PDF files for paperless document sharing.

4. Green your PC. Since we're talking about using computers to their maximum potential, we also need to discuss how to make them more efficient and environmentally friendly. Start by putting computers on "standby" or in "hibernation" mode when they haven't been accessed for more than 10 minutes; turn them completely off when you're finished working for the day. When it's time to replace older desktop computers, switch to a laptop for more efficiency. Not only are they more portable, but they use 80 percent less energy. And when upgrading, take advantage of take-back programs for people who want to recycle their old computers. Some manufacturers, such as Sony and Dell, offer free shipping or trade-in credit toward new purchases.

5. Can you see the light? Daylight is the best natural resource. However, natural lighting is not always adequate, and energy-efficient light bulbs such as compact fluorescent bulbs or LEDs should replace incandescent lighting for cost and energy savings. Just be sure to turn off the lights when leaving the room. Croston recommends installing occupancy sensors or timers on lights so they automatically turn off when no one is around.

6. Get real. Plants that is. A silk tree may be easier to take care of, but a real one adds natural beauty to your surroundings while improving the quality of indoor air. This can be especially important if you work in a newer building that is tightly sealed to conserve energy. Older buildings and homes may also feature materials that produce harmful pollutants from synthetic carpeting and fabrics, plastic coated wallpaper or laminated countertops. One of the best natural defenses against these contaminants is to make liberal use of live houseplants.

7. Take a break. And when you do, toss the plastic wear and foam cups. Encourage your employees to bring lunch from home in reusable containers or frequent restaurants that have green carryout initiatives like Chipotle. Provide washable china and utensils in your lunchroom, or encourage staffers to bring their own. This would also be an excellent time to get some coffee mugs with your company logo on them for visitors and employees to use.

8. Perk up. Speaking of coffee, use fair-trade certified, shade-grown coffee in reusable coffee filters. Not only is organic coffee better for you, but the shade-grown beans helps to protect biodiversity of the fragile ecosystems in the countries that grow it, while the reusable filters cut down on waste. Croston also cautions against using nondairy creamers in coffee because they are loaded with hydrogenated oils and other unhealthy products.

9. Use green marketing tools. Promote your eco-friendly habits in your marketing materials, both internally and externally. "Let your customers, suppliers, and employees know that you are taking active steps to protect and preserve the environment," says business writer Jacquelyn Lynn. "It will build loyalty and enhance your company's image." This can be done in a number of ways, but one of the simplest is to add a green tag line to e-mails that [says] something like: "Please think green before printing this e-mail" or "Bio-based for a healthier environment."

10. Don't just think green; wear it. Another change you can personally make is to have a green wardrobe. Purchase clothing with organic fibers such as cotton, silk, wool or hemp, or fabric made from recycled materials. Who knew plastic soda bottles could look so good? Try to avoid clothing that requires dry cleaning, but if it does, look for a green dry cleaner that uses a carcinogen-free process. Another recyclable fashion alternative is to "go vintage" by visiting secondhand and thrift shops.

Off to a Green Start
Going green in the workplace is easier if you do it from the beginning, and Glenn Croston, author of 75 Green Businesses You Can Start to Make Money and Make a Difference, suggests looking for green business opportunities. There are green businesses in a wide range of industries, he says. "If you keep your eyes open, there might be a new business you [start] by thinking, acting and working green," says Croston.

However, in many fields, launching a green initiative from the outset is not feasible, especially if you've been in business for a while. So create a plan of action, and jump in anywhere using some of the suggestions outlined in this article. Lynn urges everyone to remember that little things add up to a lot. "When you're a small operation, it's easy to think that what you do doesn't really matter," she says. "But when you multiply the things you do by thousands of other small operations, it's a big impact."

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