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Go Green at Work

Content provided by the America's Best Companies

If you use our simple tips for making your office greener, saving the world can be a reasonable resolution

By:  Dale Dambek

It’s just another day in my life and I’m driving to work with the window down and listening to the guy on the radio complain about another disappointing Chicago Cubs season. He then turns the microphone over to the weatherman and I’m being told to expect a glorious day in the high 80s. I’m thinking this is just awesome. The only problem: It’s late November. How can this be? For the last 33 years, my body has been used to five inches of snow at this time, not to mention body-hurting cold. I never thought I would miss winter, but I do.

Sure, I’m exaggerating just a little, but there’s no doubt that there have recently been some alarming changes in the world’s climate. It’s such a big topic that Al Gore recently walked away with two Academy Awards and a Nobel Prize for his work on the subject. His documentary An Inconvenient Truth has brought global attention to the problem and driven home the fact that change needs to start today. Here in Chicago, for instance, 10 of the last 12 Halloweens have been warmer than normal, which begs the question: As things warm up, what’s normal these days?
We’ve all heard the stories of how companies have restructured their entire buildings according to green standards, but most of us don’t have the money for such projects. You can, however, make your business a little greener by introducing some simple and inexpensive changes to your employees.

Change Your Light Bulbs

If you’ve recently been shopping for light bulbs, you’ve probably come across the quirky compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). If you purchased a CFL two decades ago, you probably were unimpressed by the annoying flicker as the bulb came to life and the fact that it couldn’t light up a small room. The bulbs have improved, but one thing hasn’t changed: CFLs still use 70 percent less electricity than their incandescent counterparts, which, as a result of a bill passed last December, will begin to be phased out in 2012. In fact, they use such little power that in about five months they pay for themselves with lower electricity bills. Even better, the bulbs often last for five to 10 years. Installing CFLs in your office lessens the strain on our power plants, taking greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere and putting a little extra money in your pocket.

Recycle Paper

This one sounds simple, but getting co-workers to change habits they’ve had since day one is a difficult task. In the end, though, it pays off. For instance, companies like Bank of America started recycling programs back in 1970 and by 1997 the company was saving $483,000 just in trash-hauling fees. Starting a recycling program at your company can be easy. First, find a group of employees who want to oversee this program. Start slow, because introducing only a few changes at a time into your employees’ daily routine yields a greater chance for success. Lastly, clearly mark recycling areas. Recycling doesn’t have to be limited to sticking stuff in a bin: Here at America’s Best, we recycle by minimizing the printing of our e-mails and other documents. If we do need to print, we print on the back of old faxes and other printed materials. Implementing these practices will help your employees become recycle-conscious and proud of your company’s commitment to the environment.

Recycle Your Computers

During the computer boom of the early 90s, 24 million computers were tossed in the garbage. By 1999, only 14 percent were being recycled or reused, leaving the vast majority in warehouses or landfills to leak toxic waste into the environment. Today, there are many companies and organizations that are more than willing to recycle your old computers, monitors, laptops, and desktop printers. Big companies such as Staples are happy to recycle your old equipment even if you didn’t purchase it there. You can also donate your old computer to a local school, charity, or nonprofit organization. By doing so, you qualify for the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997, which extends tax incentives to private companies that donate computer hardware or software to K-12 classrooms.

Be sure to unplug your cell phone charger when your phone is done charging. Approximately 95 percent of the power consumed by cell phone chargers occurs when they’re left plugged in. Only 5 percent is used for the actual charging. If 10 percent of the world’s cell phone users unplugged their chargers after use, the resulting energy saved would be equivalent to the energy used by 60,000 households per year. Source: Nokia

Carpool to Work

Try to get into the habit of carpooling with other employees who have the same work hours. If you’re the only employee going to work from your area, the folks at Nuride.com will match you up with someone near your home. Companies such as Old Navy and Starbucks will give you gift cards for using Nuride’s services. You can also use public transportation or ride your bike if you really want to make a point.

Break and Lunch Time

When most of us get to work in the morning, we fill our little Styrofoam cups with hot Joe and then just throw them away. At some point, your kids or friends have probably given you a silly coffee mug that you never thought you’d use—now’s the time to bring it to work. You can also bring reusable dishes, silverware, and glasses to cut down on extra waste. Lastly, talk to your office manager about getting filtered drinking water to help reduce bottled water waste.

When it comes to saving the planet, you can’t go around with the mindset that one person can’t make a difference. If we all pitch in, we just might see some climate changes for the better within 20 years. After all, how are my Cubs ever going to win if hell can’t freeze over?

Soak Up the Sun: Green Success

In 2001, Tom Benson, owner of The World’s Largest Laundromat in Berwyn, Illinois, made the radical step of converting his water heaters from natural gas to solar power. With natural gas, his bills were costing him over $13,000 per month, around 25 percent of his monthly revenue. Today, a group of massive solar panels dominate the top of his business, relieving him of over $25,000 per year in expenses. “Ten years ago, people thought that going green was going to cost them extra money,” Benson says. “Now you go green and you save money.” Entrepreneurs like Benson are making the big steps toward a green-friendly business world when so many are focused on making small ones. Benson expects that the panels will easily pay for themselves within 15 years. “Even if the environment wasn’t a factor, I would still think it’s a good business decision,” Benson says. “Our customers like the fact that we’re being responsible as business owners.”


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