What does an environmentally sustainable office look like?
Most workplaces want to do ‘the right thing’ by the environment but are not quite sure how to go about it or what exactly ‘the right thing’ means.
Consider the living environment components of air, water and earth/land.
A sustainable office must take into account how to protect and therefore minimise the impact on air, water and land resources.
To achieve this, consider policies, processes and measures to:
Conserve and reduce energy consumption
Conserve and reduce water consumption
Protect air quality
Manage waste - reduce, reuse and recycle
Purchasing and supply chain management
START AT THE VERY BEGINNING
An essential initial step is to measure the Carbon Footprint of the company including building /infrastructure.
There are many tools available. Use a tool that has quantifiable measures.
Carbon Footprint tool examples: :
Once a carbon footprint measure is established, look for opportunities to improve the overall environmental performance of the organisation.
Share the initial footprint score and future improved scores with staff and other stakeholders.
CONSERVE AND REDUCE ENERGY CONSUMPTION
Source renewable energy [electricity, gas] wherever possible.
Maximise natural light sources including skylights. Natural light is less reflective on screen vision and has no energy consumption.
Reduce heating and cooling levels to an agreed comfortable temperature. Don’t over heat or over cool the work environment.
Turn off electronics, lighting, heating and cooling every evening when leaving the office.
Replace fluorescent lights with energy efficient lights, especially LEDs. Use LED lighting and occupancy sensors, photosensors and dimming systems to control electric light usage.
Working from home where practical saves on energy usage for transport and travel to the office.
Computers and other electronic office devices:
Use power strips that will turn off peripheral equipment when the primary device is turned off. For example, when shutting down a computer/device connected to a power strip, the connected monitor and printer will be turned off, helping save energy.
Enable sleep mode and power saver features on computers and other equipment. This will reduce the power consumption when not in use.
Minimise work related travel and encourage green commuting [walking, biking, carpooling or public transport].
CONSERVE AND REDUCE WATER CONSUMPTION
Conservation and recycling are the fundamental principles of sustainable water use. The EPA estimates that about 40% of the water used in office buildings is for sanitary purposes and about 28% is used in heating and cooling.
Conserve water by the use of low-flow toilets. Water scarcity is one of the biggest challenges in global sustainability, and toilets are generally the biggest source of water consumption in a typical office environment.
Install low flow tap aerators on bathroom and kitchen sinks to reduce your water usage.
Recycle water from hand-washing to flush toilets (gray water). Harvest rainwater if possible.
PROTECT AIR QUALITY
Fresh air and thermal comfort have a positive influence on the health and wellbeing of office occupants. Incorporate as much fresh, natural ventilation as possible. Use low-emission materials, paints, furniture and equipment.
Improve air quality through indoor plants. Plants emit oxygen and reduce air pollution. Plants can also reduce noise pollution.
Use natural air circulation, opening windows, in preference to air conditioning.
MANAGE WASTE - REDUCE, REUSE AND RECYCLE
Aim to achieve a paperless office environment.
Reduce waste through supplying recycling and compost receptacle bins that are clearly marked to encourage use.
Put in place a maintenance and repair program to avoid redundancies of products and equipment. Always repair and reuse in preference to recycling.
Recycle as many products as possible including paper/cardboard, electronics, glass, plastics.
Set printers to print on both sides of paper as a default to cut paper usage by 50%.
Choose furniture that is refurbished, repurposed or reconfigured, preferably made with non-toxic, recycled or recyclable materials. To be sustainable, furniture also needs to be easily maintained and repaired, durable, adaptable, and timeless.
PURCHASING AND SUPPLY CHAIN MANAGEMENT
Shift as many of your business purchases to support local vendors and Australian made products. Whether it’s office purchases, business cards, caterers etc, supporting local vendors is an important way to conserve energy through unnecessary transport, reducing energy consumption.
Purchase green products. Find suppliers of materials that are non-toxic, eco-friendly, recycled, recyclable, renewable, durable and/or repurposed. Use paints low in volatile organic compounds, recycled glass worktops, bookshelves instead of walls or partitions, carpet made of recycled materials or carpet tiles.
Use only natural bathroom or kitchen products, biodegradable cleaning products and recycled stationery.
Avoid purchase, use or supply of toxic chemicals. If used, keep to minimal quantities.
These include but are not limited to:
Formaldehyde – carcinogenic used in soaps detergents and glues
Volatile organic compounds (VOC) – gases emitted by paints, plywood, particleboard, office equipment [printers etc] varnishes, glues and cleaning supplies.
Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDE) - Plastics, foams
Pefluorinated Compounds (PFC) - stain resistant furniture and non stick cookware
Perchloroethylene (PCE) - furniture polish, rubber coatings, aerosols, solvent soaps, adhesives, sealants and lubricants
Phthalates – air fresheners, vinyl, wood varnishes and lacquers