• Elly Both

10 tips for a sustainable workplace

One positive that COVID has shown us this year is that remote working arrangements are possible! But there are also benefits for heading back into the office – especially the social aspects, or should I say, collaboration!

Whilst many of us have been working from home, there are plans afoot to bring employees safely back to the office around the world. This means that now is the perfect time to start planning to make your return to the office as green as possible!

Here are 10 actions you can take to reduce your carbon footprint at work:

1. Save paper - Starting at a grassroots level, saving paper is an important way to reduce your carbon footprint at work. Reducing paper saves use of precious resources, especially water, and the ways to save are simple:

  • Set your printer to print double-sided

  • Set a code or delayed print function to reduce printing errors

  • Consider digital file-sharing alternatives to printing: OneDrive, Sharepoint and Google Drive to name a few

  • Reuse printed paper that is no longer needed

  • Choose paper wisely – FSC certified or recycled is best

  • Recycle – for confidential info, or if there’s no option to reuse it, shred it and recycle

2. Save Water - Report any dripping taps or faulty automatic taps to building management, use the half flush, and help to educate others to be conscious of saving water in the office.

3. Save Energy – We can all use a good reminder of the best ways to save energy. Here are some refreshers:

  • Turn appliances off at the power source when not in use. This includes your monitor, laptop, and kitchen appliances

  • Once your laptop is charged, unplug it! A charged laptop that continues to charge while in use still uses 66% of the power!

  • Turn off lights when not in use or, even better, see about adding motion-activated sensor lights that only turn on (and stay on) on when someone is in the room

4. Switch disposables for reusables This switch is important in every avenue of our lives, and the office is no exception. Whilst a reusable coffee cup, for example, might have an initial outlay cost, they are designed to last, so the cost per use works out to be quite insignificant! Of course, the most motivating thing about investing in reusables, is the amount of plastic you are removing from the circular economy and reducing the risk of it ending up in the environment.

5. Recycle right - Recycling programs are usually put in place by your building management team, but success of the program depends on you! Here are a few guidelines:

  • Reduce or Reuse – Recycling is no longer considered the solution to all our waste problems, but it’s still an essential component of the circular economy. By bringing a focus to first reducing or reusing our items, we will lighten the load on recycling programs, giving them a better chance of success.

  • Clean up your act - Wash all recyclable items properly before adding them to your recycling collection. Dirty items in collections can pose a high risk of contamination. Know your plastic codes and whether or not the item is in fact recyclable. If it’s not, reuse it, or sadly, you may need dispose of it in the waste bin.

  • Choose wisely - The most easily recycled materials are aluminium and glass. Both materials retain their integrity after being recycled (unlike most plastics which can only be recycled once). Opt for these materials over plastic, or better still, go for unpackaged items.

6. Reduce food wastage Food wastage is one of the biggest environmental problems we are facing these days. If food waste were a country, it would be the third largest creator of greenhouse gases, after the US and China! While food composters are an option, it’s rare to see them in an office environment. The best thing we can do is buy just enough food and eat our leftovers! (Bringing your dinner leftovers for lunch will save you money too!)

7. Know your internet impact You may not be aware that your download habits can be contributing to your carbon footprint. Downloading 1GB of data creates around 3kg of carbon! This is equivalent of using 1 litre of petrol (ie, driving around 10km)!

Similarly, internet searches can account for up to 7g of carbon emissions. This is about the same as driving a car 15 metres. While a single search might not seem significant, how many do you do per day? Let’s say 50. That’s 350g of carbon, similar to driving almost 1 kilometre - just from sitting at your desk! Hopefully you already know (and use) Ecosia, a search engine that uses its profits to plant trees. Ecosia says that each search equates to removing about 1kg of CO2 from the atmosphere. Definitely worth considering the switch!

8. Go green for your events Organising a beach cleanup is not only helpful in joining the fight to remove plastic waste from the environment. Participants will also get to really understand the impact of their actions and purchases. Organisations such as Seven Clean Seas run fantastic programs around Asia, to support communities become more sustainable.

If we’re lucky enough to have office Christmas or New Year gatherings this year, why not make it a green theme! You can do this and keep the fun (no “Bah humbug” here!) by making simple changes. Select your catering supplier based on their approach to plastic, ability to provide reusable crockery and cutlery, and approach to food waste. Go for decorations that can be used again or you can reuse or up-cycle those from previous events!

9. Consider your commute Did you know that a car carrying one person emits 40 kgs of carbon per 160 kms, while a full bus only emits 6.3 kg?! Public transport for the win! Riding a bike to work if you are able to, even a couple of times a week, will make a big difference to your carbon footprint – not to mention your health! Ride-sharing or carpooling is also a better option. (Of course, you can track your travel impact with the Capture app!)

10. Communication and behaviour change - Above all, it’s about making a commitment to changing the way you work. Find ways to engage others and bring them on board to reduce their carbon footprint too – even start a green team! Communicating regularly with the business will help to create behaviour change, both at the office and in people’s homes. Executive sponsorship is important help continue the momentum of the program, and these initiatives can be incredibly successful when driven via a bottom-up approach.

Remember, every small change counts. So, which step can you take towards reducing your carbon footprint today?


This is a guest post from Elly Both, the Founder of Bright Green, a sustainability consulting firm based here in Singapore. Bright Green supports businesses to reduce their carbon footprint by way of green initiatives.

Serving the world from Raffles Place, Singapore
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