Thinking Green at work: Five tips for a sustainable small business


From Jenny DeVaughn, Social Media Manager at Waste Management, Earth & Industry

Image source: cc license eoringel/Flickr

With Earth Day just around the corner, it is the perfect time of year to reflect on our current sustainable habits and how we can improve our efforts to help the planet. Do you recycle at home? Great. Do you use a refillable water bottle at the gym? Well done. It is important to live “green” at home and on-the-go, but have you thought about your habits at work?

Given a 40-hour work week, most Americans spend approximately 36 percent of their waking hours in the work place. This is a significant portion of time, and working Americans should prioritize sustainability during work as much as they do elsewhere. While employees can make personal decisions to bring re-useable cutlery to lunch or a re-useable thermos for their coffee fix, there are many company-wide changes that will improve a business’ sustainability.

Recycle Paper and Packaging

The typical U.S. office worker uses about 10,000 sheets of copy paper each year. Whether you work in an office building, retail store or factory, your company consumes a lot of paper and packaging to run smoothly. All that cardboard, paper and plastic can be recycled, but many businesses still dispose of that valuable material. Americans recycle approximately 34 percent of municipal waste, but this rate can be improved if small and medium businesses begin to take recycling more seriously.

This Earth Day, we at Waste Management encourage small and medium businesses to begin recycling and/or composting. This sustainable practice is not only beneficial to the environment, but can also save companies money by reusing valuable materials. Recycling just one glass bottle saves enough energy to light a 100-watt light bulb for four hours, power a computer for 30 minutes, or a television for 20 minutes.

In today’s eco-conscious society, customers are sometimes more willing to patronize business that place a focus on sustainability.  Some recycling service providers even offer incentives to small businesses interested in “going green.” For example, this year Waste Management will donate money to the Houston Audubon to preserve valuable habitat for migratory birds for every new business that chooses to begin recycling before April 30.

Recycling Electronics, Batteries, and Light Bulbs

Everyday items including computers, phones, light bulbs and batteries are staple products in American businesses, but they are banned from landfill disposal in many locations.  These hazardous objects should be properly recycled, as improper disposal is risky to human health and the health of the environment. Find out where to best recycle your company’s hazardous waste with online resources including Earth 911 or services including Waste Management’sLamptracker.

Upgrade Your HVAC System

Companies can save both money and emissions by upgrading to more energy-efficient heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. Newer systems significantly reduce energy use by as much as 50%, and use newer refrigerants that are less harmful to the ozone layer. Many employees have little control of the HVAC systems in their workplaces, but with such a high level of potential energy savings, it is worth it to discuss the HVAC system at your company with the operations administrator. Visit for more information.

Buy Green Energy

Like individual residences, many companies purchase power from the municipal grid. Open energy markets often have producers that get their energy from solar or wind – options that can be cost-effective as well as sustainable, thanks to certain tax incentives.  Find out more insights by visiting

Encourage Employees to Reduce Energy Consumption

Turning off lights, taking the bus and reducing copying and printing are all examples of ways employees can help stay sustainable – even while at work. Small steps can make a huge impact. For example, the annual cost of 1,000 employees using paper towels (not including waste removal or janitorial services) is $42,000. Using high-efficiency electric hand dryers can reduce this costs and waste stream.

Another opportunity to reduce waste is to provide re-usable coffee mugs, water cups, plates and utensils. Many offices provide plastic, paper and even Styrofoam tableware for employees, but this produces a lot of material waste that could be avoided with the employment of washable dishes and cutlery.

These few simple changes within your business can go a long way to saving the planet all year.  Share in the comments section some things your office does – or could to better – to improve sustainability.

Article originally published by Earth & Industry.