The Green Workplace

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Wanda Urbanska offers five techiques to help you make your office a greener place.
by Wanda Urbanska

What can you do when you’re thoroughly green in your home but find your workplace lacking? Your coworkers don’t recycle; they leave lights and computer screens on at the end of the day; and the concept of environmental stewardship interests them about as much as a box of soggy pizza.

Of course, if you’re the CEO, you can do a lot – everything from green-lighting the construction of state-of-the-art, high-performance facilities to mandating eco-friendly, company-wide policies that will be enforced from the top down.

But no matter what your job, eco-interested employees these days are likely to find a receptive audience (not only with fellow “greeniacs” but) with upper management, as evidence shows that businesses signing on to the sustainability imperative rise to the top of their class, not only morally but financially. Indeed, surveys reveal that those companies integrating green policies into their business model consistently outperform those that do not. For instance, the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2008 report, “Doing Good: Business and Sustainability Challenge,” surveyed 1,254 senior business executives to discern the impact of their social responsibility actions on stock performance.

“The findings include a surprising link between corporate sustainability and strong share price performance,” says Leigh Stringer, a LEED® accredited architect and author of The Green Workplace: Sustainable Strategies that Benefit Employees, the Environment, and the Bottom Line (Palgrave MacMillan: 2009). Companies with the highest share-price growth in the years 2005 to 2007, she says, “paid more attention to sustainability issues, while those with the worst performance tended to pay less attention.”

Indeed, a whole host of reasons exist for companies going green–everything from financial benefits to increased employee productivity, to lowering their carbon footprint and mitigating corporate risks, to enjoying enhanced status and PR buzz.

Greening your workplace: action steps
But if the green mandate is not coming from the top down, what can individual employees do push the action upstream?

  1. Start talking. Over the water cooler, identify a group of like-minded employees who are interested in taking green interests to the next level. Call an initial meeting over lunch or after work. Be sure to invite management to participate, and (if they don’t attend) keep your bosses apprised of what’s happening. Once this group morphs into a regular committee, you can take a look at both individual choices and company policies. The latter might include such matters as climate control, cleaning protocols (there are viable green commercial-scale cleaning programs) and employee wellness programs.
  2. Baby steps. The mantra of the green movement is that nothing’s too small to make a difference. So small steps–even ideas borrowed from home–count, such as encouraging your fellow employees to think before they print, to use less water when washing their hands or brushing their teeth, to bring in their own mugs in lieu of throwaways. You can encourage each other to bike, carpool, or use public transportation–or, even better, to telecommute whenever possible. 
  3. Focus on what you can do. Once you move beyond individual action into the company-wide arena, Stringer advises green activists not to “bite the whole elephant off at once.” Focus on areas that you can change. For instance, a good start for many companies is something black and white: paper policy. Workers can be encouraged to save important documents electronically rather than print them out; numbers can be tracked. With the savings in printing costs, the green committee can make the case to procurement to stock the more expensive recycled-content paper.
  4. Go green for the holidays. The holidays are an ideal time to go green at work. Carol Holst, director of, suggests ways to reduce “needless consumerism” at work, starting with reusing last year’s holiday decorations (and/or saving this year’s for reuse next year). Be sure to unplug Christmas tree lights at the end of the day, and send out electronic greeting cards rather than their paper equivalent to save money and natural resources. “You’ll win brownie points all around,” Holst says. “Your customers will appreciate your concern for the planet.”
  5. Social pressure works! Never underestimate the power of modeling positive eco-friendly behavior. Ironically, social pressure serves as a powerful change agent, and the savings associated with green behaviors–when aggregated over time, among a large group, add up significantly. When others notice and follow suit, before long you have the beginnings of a green workplace movement.

Ultimately, management will be so pleased with the numbers they see–and the positive energy unleashed–that (if they don’t already have one) they will hire a full-time director of sustainability, or expand the department.

Following are websites that offer resources about going green at work that you may find useful. Ask your librarian for additional suggestions, including recommended local advocacy and discussion groups that promote the green workplace.
Wanda Urbanska, author of eight books, including The Heart of Simple Living: 7 Paths to a Better Life (Krause: 2010), is’s green and simple living blogger.

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