Go Beyond The Usual ‘GREEN’ Workplace

GREEN is in. Ever since the screening of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” becoming eco-friendly or “green” has become part and parcel of many companies’ institutional image building campaigns. But even before this landmark film, many offices have already adopted eco-friendly practices such as waste segregation, recycling and electricity conservation.

Commonly seen in offices are boxes to store paper that can be reused, different storage bins for various types of wastes, and various posters reminding employees to turn off electricity when not needed. With these in place, some companies may believe that they have already “greened” their workplaces.

Companies’ Carbon Footprint

While these practices do help in saving the environment, companies now need to go beyond these usual green practices and adopt a more comprehensive program that will put green as an important performance criteria in every aspect of the business.

Juan Reyes, president of Eco-life Foundation, Inc. says that “It is imperative for companies which usually leave a larger carbon footprint to be more serious in implementing green measures in the office. Today, the ill effects of global warming and climate change are being felt by everyone. It already has an adverse impact on businesses. In Asian countries, particularly in cities, there have been noticeable changes in weather. Temperatures have become more extreme and seasonal patterns have changed. In recent years, Asian countries have been experiencing more frequent heavy rains and flooding on one extreme and drought on the other extreme which have wrought substantial damage to businesses and people.“

Eco-life Foundation, Inc. is a foundation based in the Philippines dedicated to increasing awareness and implementing projects on sustainable reforestation and renewable energy as strategies to combat global warming and climate change. (For more information on this foundation, visit their web site http://www.ecolifefoundation.com.)

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) in their web site, http://www.ucsusa.org also state that “Global warming is well underway and will have wide-ranging consequences for our health and well-being. The primary cause of global warming is from human activity, most significantly burning of fossil fuels to drive cars, generate electricity, and operate our homes and businesses. Clearing tropical forests contributes to about 20 percent of global warming emissions. When too much global warming pollution is released into the air, it acts like a blanket, trapping heat in our atmosphere and altering weather patterns globally and here in the U.S. We need to deeply reduce the heat-trapping emissions causing this effect if we are to address global warming.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists is the leading science-based nonprofit working for a healthy environment and a safer world. UCS combines independent scientific research and citizen action to develop innovative, practical solutions and to secure responsible changes in government policy, corporate practices, and consumer choices.

More Comprehensive Green Program

So how can companies take a more serious and comprehensive approach to “greening” their workplaces?

“The first thing to do,” Reyes suggests, “is to assess how large is your company’s carbon footprint and from there come up with ways on how to reduce it.”

According to Wikipedia, “A carbon footprint is ‘the total set of GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions caused directly and indirectly by an individual, organization, event or product’ (UK Carbon Trust 2008). An individual, nation, or organization’s carbon footprint is measured by undertaking a GHG emissions assessment.”

There are many tools available to calculate a business’ carbon footprint. In an article published in ClimateChangeCorp.com last Jan. 24, 2008 entitled “The Truth About… Carbon Calculator,” author Emma Clarke writes, “Tools designed for measuring a business’s carbon emissions are available from The Carbon Trust, Carbon Neutral Company, BT, Pure Trust and C Level. Enablon, the sustainable development software solution provider, also works with large companies to build online carbon calculators for their personal use. … Business carbon calculators go straight for the hard data. This centers on annual energy consumption, fuel consumption of company vehicles and details on business travel.”

Four R’s Of Greening

Reyes says that a company can follow the four Rs in planning out its greening strategy. These are: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Reforest.

Reduce stands for reducing energy consumption, especially of fossil fuels, waste and pollution. The burning of fossil fuels such as gasoline, coal, oil, natural gas in combustion reactions results in the production of carbon dioxide. In fact, it has been said that the cause of global warming is primarily from the combustion of fossil fuels in energy use.

For companies, this means studying various areas in their business that use electricity such as lighting, air-conditioning, computers and other office equipment, plant equipment and machineries, and others. This also includes looking at transportation and travel which also release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere through the use of cars, ships and airplanes by employees for official and personal purposes.

There are many ways to reduce. Some examples are:

• Making use of natural lighting before using electric lights

• Changing incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescent lamps

• Using individual high-end LED desk lamps that can be turned on for specific areas rather than using overhead lights
that light up larger areas

• Setting computers to sleep or hibernate rather than using screensavers

• Unplugging “vampire” electronics or equipment that still suck in electricity even when these are turned off

• Digitizing documents whenever possible to reduce paper consumption

• Exchanging gas guzzling vehicles for fuel-efficient diesel vehicles that can partly use bio-diesel

• Considering allowing some employees to work from home (which reduces their need to use transportation going to and from the workplace)

Reuse means using again supplies, materials, equipment and other items often used in companies. Reusing reduces waste. The ways in which to reuse things are unlimited. All that is needed is to be creative.

Some examples are:

• Refilling of printer ink cartridges

• Using paper (if it cannot be avoided) more than once such as printing on both sides or using already printed paper as wrappers

• Refurbishing old furniture to look like new

• Using reusable coffee mugs and other dishware and eliminating disposable plastic and Styrofoam dishware which contributes to the pollution of the environment (make sure however to use biodegradable soaps and detergents for
dish washing)

Recycling means breaking an item into its various components to be used for other purposes. For instance, old newspapers can be sold to manufacturers of recycled paper. Every ton of recycled paper saves almost 400 gallons of oil, three cubic yards of landfill space and 17 trees. Supporting recycling also means that when buying a product, preference is given to those products that have post-consumer recycled content. There are many suppliers now of paper products that use recycled paper.

The last R stands for Reforest. To participate in a reforestation project brings the act of greening the workplace beyond its four walls. Protecting the environment means being aware of our interconnectedness with the larger community from which all human beings derive their existence and sustainable life. These forests, either in rural or urban setting, serve as powerful carbon sinks which mitigate climate change. Thus, companies should mobilize their employees to actively participate in and/ or support reforestation efforts.

Reyes shares that Eco-life Foundation has a mechanism in which people based in cities can actively participate in reforestation. “We have established a ‘Treebank Project’ which is an innovative program that seeks to mobilize the various sectors in the great task of sustainable reforestation across the country. Through its ‘Adopt-a Hectare’ project, a company can involve its managers, employees and workers in this noble undertaking. Through this project, the workplace becomes the catalyst for sustainable environmental action as its people transform themselves from mere ‘environmental cooperators’ to ‘environmental ambassadors’ capable of mobilizing the entire populace to fight environmental degradation.”

Institutionalizing The Green Workplace

Greening the workplace deserve serious consideration, planning and mobilization from the whole organization. And like any organizational development intervention, management should take the lead in its implementation. Organizational infrastructure and mechanisms can also be put into place to institutionalize greening the workplace.

For example, Ad Hoc Green Committees composed of management and employee representatives can be organized to ensure that saving the environment is an important consideration in the operations of the company. Or suggestion systems can be put into place to generate ideas from all the members of the organization on how to implement the 4 Rs Greening Strategy.

Like the proverbial frog that got boiled because it did not become aware of the slowly heating water, companies need to jump out of the pot so to speak and put more serious efforts in saving the environment. In the final analysis, it is all about the survival of not just a business but the human race.

Author: Regina Galang Reyes. First published in Management Systems June 28, 2010.

Photo credit: www.sxc.hu

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