How to be more environmentally friendly at work

The worldwide disruption caused by COVID-19 may have made our lives more challenging, but it’s actually been good for the environment. When companies, industries, and transportation closed down, air quality significantly improved in many cities, water pollution decreased, and greenhouse gas emissions suddenly dropped.

But now that many of us have returned to work, is the environment going to suffer the consequences? Not necessarily. Helping the environment may sound like a monumental task, but it’s the small, everyday choices you make that add up to leave a mark on the planet. Your personal carbon footprint includes emissions from a variety of sources — your car, the food you eat, the products you buy, everything you throw away, and more. The larger your footprint, the heavier the strain on the environment.

No matter your job title, role, or location, your daily actions make a difference. Here are some simple ways you can make your workplace a little greener and help reduce harmful emissions that are contributing to climate change.

Reducing your carbon footprint, one step at a time

  • Dial back your energy use. Put your computer to sleep when you step away. Install energy-saver lightbulbs in your workspace and turn off lights and electronics when not in use. Use light-blocking shades to keep rooms cooler when it’s hot out and vice versa.
  • Travel greener. For most of us, our biggest work-related environmental impact happens during our commute. Think about ways you can cut back on driving. Keep virtual meetings in place when appropriate. Travel by train or other public means if possible. For business trips, look for environmentally sustainable hotels, which take an active role in curbing emissions.
  • Check your office equipment. If every office product in the US was Energy Star certified, over 1.5 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions would be saved — that’s worth more than $117 million in yearly energy costs. If you’re interested in increasing efficiency in your office, check out these ideas from Energy Star.
  • Save a tree. Avoid printing documents unless you absolutely have to. Many companies have replaced paper copies with cloud-based storage, which enables you to digitally collaborate on documents and ensures files are securely stored and backed up — no need to print paper copies just in case.
  • Inspect the kitchen. Replace plastics with reusable coffee mugs, plates, and silverware. When buying paper towels, look for compostable or high post-consumer waste content. Instead of bottled water, use a tap filter like Pur or Brita.
  • Buy food locally. Purchase your food from local farms and the community when possible. This way you’re helping to reduce greenhouse emissions by minimizing transportation.
  • Reduce, reuse, and recycle. Look for ways to apply the 3 Rs during your workday to cut down on carbon emissions. Separate your plastics, glass, paper, and unwanted electronics from bio-waste like food leftovers. This helps in smart disposal and reusing or recycling of wastes.

Did you know?

People, products, and entire industries have carbon footprints. A carbon footprint estimates the total emission volume of greenhouse gases — those gases in our atmosphere that trap heat and make the planet warmer. Primary sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the US include transportation, electricity production, industry, businesses and homes, and agriculture. Calculate your own carbon footprint.

Sources:
“Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions,” US Environmental Protection Agency (epa.gov), accessed June 23, 2022
“Reducing Your Carbon Footprint at Work,” Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (c2es.org), accessed June 23, 2022
“What is a Carbon Footprint?” Conservation International (conservation.org), accessed June 23, 2022
“9 Best Ways for Businesses to Reduce Carbon Footprint,” BBN Times (bbntimes.com), July 29, 2021
“Environmental effects of COVID-19 pandemic and potential strategies of sustainability,” National Library of Medicine (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov), September 17, 2020