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Creating a Greener Workplace

Everyone's thinking green these days. Many homes are reusing and recycling. People are becoming more aware that their activities can impact the planet.

This greater environmental awareness is spreading to the workplace. Whether you work in a factory, an office or outdoors, there are many ways to create a greener workplace.

One common barrier to a greener workplace is that management often worries about the costs. After all, businesses have to watch their budgets. The good news is that environmentally friendly changes don't have to be expensive. And many steps can even save money in the long run.

It can all start by thinking more about the environmental impact you have at work.

"Most green initiatives do not require a radical shift in the way anyone does business or lives their lives. They're more a shift in the mindset," says Ross Hill. He is the president of an office supply company.

"It's like choosing to buy a package of recycled paper instead of a value-brand paper with no recycled content. The recycled paper isn't going to make your printer run better, or use less ink, or make your printed materials look significantly different, but maybe that recycled paper will make you think more about how you use paper and how you dispose of it."

And going green doesn't mean your workplace has to make sacrifices when it comes to technology. There are many exciting technical innovations that are designed to reduce a company's environmental impact.

Leigh Stringer is a vice-president at HOK, a global architectural firm. She works in their Washington, D.C. office and is the author of The Green Workplace: Sustainable Strategies that Benefit Employees, the Environment and the Bottom Line.

Stringer says that green technology, which gets a lot of attention in the media, can be a means to reduce your carbon footprint -- the impact your actions have on the environment. This is good news for those of us who get excited about new technology. But she does warn against buying more than you need, even if it is environmentally friendly.

"Try not to get sucked into buying more electronics than you normally would -- this is not exactly green behavior -- but do consider technology that helps you do your job while minimizing energy, water or raw-material use," she says.

"For example, use a laptop as opposed to a desktop -- laptops can use up to 80 percent less energy -- or try a tele-conference or video conference instead of traveling for your next meeting. And set your computer to only print stuff out when you have to. Consider duplex printing and only print black and white if you can."

A great side effect of being green-minded is that companies can save money. If you can bring an idea to your boss that will help save money, it could help you advance in the company. At least you'll be seen as a person with great ideas. That is never a bad thing!

"By being obsessive about paper reduction, Sprint has reduced their paper use by 25 percent -- a $3 million annual savings," says Stringer. "Sprint calculated that if 10 percent of their employees took one less business trip per year, they could easily save $6 million annually as well."

Hill's company has reduced its waste by 70 percent. Where the company used to have its big waste bin emptied twice per week, the bin is now emptied once a month.

"How did we do this, you ask? We got rid of most of our garbage cans!" Hill says with a laugh. "And we implemented a full recycling program, including organics, metals, glass, wood, computer parts, batteries, ballasts, light bulbs, paper, and hard and soft plastics."

Some other examples of how the business has gone green include its usage of fuel-efficient cars for company vehicles, using bio-diesel in its delivery trucks and encouraging vendors to reduce the use of styrofoam in packaging.

The company's distribution center and administrative office are certified "green buildings" by the Building Owners and Managers Association.

Smaller businesses are going green, too. Alesha Davies runs an organic catering company. She says everyone in the company uses all recyclable and compostable containers, serves the food on non-disposable platters, and composts and recycles.

"It is all about getting in the habit of it," says Davies. "Make it a game! Collect points with your co-workers or fellow students to see who can recycle the most. Have an eco-prize at the end. Once you get going you start to see all of the easy ways you can make a difference every day."

So going green at work can be fun? Good news! And it doesn't have to stop there.

"It's important to 'green' our workplaces because, on the whole, buildings have a significant impact on the environment and the health of people," says Stringer. "Also, companies that green their workplaces will naturally have an impact on their employees who will likely also change their behavior at home."

To get started, research local companies or organizations that focus on things like recycling. Get together with co-workers to start a green team at work. Talk to friends and family and see what they're doing at their jobs.

"Ask lots of questions," says Hill. "You'll probably be surprised at how many options there are."

Davies adds that even if you feel like what you are doing at your workplace is not going to make a difference, it will. Everything adds up -- even a few recycled sticky notes, one less printed e-mail or a reusable coffee filter in the staff room can help.

"Every little thing we do every day is helping," she says. "And if we all continue to do a little more each day, we will make a difference."

Stringer says that this is an exciting time to be changing the way things are in our workplaces. And despite the economic turmoil that many of us are focusing on right now, it's still possible to create change. Tight budgets offer no choice but to get creative with reusing and recycling!

"What is so inspiring to me right now is the creativity and imagination around renewable energy and other green industries, some that never existed before," she says. "As frightening as our economic times are today, it has not slowed down our ability to create, adapt and find new ways to do more with less. It's an incredible time to be alive and watch it all unfold."

Sounds exciting, doesn't it? And it's easy to get involved at work.

"Greening your workspace is not just about sorting recyclables into paper and plastic," says Hill. "Environmental sustainability reaches much deeper, much further into the hearts and minds of those who care. It becomes a way of thinking, a way of living, and a way of working toward the future."

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