desk with yellow chair in grey room

10 ways to go green at work

LIVE greener | 11 MIN READ | 2019-04-15

A green workplace contributes to a healthy work culture and a lighter ecological footprint. Today, going green is more of a necessity than a choice, and by being named one of Canada’s 100 Greenest Employers, we’d like to think we’re well versed in the sustainability department. If you’re unsure how to begin, we’ve got you covered. Start going green beyond your personal life, by reading our list of 10 ways to go green at work. 

Here's a quick list of our 10 tips: 

  1. Reduce, reuse and recycle 
  2. Enable power saving features 
  3. Reduce, reuse and rethink 
  4. Pack a zero waste lunch 
  5. Use reusable water bottles and mugs 
  6. Use zero waste cleaning products 
  7. Minimize driving and take transit 
  8. Replace disposable kitchen items 
  9. Invest in green office materials 
  10. Educate those around you

1. Reduce, reuse and recycle 

Two people writing on a white board

Did you know that Canada uses 6 million tons of paper and paperboard annually and only ¼ of it gets recycled? You’re probably wondering how many trees are cut down to produce that much paper, and the simple answer is, a lot! According to The World Counts, recycling 1 ton of paper saves around 682.5 gallons of oil, 26,500 litres of water, and 17 trees. We’ve all hit the ‘print’ button at work without giving it a thought, especially as the paper we print on is as quickly replaced as it is used.

Here’s some tips on how to use less paper at work: 

• Print double-sided: Set defaults on your computer to automatically print double-sided from now on.

 Proofread before printing: This ensures that you won't find mistakes later and have to reprint. Spell check, anyone?

Reduce the margins: By doing this, you could use up to 14% less paper than with regular margin settings. It’s true!

Share printed materials with coworkers: This avoids having to double- or triple-print the same document (saving 2-3X the amount of paper!).

• Use whiteboards: If there aren't whiteboards at your office, ask your employer to install some in the boardrooms or get mini, portable ones to bring to meetings.

Go digital: 

o Use Google Docs to create files that can be shared digitally with your coworkers.

o Instead of printing your documents, create PowerPoint presentations to share ideas in meetings.

Use recycled paper: Staples carries 100% recycled paper for printing, giving you archival-quality copies with minimal environmental impact.

Send e-cards: Instead of buying paper cards for holidays, birthdays, and special events. 

Recycle: Toss all of the paper you use into the recycling bin, not the garbage.

Your hard work recycling won’t go unnoticed. And remember, by recycling paper you’re saving energy, water and landfill space. Recycling paper reduces greenhouse gas emission and the recycled fibre is a sustainable, cost-saving resource for making new paper products.

 2. Enable power-saving features 

Water glasses on a shelf with a plant underneath and LED lights shining on top of them

Offices are packed with electronics to get everyone through the work day, and the amount of energy used is high. On the positive side, many organizations are taking into account the impact they have on the environment and are determined to reduce their ecological footprint.

Companies (like Minto Group), are starting to move away from traditional light bulbs and are installing LED lights. 

o Did you know that LED lights use 80% less energy than traditional light bulbs, and only waste 5% of the energy on heat? LED lights have a longer life span and a higher distribution of light. By replacing light bulbs in the office with LED, fewer bulbs are needed and less energy is used. It’s a win-win in our books.

Have you heard of sensor lighting? Sensor lighting (or motion lights) automatically turn on and off when people enter or leave a room – no light switch needed. Sensor lighting is easy to install, and saves both energy and money on electricity bills. 

o Did you know that electrical gadgets — the ones that are always plugged in — are constantly using energy? This is called phantom power use – even when turned off, these devices use power just by being plugged in. Phantom power is said to add roughly 10% to your energy bill! So, unplug electronics when you’re done with them. You can also do this at work by unplugging the kettle or your phone charger when you aren’t using it at your desk.

3. Reduce, reuse and rethink

Recycling bins

We’ve talked about reducing and reusing, now for how to properly recycle. There are a few items at the office that can be confusing - to recycle, compost, or throw away? Here's a few that aren't always as obvious as we'd think:

Coffee cups – the to-go cups that hold your daily Starbucks aren’t actually recyclable like most people believe. Those cups are typically wax-covered and should go straight into the garbage! Consider coffee shops that use sustainable cups and cutlery that can go into the green bin instead. 

Coffee pods – 38% of Canadian households own a coffee pod machine and although they’re easy to use, they can harmful to the environment because of the amount of waste they produce. You may think your pods go into the blue recycling bin but sadly most don’t. Try getting a machine with organic, compostable pods (as pictured above), or check out our list of alternative coffee options that are more sustainable and reduce landfill waste here.   

Straws – The no straw movement is alive and thriving! Although not everyone needs straws, we tend to still use them (especially when we forget to bring our lunch to work and hit up our favourite fast food spot). When used, these should be recycled. Alternatives do exist, like requesting no straw or bringing your own reusable one to work and storing it at your desk.  

Stir sticks – Wooden stir sticks are used every day to stir coffee and tea, and they actually belong in the garbage, not the recycling or compost bins. We know, it seems odd. To discourage this at work, talk to your employer about replacing the wooden stir sticks with pieces of pasta or metal spoons – both a lot more eco-friendly.

4. Pack a zero waste lunch 

A tin lunch box with food inside

Zero waste lunches are all the rage these days. We are envious (and also inspired) by our colleagues who can pack a lunch and at the same time, reduce their waste. 

Follow our tips on how you can pack a zero waste lunch

Buy LunchBots or other stainless steel containers

Remember that mason jars are your friends (cheap and easy to transport!).

Stay away from plastic and pack reusable cutlery.

Avoid using paper towels and pack your own napkin (Apartment Therapy has a cute DIY article on how to make your own).

Find a reusable lunch bag or box and stay away from carrying your lunch in a plastic bag. Amazon has a variety of reusable lunch bags that are both cute and inexpensive.

5. Use reusable water bottles and mugs 

Water glasses sitting on top of a shelf

Did you know that it can take up to 1,000 years for a plastic water bottle to decompose, and 80% of the plastic in water bottles you buy end up in the landfill? Avoid using water bottles at the office by: 

Investing in a BPA-free plastic reusable water bottle that you can keep at your desk. Check out HuffPost’s article on 10 of the highest-rated BPA-free water bottles that you can find on Amazon. 

If you want filtered and clean water, boil it the night before, pour it into your reusable water bottle, and put it in the work fridge overnight to cool. You’ll then have fresh and cool water to drink the next day.

Water purifiers are also an awesome way to avoid buying plastic water bottles. 

Have your office invest in drinking glasses and mugs. They're reusable, easy to clean, and are always right there when you need them. 

6. Use zero waste cleaning products 

Dessk top computer with a plant on the screen

Image Credit: David Zhang on YouTube

When it’s time to give your desk a cleaning, using non-toxic and zero waste cleaning products will not only improve the air quality around the office, but will also reduce the amount of waste that’s sent to the landfill. Our zero waste tips and tricks can be used both at home and at work! 

DIY cleaning wipes can be used to wipe down desks, kitchen counters, and tables. Check out a great DIY cleaning wipe recipe here

Clean your computer or laptop monitors with DIY Glass cleaner. This recipe can also be used to wipe down windows and doors around the office! 

Instead of throwing away your Windex spray bottle, refill it with water and 2 tablespoons of vinegar to use as a cleaning solution. 

Remember, when disposing of your cleaning products, read the label for instructions. If the plastic type is recyclable, make sure to dispose of any liquid contaminants properly before tossing it into the recycling bin.  

7. Minimize driving and take transit 

TTC streetcar in front of CN Tower

Did you know that in 2016, Canada alone produced 22 tons of greenhouse gas? Air pollution affects our health and harms the environment in more ways than we know. Minimize the amount you drive by taking transit to work. If transit isn’t your thing, check out this post for more ideas. 

Side note: Online shopping is so convenient (and often spontaneous), that we sometimes forget where our products are coming from. When buying products online, at work or at home, think about where they’re coming from before buying. A small box of paper clips that’s purchased and delivered all the way from China will do more harm for the environment than good. Make sure to buy locally and support your local community! 

8. Replace disposable kitchen items 

Girl eating a salad at her desk

Plastic cutlery is the ultimate culprit for waste – and a lot of it actually can’t be (or doesn’t get) recycled. In addition, a lot of plastics end up in the landfill, lakes, parks and oceans. 

So, it’s important to remember these tips before using plastic kitchen items:

Lunch meetings are great. However, when providing lunch for your fellow employees, use reusable metal cutlery. 

Ask the company catering your event if they have compostable or reusable cutlery.

If metal cutlery is available in your work kitchen, say no to disposable cutlery when buying takeout lunches.

If you’re given plastic cutlery, wash it and reuse it instead of disposing it after one use.  

9. Invest in green office materials 

colourful stationery items on work desk

Reduce your company’s environmental footprint by purchasing green office supplies. Staples offers a variety of sustainable products from notepads and notebooks to remanufactured toners. 

Buying green office products will:

Reduce the amount of waste that's thrown out 

Save your company money in the long-run 

Help fellow employees to be more aware of their environmental footprint and realize the importance of reducing waste

The top 10 eco-friendly office supplies you should purchase are:  

  1. Recycled paper products 
  2. Eco-friendly pens 
  3. Non-toxic cleaner 
  4. Compostable trash bags 
  5. Solar USB chargers 
  6. Staple-free stapler 
  7. Smart power strips 
  8. LED light bulbs 
  9. Recycled pencils 
  10. Biodegradable packaging and packing tape

10. Educate those around you 

a man and 2 women sitting on a couch and talking

The most important step in reducing your environmental footprint at work is to educate yourself and those around you. Minto Group’s sustainability team is dedicated to personally engaging employees in day-to-day corporate sustainability efforts. At the end of the day, we should all be a part of the solution, not the problem. 

We can get you started right now! Did you know that every municipality has their own recycling guidelines? You can find them at the bottom of this CBC article here.  

If you think your office is as green as can be, take part in WWF’s The Smart Office Challenge, and see how many boxes you and your colleagues can check off of their green list. 

All of these small changes can make a big difference. Give them a shot – and make sure to send us a Tweet or Facebook message to let us know how you’re going green at work.