6 ways to foster greener offices

Yesterday, 22 April, was Earth Day. Although there would have been a range of activities to mark that occasion, this post shares six ways to make a more lasting commitment to greening the workplace.

Recycling Grunge Sign - Sepia (Free Grunge Textures, flickr)Earth Day, which was celebrated yesterday, 22 April, is a time when greater attention is paid to the impact of humans on the environment – the continual accumulation of greenhouse gases, our carbon footprint, and the longer term effect of our current lives and lifestyle on the planet. Individually, we are all charged with making small changes to better protect and improve the environment. However, noting that we spend about half of the day at work, the workplace cannot be excluded from those efforts. Below are six ways through which we can foster greener offices through better and more prudent use of ICTs.

1. Encourage more teleconferencing

As technology has advanced, there is an even greater expectation of increased productivity in the workplace. Hence in addition to our basic responsibilities, frequently there are a number of other tasks and activities in which we must participate. One of these activities, which although useful or necessary in the business context might not be as environmentally friendly, is meetings.

Though good arguments can be made in support of face-to-face meetings, especially when all participants are based at the same location, some of those very arguments get weakened when commuting is necessary. Travel not only increases employees’ carbon footprint and that assigned to organisations, it may not be as efficient, as cost effective or as productive when compared with teleconferencing.

Having said this, effective teleconferencing requires preparation and discipline. However, its savings to an organisation and its employees, in both time and money can be considerable, making it an even more attractive option in the long run.

2. Implement telecommuting

As cost of living, and cost of energy in particular, continue to increase across the Caribbean, it is likely that both businesses and employees will need to explore alternatives through which savings can be realised. A popular option that has been adopted by a number of organisations is telecommuting (also known as remote working or telework), where employees are allowed to work away from the office premises (at home), but remain connected electronically.

Similar to teleconferencing, remote working requires preparation and discipline on the part of the organisation and employees, and a range of options can be explored and adopted, based on the imperatives that have been identified. However, as discussed in earlier articles such as Must you still go to the office? A case for teleworking in the Caribbean, a range of benefits can be realised in terms of staff morale and productivity, in addition to the environmental and financial ones that might be readily apparent.

3. Use less paper

Although using computing devices is integral to our professional lives, far too often, many of use still need to print documents in order to read or review them. Further, in addition to the ink, paper and electricity that are needed to print said documents, once we have completed the task at hand, we tend to have no further need for the hard copies we have made.

Efficiently reading electronic documents on a screen requires practice. However, the effort to reduce printouts in an organisation can result in significant savings in the long run.

Additionally, to support such an initiative, organisations may also wish to adopt policies that encourage less printing and conservation of paper. A key area that still has not been comprehensively explored by many Caribbean businesses and governments is in relation to filing and information management. Many organisations still maintain the practice of generating hard copies of (all) documents for their records, when perhaps electronic copies could suffice.

4. Recycle more

As Small Island Developing States, Caribbean countries have become more aware and concerned about environmental issues such as global warming, but the same degree of attention is not necessarily being paid to the local environment and to recycling in particular. In many countries across the Caribbean, electronic waste is still being dumped in landfills, though they have toxic chemicals that can contaminate water supplies, are harmful when incinerated, and are dangerous to both plant and animal life (for more information, see Where do our electronic devices go to die? and What is the big deal about e-waste? ).

Although a recycling culture might be best realised through national policies and initiatives, organisations can begin to do their part by adopting pro-recycling company policies and supporting private sector-driven projects. In many Caribbean countries, small recycling businesses are on the rise. Currently, the emphasis tends to be on products such as paper, glass, plastics, batteries and ink cartridges. Options for the safe disposal and/or recycling of computing devices might not yet exist in every country, but where they do, organisations are encouraged to support them.

5. Adopt greener equipment

In the world of tech devices there has been an on-going battle between processing power and energy efficiency, as generally, these two factors reside at opposite ends of the spectrum. As many of us have experienced with our smartphones, for example, with every new product release, devices processing power is increasing, but they are also being packed with new applications and features, which drain the battery at an even faster rate. Hence, you end up charging your phone throughout the day to restore battery levels, as opposed doing so just once a day or every few days as had been the case in the past.

Although as a general rule of thumb businesses might be advised to purchase the best devices they can afford, “best” might not be the most environmentally friendly. There are a range of online resources, such as Greenpeace, GSA Advantage, the International Telecommunications Union, along with popular trade publications that regularly highlight greener tech products and technical standards that should be considered and adopted.

6. Proactive maintenance

Finally, with use and wear and tear, similar to vehicles, computing devices can become slower, less efficient and consume more energy. One way of better managing this occurrence is through regular maintenance. Maintenance might be as straightforward as regularly rebooting devices, deleting temporary files, junk mail, trash, etc., though occasionally, expert assistance might be also needed. However, such simple practices can extend the useful life of devices and their component parts, thus reducing (or delaying) the significant capital spend needed to fix and replace critical equipment upon which the organisation relies.


Image credit;  Free Grunge Textures, flickr