The Eco-Friendly Office

By | Posted April 16th, 2013

You already know all the “green office” stuff there is to know, and you probably already do as much of it as you can. But today’s environmentally-responsible office goes beyond recycling, printing on both sides of the page and using post-consumer recycled office products. Check out these eco-friendly office options you might have missed.

Collaborative Consumption

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If you haven’t heard this phrase yet, it’s one to remember. Collaborative consumption is a growing trend of sharing, renting, or trading just about everything, including parking spots, cars, e-books—even money. Netflix® and Zipcar® come to mind as the most established examples.

Also referred to as the “sharing economy,” the basic value lies in the fact that, when people and businesses share, less goes to waste. This reduces personal expense and environmental impact. For example, 50% of U.S. households own a power drill, but most are used for less than 15 minutes over their lifetime.

Items that are recycled or disposed of can be swapped or donated instead. Probably the biggest impact possible lies in donating office equipment, like printers and computers, to schools or non-profits. One of the most intriguing “shareables” for businesses is office space itself.

Shared Space

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Across the globe, individuals, businesses, and organizations of all kinds are exploring shared office space. The HUB is shared workspace that not only reduces the costs and environmental impact of many individual office spaces, but encourages collaboration and innovation among members in sustainability ventures. It was founded in 2005 in London. More than 30 Hubs are now open on five continents; an additional 50 Hubs are in development.

Other shared office spaces where you or your group can work on anything you want, while still limiting environmental impact significantly, can be found through companies like Green Desk. Their offices have taken sustainability seriously, so all you need to do is rent the space. Their sustainable actions include purchasing carbon offsets, a bicycle sharing program, energy-efficient lighting, low Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) finishes, and filtered water on every floor to limit the use of water bottles.

Soy­-based Toner

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Traditional toner is made using petroleum, a non­renewable resource. 400 million pounds of petroleum­-based toner are used to make 3 trillion copies and printed pages in the U.S. each year. As this type of ink dries, it releases VOCs into the air. VOCs contribute to global warming and can cause a myriad of health problems. A better alternative for laser printers is soy-based toner cartridges.

Soy ink has several benefits over traditional, petroleum-­based inks. It releases far fewer VOCs than traditional ink. In fact, the LA Times reportedly reduced their VOC emissions by 200 tons per year when they transitioned to soy-­based ink. Soy ink also produces more vivid colors, spreads further, and is both biodegradable and non­toxic. Soybeans are a sustainable resource. SoyPrint® takes the environmental friendliness a step further by remanufacturing their cartridges. Each soy-based toner cartridge replaces one pound of oil-based toner.

State and national soybean initiatives exist to help enhance and fund research into soybean use, including the possibility of soybean­-based inkjet cartridges, which don’t yet exist. Soy­-based toner does have some downsides. An important fact to acknowledge is that soy­-based inks still contain some petroleum, as well as a host of other un­friendly ingredients, like Carbon Black. While soy ink is known to have a longer drying time, the soy-based toner cartridges use a soy powder that doesn’t have that problem.

Apps

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Of course apps exist for everything, including apps to help us all be even more environmentally conscientious. While most apps focus on aiding individual behavior, like locating the nearest recycling bin with iRecycle, they still benefit your whole office (and the whole world). Smartphone users can use apps to search carpools, find the origin of the seafood they order at lunch, and keep their phone from sitting on the charger after reaching a full charge, among many other planet friendly helpers. If the whole office uses note taking apps, fax apps, and to-do list apps, the need for paper drops significantly.

Making a truly eco-friendly office requires constant follow-through on the efforts you’ve implemented, as well as staying informed on the newest developments. While advice like changing the type of light bulbs you use and printing on both sides of paper is valuable, thinking outside the box will help your business move above and beyond the basics of environmental responsibility and into a new era of eco-friendly business.