Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

By Denise Norberg-Johnson | Aug 15, 2017

A recent World Wildlife Fund survey found that almost half of Fortune 500 companies have at least one climate or clean-energy goal. It’s good business to be eco-friendly, and the construction industry has made great strides in going green without sacrificing profits. Ninety percent of the waste on any project is recyclable, and project owners are incorporating environmental requirements into their specifications that are passed through to contractors and suppliers.

As lifetime building cost calculations clearly show the value of implementing environmentally conscious choices, electrical contractors have assumed an especially valuable role in applying LEED principles to lighting and smart-building systems for their clients. 

But what have you done in your own facility and how do you help your own employees minimize negative impacts on the environment? This month and next, we will look at simple ways to save money as you commit to becoming a green organization. Employees, customers and the community will appreciate your dedication to the cause.

The three R’s—reduce, reuse and ­recycle—should be part of your daily operations, and management must make a clear declaration of the expectations you have for your employees. Solicit ideas from everyone in the company, and provide incentives and rewards to facilitate changes in the corporate culture to ensure green principles drive future decisions.

Managing this process begins with an energy survey. Utility companies offer free energy surveys as well as rebates and incentives. Sustainability consultants or “carbon offset providers” also provide help with analysis and procedural changes, and their websites often include free carbon footprint calculators. The Carbon Fund calculator, available at, includes sections on office emissions, fleet vehicles, travel, employee commuting, company events, paper and shipping. The “How We Calculate” page provides background statistics that can be used to make your own quick calculations on the impact of individual factors.

You don’t need to build a new LEED facility, install a solar-energy system, plant a roof garden or replace all of your flush toilets with composting versions, and you have little influence over the decisions made on your project sites. It’s easier to start by implementing simple, low-cost eco-friendly practices.


Ironically, technology has not produced a paperless environment in most companies. An efficient system for scanning, storing and sharing documents only reduces the printing of documents if employees use it. Using monitors with matte screens that reflect less light will reduce eyestrain and help wean employees away from printing emails and other routine documents. Set a good example by sending meeting documents to phones and tablets, providing training to help employees efficiently organize emails and other computer files, and setting defaults on word processing programs to narrow margins and print double-sided.

Remove individual waste receptacles, and establish convenient recycling areas that include paper containers. Buy ­chlorine-free paper with recycled content, which saves 55 percent of the water and 60–70 percent of the energy normally used in paper manufacturing; it reduces tree harvesting. Perfection isn’t necessary; even a 50 percent reduction in paper use will save more than $160 per year per employee, plus another $300 per employee in labor formerly allocated to printing, filing and managing documents.


Assess the presence of “energy vampires”—phone chargers, televisions or anything else with an LED display. Use timers to turn them off at night and on weekends and holidays. Setting computers to hibernate after 30 minutes and sleep after 5–20 minutes can save as much as $180 per employee annually, and using power strips to shut down equipment adds another $45 in per employee savings.

Fluorescent lighting lasts 10 times as long and saves 75 percent of the energy cost of incandescent lamps, especially if you replace T12s with T8 or T5 tubes. They also emit less heat, saving on air conditioning during warm weather. Motion sensors and automatic timers can ensure lighting turns off in unoccupied spaces.

Changing thermostat settings by just a few degrees (68 instead of 72) will save at least $25 per employee per year in cold weather; raising the setting from 68 to 74 degrees in warm weather will save more than $40. Again, change settings for nights and weekends. Adjusting furniture placement and window coverings, adding ceiling fans, and improving fresh air flow and cross ventilation will help employees adjust to the changes.

Plants also improve the environment. They filter toxins and add oxygen to the air, and the process of transpiration adds moisture that helps cool the air in warm weather. Plants and fish tanks reduce employee stress and improve employee satisfaction at a reasonable cost.

Next month, we’ll continue with suggestions about how you can improve practices related to vehicles, meetings and events, and we will look at alternatives to disposables.

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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