Sustainability at Work

I spend 8+ hours a day, 5 days a week at my office, so when I consider making eco-conscious life changes, it’s important that I make changes at work as well as at home. It can be hard to influence changes at work. You may be able to convince a roommate or partner why you need to stop buying paper towels, but you might not have as much luck with an office of 20 people. Even if you can’t change your whole office culture, I hope that you can use some (or all) of these tips to make your work-life more environmentally friendly.

1: Green your commute

I currently don’t have a car, which means I take the bus to work. Commuting is an unfortunate reality of work life for most of us that is not only a source of pollution, it also directly contributes to discontent in our life. If you can, take public transit, bike, or carpool to work. Commuting by bus does take more time than driving, but it also gives me an opportunity to read, listen to music, or catch up on the news while I make my way to and from work. And think critically before you write off transit or biking as being an impossible option for your commute. Cars have made our lives easier, so much so that I see people driving places that are less than a 15-minute walk away.

My commute gives me plenty of time to read, which is a great way to ease in and out of the work day.

If you do live too far away from work to use public transit, consider telecommuting. Telecommuting means less traffic and stress. If your employer doesn’t currently offer telecommuting as an option, ask why it isn’t currently available or negotiate for it in your next review. Obviously, this won’t work in many aspects of the service sector (though I wish I could have worked remotely when I was a barista), but many desk jobs don’t need you to be sitting in the same room as your coworkers every day to be productive.

2: Ditch the K-Cup! (& other disposables)

Single-cup coffee machines have got to be one of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to laziness creating a less sustainable world (except for maybe a now obsolete $400 juicer that squeezed individually packed juice pouches). Keurig machines make pretty terrible coffee and in 2014, over 9 billion cups were sold — all of which ended up in the trash. One of my coworkers has a Keurig in her office, but we also have a perfectly good coffee pot in our kitchen. I have gotten myself in the habit of brewing a pot of coffee (that can be enjoyed by multiple coworkers) over the habit of brewing one k-cup at a time. You could also keep a french press at your desk and use hot water from a water cooler if you want coffee at your desk but don’t have a conventional coffee pot at work.

I’m also conspiring with a coworker to put up a sign in our kitchen encouraging people to use washable cups, forks etc. We have a sink that is fully capable of washing our many dishes (shocking I know) and yet people reach for plastic cutlery and paper cups simply because they want the convenience of a disposable item. It may not seem like one spoon is a big deal, but if you work for 45 years for approximately 260 days a year, that one habit could result in 11,745 plastic spoons in the landfill. A friendly poster in the kitchen showing how long it takes for a paper cup to decompose, or placing them less conveniently than washable dishes, may be the only push your office needs to use fewer disposable products. If you work somewhere where disposables are an essential (like straws at a coffee shop) see if your employer would be willing to look into a more environmentally friendly option (like paper).

3: Use technology efficiently 

If you work in an office, the last thing you should do at the end of the work day is power down your devices and turn off your monitors. It’s probably the easiest thing you can do, it will save your employer money, and it is good for the environment. Many of our appliances use more “vampire power” when they are not in use than in the time we use them.

Other easy tricks are to run meetings with a projector and writing notes on a whiteboard or typing them on a laptop instead of printing agendas, setting printers to default to double-sided, and installing motion sensor lights. Also, if you’re the last person in the office make sure lights in offices are turned off and that appliances have not been left on. There’s no need to keep the lights on in a bathroom that no one will use from 5:01 PM Friday to 8:00 AM on Monday.

4: Swap surplus with your coworkers

Every few months it seems my boss goes through her closet and brings in a bag of goodies for the team to go through. My coworkers have also brought in pillows and books, and I recently scored a great spice collection since one of my coworkers is moving in with their partner and they already had a spice collection. Talk to your team and see if they’d be interested in exchanging things people no longer need. You can downsize things you no longer need and maybe get something you truly need, without spending any money. Adding on to the lifecycle of a product is a core tenet of a zero-waste lifestyle. Finding a way to extend the life of a good by giving it to someone who can use it instead means your item doesn’t go in the trash and they don’t have to create waste by buying something new.

A basically full spice rack that I got for free from a coworker!

5: Pack your lunch 

Neglecting to pack a lunch is a great way to spend a ton of money on food, eat unhealthy meals, and end up buying plastic or Styrofoam packaging. There are very few fresh or unpackaged options at the 7-11 by my work (bananas and pears are pretty much the only options) and the vegetarian options are extremely limited. Cooking in bulk and packing leftovers is a great way to keep a smaller food budget and go waste-free at work.Before I was a vegetarian, I would often buy 7-11 sausage breakfast sandwiches when I didn’t have a chance to eat in the morning. Now, I keep a big bag of oats on hand too so that I can just bring some oats to work in a Tupperware container and microwave them when I get to the office.

Another trick I learned from my mom is to poke some holes in a yam and pop it in the microwave for a few minutes on both sides for an easy meal. I try to keep a few yams on hand at all times, especially on busy weeks, so that I don’t have to eat out at work when I haven’t meal prepped properly. I’m also rethinking the way I view my coffee habit. I love stopping by my local shop before I start my commute, but I’m not always perfect about bringing my thermos to and from work. Reframing my trip as a treat that I should only take advantage of when I actually have my mug, instead of pretending it is a necessity, is shifting my habit in a more sustainable direction (though I’m still not perfect at this). Now that I have a kitchen compost bin, I’m also putting my food scraps in my Tupperware container so that I can avoid throwing them out at work.

I try to pack things like fruit that don’t need wrapping or multi-use coffee mugs, sandwich bags, and Tupperware to cut down on waste in my lunch bag.

Do you see any of these tips being possible in your work life? If you have any green workplace ideas for other work spaces (or ones I’m missing for an office environment) I’d love to see them in the comments!


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