How Green is you Office

By at home

Anita Roddick is, and always has been, passionate about the environment. Here she reveals how every one of us can do our bit to make it a better world.

Countless times I am asked this question: ‘How can I be more ethical and environmentally friendly, not only in my business, but in my office – and will all this cost a fortune?’

The good news is you can transform your workplace and it will be good for business and it will be a cost-saving exercise.

Most businesses in any country are extremely busy and often under a lot of financial and time pressures. This is especially true of small to medium sized businesses for who the priority is often just to survive! Considering anything except the financial bottom line can be difficult.

Pressure to ‘do better’ by being ‘good’ is coming from all areas, consumers are being more vigilante and demanding to know not only the story behind products, but the behaviour of the company behind these products. One fax to Unilever by Greenpeace stopped that company from putting GM ingredients into baby foods. You just have to look at the statistics for ethical purchasing in the UK, which show an annual 13 per cent growth in ethical purchasing, to see this trend {source: Ethical Purchasing Index 2003 published by the New Economics Foundation and the Coop Bank}.

In addition to consumer pressure, the UK government has made it a core policy to enforce more environmentally sustainable activity in business. A constant stream of legislation reinforces this. Recent legal directives from the EU cover the use of hazardous materials in electronic equipment, the recycling of electronic equipment and the use of biodegradable packaging.

These external pressures are also being matched by a growing awareness by business owners that being more ethical saves cost and time and helps morale within the business, which all contributes to a more successful financial bottom line.

A key opportunity as to how you can become a more ethical business is the way you run your office. Like consumers, businesses own purchasing has become a core aspect of how to become more ethical.

The range of ethical products and services available is now considerable and covers most of a basic office’s requirements and includes complete ranges of eco-friendly office stationery, ethical cleaning services, recycled electronic equipment, renewable electricity, fair trade food stuffs, bio-degradable packaging and even biodegradable containers, cups, plates and utensils for your canteen, specialised recycling services, ethical office water systems, recycled office furniture, energy efficient lighting and electrical equipment, and even ethical banking, insurance services, Internet and telecommunications. London even has its first eco-courier service!

Office Ethics
Here are some criteria which can be considered when deciding how to run your office in a more ethical manner.

Buying office products that are resource efficient
A major component of ethical purchasing is choosing products that are environmentally sustainable. Ideally this means choosing to buy office products that are made from recycled materials, renewable or biodegradable sources and are energy efficient.

Recycling office waste
Recycling has now become an almost everyday activity for most households and businesses are beginning to catch up as cost and convenience of these services improve.

Buying from businesses that share your concern for the environment and social justice
More and more businesses are concerned to underpin financial performance with social and environmental responsibility. Many businesses are signing up to international accreditation standards such as ISO14001 which ensure their organisation and products meet strict environmental and social criteria. There are now thousands of businesses in the UK calling themselves "Social Enterprises" – businesses that overtly try to match environmental and social goals with financial goals. Choosing to buy from these kinds of businesses is an important signal to other businesses and will often mean you are buying products and services that have a much stronger ethical component.

Buying products that reduce exploitation of people and natural resources in poorer countries
International trade may seem a remote issue, but when commodity prices fall dramatically it has a catastrophic impact on the lives of millions of small scale producers, forcing many into crippling debt and countless others to lose their land and their homes. In order to tackle this, a major initiative called Fair Trade, whereby certain products are given the Fair Trade mark has grown up in recent years. Producers registered with the Fair Trade Organisation receive a minimum price that covers the cost of production and an extra premium that is invested in the local community, or the Community Trade ingredients in The Body Shop products.

Supporting local businesses strengthens local community
Buying from large, often remote, corporations threatens our local economies and communities, diversity and choice. Creating the right balance between local and global economies will help to increase individual well-being, reduce inequalities and promote environmental sustainability.

How even small businesses can buy competitively and ethically
Whilst larger businesses and corporations may have the resources and luxury of employing whole teams of people to look into these issues and find appropriate sources, for small to medium sized businesses the issues can seem far too complex to deal with cost effectively. Nevertheless there is a company whose service is designed to solve this problem!

Via3’s Ethical Office Service meets the needs of small to medium sized businesses that are seeking a price competitive and quality assured ethical office supply service. The service takes the form of a catalogue from which you can choose any number of products all of which meet the above criteria – so you don’t even have to think too much about the complexities. You can purchase a wide variety of products and services covering most of your basic office requirements, even including renewable electricity.

The purchasing and administration is all done through a single invoice – saving you more time. Purchasing through the service also provides you with an Ethical Office kite mark that you can use on your own publicity – an important signal for your customers.

Details of the service can be found at or contact Via3 customer services on 0845 456 4540.

Putting green issues into practice
EMMA LEE-POTTER looks at how the environmentally friendly office actually works

At home, the green message is finally getting through. More and more of us are recycling our rubbish, switching off the telly when it’s not in use and cutting out unnecessary car journeys.

Andrea Smith and Nicola Baird, the authors of a new book called Save Cash and Save the Planet, reckon energy-saving measures like these can save each individual family as much as £200 a year. Edinburgh University academic Dr David Reay says living a green lifestyle ‘from the cradle to the grave’ may save up to £80,000 per person, as well as reduce climate emissions by more than 1,000 tonnes.

‘Climate change is the biggest environmental threat the planet faces,’ says Friends of the Earth executive director Tony Juniper. ‘Small steps such as turning down the thermostat, switching to energy efficient light bulbs or driving a fuel-efficient car will save cash and help the environment by reducing our impact on climate change.’

But how do we set about going green at work? The Carbon Trust, which helps business and the public sector cut carbon emissions and reduce the impact of climate change, believes companies could do far more to be environmentally friendly. At some firms, waste disposal costs account for up to five per cent of their annual turnover.

Just switching off lights in empty rooms can slash 15 per cent from the office lighting bill – using daylight, after all, is absolutely free.

Sending mobile phones and printer cartridges to be recycled – rather than letting them end up in landfill sites where they’ll cause pollution – is another environmentally friendly measure.

Many organisations and businesses across the UK are coming up with imaginative schemes to create greener work environments. The firm of architects behind the design of two new Exeter primary schools has hit on the innovative idea of turning used trainers into eco-friendly rooftop flower beds to attract insects and garden birds, encourage wildlife to grow and collect rainwater.

Staff at Raincoat, a design company near Bath, have come up with a host of different schemes to make their office as environmentally friendly as possible.

‘When moving premises, we decided it was a good time to formalise our company policy on waste,’ says account director Marc Hitchens. ‘As individuals, most of us recycle at home – but as a business, a substantial amount of recyclable waste was simply going in the bin. We have now adopted a list of policies and procedures. They are simple to follow and make a huge difference to our outputs.

‘Because we have a culture of recycle and reuse, it permeates into the attitude of all the team. There is a pronounced preference for buying "unwrapped" items for lunch, and everyone simply assumes it’s part of what we do.’

Measures adopted by Raincoat include putting paper recycling boxes next to every desk, communicating with clients and suppliers via email wherever possible, sending ink and toner cartridges to charity recycling schemes and composting food scraps, vacuum cleaner contents and other organic waste.

‘It’s vital we all do our bit’
Surveyor Ellie Rogers was determined to make her North London business more environmentally friendly and hopes her strategies will encourage her staff to go green at home, too.
‘I’m a bit of an obsessive about being eco-friendly at home and it seemed natural to carry this attitude over into the office. The impacts of climate change will be felt far and wide and I feel very strongly that we are holding the earth and its resources in trust for future generations so it’s vital that we all do our bit.

Previously we printed and posted large drawings and designs using huge amounts of paper, plastic, packing materials, toners and energy in production and transport. By upgrading our software and installing broadband, we no longer need to send out hard copies, which is great for the environment.
We have bought a new photocopier that has an automatic power down system to reduce energy consumption and have put up save energy stickers to remind people to turn lights and appliances off.
We have also decommissioned our old hot water urn that used to boil almost constantly, and replaced it with a much more efficient system.’

Top tips for green offices
Sustainable Manufacturing & Recycling

Work out an action plan. It’s advisable to start small.
Your first initiative could be to use chlorine-free and recycled paper for business stationery – the use of virgin and old growth forests for office paper is destroying habitats and communities across the world.

Do your research and talk to staff. Check if equipment is being left on after work or when it’s not in use for long periods of time. Keep an eye on what type of waste is being chucked into rubbish bins.

Find out how many people walk, cycle or travel by bus to work.

Encourage everyone to switch off lights, computers, photocopiers and other electrical equipment at night.

Ensure external doors and windows are draught-proofed. Insulate pipe work and hot water tanks. Don’t block radiators with office furniture – it reduces efficiency and output.

Use less paper – this will cut down on waste,
save money and give staff more space. Set the photocopier to double-sided copying, rely on email rather than memos, letters and faxes, use scrap paper in the fax machine and for printing internal memos.

Reduce the number of plastic cups you use.
Take a real cup, mug or glass into the office instead.

Set up a recycling system.
This will cut waste volumes and disposal costs, provide income from the sale of recyclable materials and reduce operating costs. Paper accounts for 70 per cent of office waste so put recycling boxes where everyone can see them. Most products are recyclable these days but it’s essential to find out who’ll take what.

Look out for charity appeals – earlier this year top recycling company Eurosource pledged cash to Comic Relief for every mobile and inkjet printer cartridge donated. Make sure the whole staff is involved by sticking up posters and sending internal emails to inform them what can be recycled. Keep everyone informed of progress.

Reduce water use. Install a water meter, check cisterns, overflows and pipe work – a dripping tap could waste as much as 90 litres of water a week – and fill kettles with enough water for your needs, not to the top.

Buy green office products. Check whether packaging can be re-used, recycled or returned.

Try to cut down on the number of car journeys – this will help reduce pollution levels and cut climate change gas emissions. Champion the use of more fuel-efficient cars. It costs around £1,250 in petrol for a six-litre Bentley to cover 6,000 miles, compared to only £280 for a Citroen C3 with a diesel 1.4 litre engine.

Encourage employees who live nearby to walk, cycle or get the bus to work. Some companies provide mileage allowances for cyclists, install showers and changing rooms and give free cycle proficiency training.

Purchasing sustainable manufactured & recycled products
It is not only stationery that can be bought, think wider afield. There are a large number of other products, including, brushes, wallpaper, toilet tissue, pencils, tools, flooring, furniture, in fact anything made from wood, even charcoal.

To ensure you are truly buying environmentally sustained products, look out for the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) label. The FSC is an international, non-governmental organisation dedicated to promoting sustainable management of the world’s forests Working in 28 countries, and supported by other world organisations such as WWF, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, plus many others.

The FSC has a strict inspection and certification standard from the forest level, right through the supply chain to the final product. The FSC label is found on over 10,000 product lines in the UK alone and products are stocked by well known high street stores.

The FSC can assist in giving you guidelines for purchasing products and promoting your use of those products to your customers, or obtaining your own FSC certification for your own products.

For more information contact 01686 413916

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