Consuming Smarter: Simple Ways to go Green, Part 2

By Denise Norberg-Johnson | Sep 15, 2017




Last month, I offered some ideas for making your company more ecofriendly by using the three R’s—reducing, reusing and recycling—in your daily operations. To help your company become greener, this column continues that theme with pointers for managing vehicles, meetings and events, and it presents alternatives to disposables.


Americans spend an average of nearly 50 hours per year commuting through rush hour traffic, wasting nearly 4 billion hours of their time and consuming 23 billion gallons of fuel. Smarter ways to manage transportation are available to reduce fuel and maintenance costs and reduce your fleet-wide carbon footprint. Ask your insurance company about discounts for responsible driving based on adding data-tracking to your vehicles to measure braking and acceleration patterns, average speed, proper tire inflation and fuel efficiency. These practices also improve safety performance, reducing your liability for company-owned vehicles.

Make it convenient for your employees to implement their own green transportation practices. Offer a charging station for electric and hybrid cars, a secure area for bikes or bicycle storage racks (and perhaps a shower and changing area), or even a couple of bicycles for employees to use at lunchtime instead of driving to a restaurant. You might also reap the benefit of savings on healthcare costs if people are walking, biking or skateboarding to work.

Can some of your staff work remotely part of the time? It might improve morale, and often productivity, to have the flexibility to work when it is most efficient. If telecommuting is not a viable option, offer public transportation passes or rewards for carpooling. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, leaving the car at home just two days per week reduces greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 1,600 pounds annually.

Have you incorporated technology into operations to reduce travel and the accompanying exhaustion that often bleeds into the day after the trip? Take a look at whether face-to-face meetings can be replaced with other options.

Meetings and events

Eliminate as many routine meetings as you can, and send briefings and short updates electronically. For necessary in-person meetings and events, distribute materials in advance, and expect everyone to have read them beforehand. At the meeting or event, present information electronically, and expect everyone to take notes using laptops or tablets. This habituates your staff to think paperless and keep reports shorter. Most of your clients are probably leading you in this direction already.

Meetings and events often require refreshments. Discuss biodegradable packaging and serving materials with caterers, and research locally sourced menu options. If you are providing the food and beverages directly, think fresh, seasonal and healthy. Minimize waste by replacing disposables with biodegradable or reusable serving ware and utensils.

Kitchens and break rooms

Your kitchen or break room can be overhauled similarly. According to, the average office worker uses 500 cups per year and throws away enough paper and plastic cups and utensils to circle the equator 300 times. You can save as much as $400 per employee per year by using a water cooler instead of bottled water. Provide reusable mugs, and save about $75 annually per employee.

Or, find greener options, such as bottles and other products made from nonpetroleum, corn-based, biodegradable plastics. Bagasse—a fibrous material left over after the extraction of juice from sugar cane—is used in biofuel and can be pressed into waterproof, compostable food containers. Earth911 offers more product ideas (, along with (, and the Biodegradable Store (

A small composter allows you to reuse some of your food waste and keep office plants healthy. Use cloth towel rolls or air hand dryers in kitchens and bathrooms instead of paper towels, but look for the latest technology because the old dryers can be havens for bacteria. Encourage employees to replace some of the 1 billion plastic bags used in the United States each year (99 percent of which are not recycled) with reusable totes and bring lunches in reusable containers.

Making your company ecofriendly takes commitment from everyone. Is management leading by example? Have you hired a green cleaning company? Do you use recycled materials for remodeling the office, and are there established policies for recycling printer cartridges, batteries and cell phones? Do you offer bamboo pencils and pens or reusable tote bags as logo giveaways to model your green practices? The Sustainable Business Toolkit ( is a great place to find more ideas.

Forming a sustainability task force will help generate momentum and buy-in as you make these changes. This team can help educate the entire workforce, generate ideas for competitions and rewards and research available resources. Remember to focus on positive outcomes—in your corporate culture, employee satisfaction, and customer and community goodwill—as you build an ecoconscious organization.

About The Author

Denise Norberg-Johnson is a former subcontractor and past president of two national construction associations. She may be reached at [email protected].

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