Updated: Jul 27, 2020
By Marina McCoy
I've been there. You try your best to live waste-free throughout your daily life, but as soon as you get to the office, you are surrounded by wasteful items that you have no control over. So what's a person to do? I've created some simple tips that the average person can help implement at their office. Whether your office takes place in a huge building, small building or is part of a co-working facility, these tips will help your office reduce their overall waste consumption.
Why reduce office waste?
We have heard about switching to LED bulbs, installing low-flow faucets, and having recycling available at the office. However, we are missing a big part of the problem - WASTE. Recycling and composting help divert the waste away from the landfill, but the waste is still being generated regardless. The ideal scenario is to try to eliminate waste from the source - stopping it before it gets produced and here is how you do it.
Identify the key waste contributors
First, you want to identify what your key waste contributors are. I recommend doing a mini waste audit and starting in the office kitchen, then printing area, then offices, etc. Start small and work your way up. A simple glance in your office's trash and recycling bin will do the trick. What are the most common items of waste your office is producing?
Identify the alternatives
What are some simple swaps your office can make to be more environmentally sound? For the co-working facility I work in, we went for the 'low hanging fruit' at first. This included: switching to reusables, getting rid of disposables, removing k-cups and switching back to a pot of coffee or having refillable k-cups available, using real towels in the kitchen instead of paper towels, bringing in composting and stronger recycling efforts and having reminder signage about overprinting and using too many paper towels/napkins. Make sure to make it FUN!
Remember, sustainable alternatives don't have to be expensive or even brand new. Want to ditch the disposable coffee cups or have reusable containers available for employees? Check out the local thrift stores, overstock stores, or liquidation centers to get a great deal on reusables!
Make it fun
We have had the greatest success with buy-in from management and employees by making it fun, easy, approachable and also a competition. We host waste challenges to see who can produce the least amount of waste for a week or a couple of weeks. The winner gets a sustainable goodie bag and $100.
By setting up educational signage around the office about proper waste diversion and reduction techniques that are goofy, helps cultivate a fun yet environmental focused office. We don't penalize when someone does something incorrectly, like forgetting to recycle or compost, we make light of it and encourage them to do it right next time by showing them how to. Sustainability is intimidating to most people, so it is important to make it approachable, fun and accessible for everyone to take part in.
Why should offices be more environmentally friendly?
Work is where most people spend their time during the week. It's where some people adopt habits. If your workplace adopts sustainable habits, it can encourage others to incorporate them into their own daily routine at home and inspire others to do the same. Say your office started to compost, and a couple of employees saw how easy it was to do, that they decided to start composting at home. Then they have friends over and show them that they are composting, and it inspires them to do so. That's the kind of change we want to see happen.
Start small and work your way up. Most of the sustainable strategies that reduce overall waste consumption are systems-based. This means you have to understand you are changing people's daily behaviors. If you do too much right away, people will be less receptive, which leads to a lower success or buy-in rate. Take your time, it will be worth it.