Tips: Environmental Stewardship in the Workplace

It's time for American offices to go green. It's not that hard to do. It just takes planning and commitment, according to The HON Co., a manufacturer of sustainable office furniture.

Businesses consume vast amounts of resources. Statistics from the Worldwatch Institute, an independent environmental research organization, show that companies in the United States inefficiently use 30 million trees and 12.5 percent of all domestic electricity annually. Yet most companies have been slow to incorporate environmental stewardship in goals and initiatives.

"A variety of new technologies, 'green' products and plenty of benchmarking studies can easily help shape today's workplace culture into one that focuses more on environmental stewardship beyond the ubiquitous blue recycling bin," said Mindy Billingsley, product business manager/environmental and sustainable initiatives for The HON Co. "You want to recycle, of course, but you also want to reduce waste, conserve energy and purchase smarter. And to do this, everyone in the company must be on board and actively participate in the initiative."

Getting Started

Billingsley recommends beginning your commitment to "going green" by writing an environmental vision statement. "All players from the CEO to part-time employees need to understand and buy into the company's environmental mission and goals," she said. "State your intention to respect the environment in the design, production and distribution of your products and/or services and strive to go beyond compliance."

Next, create an "environmental" team of employees who will promote the mission and goals throughout the company. They can head up internal education programs, tout environmental purchasing efforts and track the initiative's success in their respective departments.

Also involve your vendors and customers. Seek out vendors who use environmentally responsible manufacturing processes, offer green products and run their business with a similar vision as your own. Explain your environmental stewardship vision to customers and encourage them to become involved in a similar program.

Reducing Waste

Waste reduction is the biggest initiative any company can undertake while going green -- wasted materials are wasted money.

To begin reducing waste in your organization, use fewer products and raw materials. Establish a company-wide policy of photocopying on both sides of the paper. Use the back side of printed material for draft documents. E-mail reports instead of making printed copies. Try to move to a more electronic platform. It saves money -- and resources -- immediately.

Next, recycle. Stop discarding printer and copier cartridges in the trash. Set up recycling stations in the office not only for paper and printer accessories, but also for plastic and glass or even food compost.

Another way to eliminate or manage waste is by making sure employees work at peak efficiency. The HON Co. does this through pursuit of rapid continuous improvement in virtually every activity throughout the company. This process, called RCI, is an integral part of the company's culture, officials said.

"RCI focuses on streamlining design, manufacturing and administrative processes and has contributed to increased productivity, lower manufacturing costs, improved product quality and workplace safety," Billingsley noted. "Also, our RCI efforts have helped us offer short average lead times from receipt of order to delivery and installation for most of its products."

Purchase Green

Institute green thinking into your purchasing process. Set specific criteria to follow when making buying decisions. For example, determine that paper purchases must contain at least 50 percent post-consumer recycled material or that products must be purchased from companies that institute good environmental initiatives at the manufacturing level.

Many manufacturers now focus on a "cradle-to-grave" life cycle for their products. They take into account the environmental impact their products have from the raw materials to manufacture, sale, use and disposal. Along the way, they identify opportunities to improve efficiency, reduce waste, improve quality, save money and, in the end, provide more environmentally appealing products.

Making It Work

Ask yourself if your company is doing as much good for the environment as you want it to be doing. If it's not, then do something about it. Start mapping out that strategy because it does matter. Greening your business can save money, boost productivity, earn respect and make a significant impact on the environment.

This article originally appeared in the 04/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.

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