50 ways to be more sustainable and “go green” at work
Ideas for your plant, office, restrooms, breakroom and in the community
Sustainability makes good business sense. Creating a culture of sustainability gives your employees a reason to feel good about their job and “brag” to friends and family about the good things your company is doing. This in turn supports recruitment efforts – people want to work for a company that is environmentally responsible.
Sustainability also goes hand in hand with cost savings. Being more efficient, using less, and cutting down on unnecessary waste can help your company realize significant cost savings.
And finally, sustainability is good for business development and retention, especially as more companies require proof of sustainability up and down their supply chain.
Tips to make your sustainability efforts shine
Sustainability is marathon, not a sprint. Here are some tips to be successful with your ongoing initiatives.
- Establish your baseline and conduct a waste assessment / audit regularly. Consider using a third-party waste management group to assist.
- Set realistic goals. For ideas, check out these 45 Examples of Corporate Sustainability Goals.
- Track and communicate your progress and success often. You can use software tools to track your sustainability, or use simple spreadsheets.
- Create teams within your company. Empower them to effect change.
- Make it fun. Use pictures. Offer incentives. Be creative!
- Make people accountable. Tie their success into performance goals if it makes sense.
- Benchmark against other companies.
- Promote your efforts to all stakeholders. Use social media.
In 2020 we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day!
Senator Gaylord Nelson created Earth Day in 1970 as a way to force this issue onto the national agenda. Twenty million Americans demonstrated in different U.S. cities, and it worked! In December 1970, Congress authorized the creation of a new federal agency to tackle environmental issues, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
50 sustainability ideas for your business
Let’s get started. Sustainability ideas are sorted by business department. Click on a department below to jump to that section.
Switch to reusable absorbents
Instead of using single-use absorbents for oil drips and spills, switch to an absorbent reuse program where absorbents are laundered for reuse and the recovered oil is recycled.
Use a towel service
Reusable shop towels save energy, improve air quality and reduce waste compared to disposable wipes. Reusable towels vs. Disposable Wipes: Get the Facts
Reuse PPE gloves
Getting your PPE gloves regularly laundered for reuse can significantly cut down on waste and cost.
Avoid home laundering uniforms
Uniform laundering service from an industrial laundry is far more efficient than home laundering. It requires less energy and less water. Use industrial laundering for aprons, coveralls, and uniforms.
Upgrade or repair equipment
Upgrade or repair equipment on a regular schedule to avoid defects, leaking fluid, and other inefficiencies. Try to avoid oversized equipment (designed to handle a “just in case” increase in demand), which can be a wasteful use of energy in manufacturing.
Upgrade raw materials
A higher quality raw material may generate less waste in the process or reaction.
Redesign your process flow
A new process flow can reduce time, energy, materials and help you realize other new efficiencies. Incorporate this into your 6S initiatives.
Change your packaging
Modify your product packaging so it can be easily recycled. Make it easy for end users to identify how to recycle the packaging.
Train and cross-train end users on your processes and procedures. Training will help reduce errors, downtime and wasted energy.
Add quality checks
Catch errors and defects sooner. Added quality checks will help reduce wasteful production runs.
Utilize free resources
Take advantage of free tools and resources that will support your efforts for sustainable manufacturing. The EPA offers a number of free tools, including this E3 Sustainable Manufacturing Curriculum.
Work with Suppliers
Talk to suppliers for better alternatives. Audit your supplier’s downstream process. Work with them for well-timed deliveries and packaging options to reduce waste. Instruct suppliers to ship things on reusable pallets and store them for reuse.
Use advanced intelligence to track your process from raw material to shipment. Utilize sustainability tracking tools to measure your progress over time.
Sell your overstock or slightly defective products at an inventory reduction event, or donate overstock to a local organization.
Waste Exchange Program
Find a waste exchange program or material marketplace for your unwanted material. Here is an example: Ohio Material Marketplace
Apply Life Cycle Thinking
You can use Life Cycle Thinking (LCT) to gain a holistic perspective of your operation’s environmental footprint – from concept, purchasing, manufacturing and distribution- to end-of-life by your customers. By revealing the big picture, a life cycle approach ensures that you aren’t improving in one area at the expense of another.
Choose low-emitting cleaning products. Avoid harsh cleaners and solvents if possible. Use a reusable wet mop to clean your floors and invest in vacuums with HEPA filters to improve dust control and air quality.
Reduce Employee Travel
Organize a carpool at your different offices, offer telecommuting, and conduct more meetings via teleconference.
Reduce Paper Use
Print less by saving to a hard drive or cloud service. Print double sided, and start a scratch paper pile at each printer.
Buy energy efficient items with the ENERGY STAR ® logo or items that are EPEAT registered for the office. Switch to automatic lights. Use a programmable thermostat. Put computers in sleep mode when not in use.
Switch to a refillable ink that cuts down on discarded toner units.
Start a collection for unwanted electronic items, including cell phones, computers, printers, batteries, ink cartridges, and cables. Find an e-waste hauler to sustainably handle the collected waste.
Centralize supply orders to reduce shipments. Make supplies last longer by using pens one at a time and keeping all pens, markers and glue sticks in a cool, dry place so they are less likely to dry up and harden.
Color-Coded Recycling Bins
Place bins in strategic locations around your facility, clearly marked for the type of waste being thrown away. Use color coding and signs.
Upcycle station for old office equipment and furniture
Set up a room or space to house old equipment and furniture that you no longer need. Allow employees to take items home and repurpose.
Ditch the paper invoices and switch to digital.
Plants help remind people of the importance of the environment, and in general can makes people happier. Plants can also help cleanse the air.
Centralized Waste Sorting
Discontinue desk-to-desk custodial pickup, and have employees empty their waste bins into a centralized station. This gets people to stop and think about what they’re putting in the trash.
Dry Erase Board
Switch out the giant notepads for a reusable dry-erase board.
Order multiple things from the same place at once with no-rush shipping. Rushed packages mean more trucks clogging roads in cities—which makes more traffic, and more pollution.
Hold a Contest
Offer a contest or ongoing “green” challenges to your employees. Have them come up with additional ways to support your sustainability goals. Create teams and give incentives.
Switch out old appliances to ENERGY STAR certified appliances. Maintain an air-gap behind refrigerators, water coolers, and freezers. Do not run the dishwasher unless it’s full. Purchase a coffee maker with an automatic shut-off. Avoid K-cup machines.
Compost food waste
Start a compost collection for food waste. How to compost at work.
Add a filter to your tap water and encourage employees to fill up their reusable water bottles.
Reusable Drying Towels
Replace paper towels with reusable wash cloths and drying towels.
Replace Styrofoam coffee cups at coffee machine with “branded” company mugs that can be reused.
Eliminate Plastic Waste
Stock your kitchens with real utensils, drinking glasses and reusable drinking straws
Buy condiments in bulk
Skip the mini ketchup packets and individually wrapped salt and pepper packs and replace with regular size condiments. Buy them in bulk to reduce shipping and packaging.
Plastic bag collection
Start a plastic bag collection center. Encourage employees reuse them or turn them into something new.
Switch to Cotton Roll Towels
Replace paper towels with cotton roll towels, which get laundered for reuse.
Use low flow water, reuse sink water for toilet flush water, and use multi-flush toilets
If you have a locker room with showers, melt old soaps together to make new soaps, and use shampoo plus conditioner in one.
Supply reusable bath towels for showers and reusable cleaning rags for the janitorial crew.
Support employees volunteering for cleanup events in your local community
Consider organizing group events, or compensate employees for volunteering around the local community. Search for an event here: https://cleanup.earthday.org/pages/find-a-cleanup
Celebrate Environmental Events
Environmental observances and world day campaigns are a great way to raise awareness for a cause that is meaningful to you or your company. Check out our 2020 calendar.
Host a donation drive
Collect old toys, clothes, books and furniture to be donated to charitable organizations. Make it a fun event with food and entertainment. Make it a contest.
Plant trees and shrubs regularly.
Rally your neighbors to provide input for important community decisions—with the aim of making the civic process more accessible, inclusive, and engaging.
Organize Car Free Days
Organize a local bike to work day if it makes sense in your community.
Publicize your Efforts
Make a big deal out of your achievements. Post them on your web site and on social media. Sustainable companies want to do business with companies that share their values. And your achievements might encourage others to do the same!