More and more companies are trying to reduce waste in an effort to become “eco-friendly.” But, any large institution will struggle with going completely green. Even when you’re conscious and mindful, it’s easy to generate a large volume of waste in an office or building with a large group of people.
In the most recent study by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), commercial buildings were categorized and sorted in order of their energy consumption. They include, in order:
- Offices (including government buildings and banks)
- Mercantile buildings (stores, gas stations, malls, etc.)
- Educational institutions
- Healthcare services
- Lodging (hotels, nursing homes)
Making your educational institution more environmentally friendly should be a goal. Here are some ways to get started:
1. Reduce Printers, Paper, and Ink Usage
During the course of your day, you might casually print some documents here and there and think nothing of it. But you might be shocked to know that the average worker in the U.S. prints about 10,000 pages per year.
The U.S. alone is responsible for 30% of global paper usage and uses 28% of its cut-down trees for paper, while schools use up 2,800 sheets of paper per person each year. Since the average midsize school district has about 10,000 students and staff, that’s about 28 million sheets of paper per year.
If your office or institution can reduce or eliminate paper usage, it can make a big impact on global paper waste by saving trees and reducing greenhouse gas emissions and water usage. Using electronic forms is cost-effective as well. A school district that uses 28 million sheets on forms can store all the data on a 64GB flash drive that costs only about $25.
Ink cartridges are particularly dangerous for the environment because one cartridge takes about up to 450 years to decompose. Most ink cartridges in the U.S. get dumped straight in the trash rather than being recycled, which then fills up landfills with 350 million cartridges each year.
Here are some tips for reducing paper and ink waste in your institution:
- Reduce the number of printers
- Print only the most necessary documents
- Use energy-efficient printers
- Always recycle cartridges
- Recycle all paper
2. Recycle Your Electronics
Most people know how to recycle products like paper or plastic but it can be a lot less convenient to recycle electronics. Yet consumer electronics and office appliances are getting replaced at a faster rate.
It’s often more cost-effective to purchase a new product than to repair one. Software upgrades make older electronics irrelevant and out-of-date, pushing consumers to buy the latest models just so the apps they use will work.
In 2012, only 29% of electronics purchased in the U.S. were recycled. In 2017, the UNEP predicted that the world would dump 50 million tons of electronic waste, mostly consisting of smartphones and computers. That’s about 20,000,000 elephants weighing 2.5 tons each.
To reduce electronic waste in your institution, set up a dedicated bin for electronic waste and have someone pick up the waste every month to take to a recycling center nearest to you. Some manufacturers have recycling programs or trade-ins where you can receive credits or coupons by bringing back your old electronics. This can save you money as well as reduce waste.
3. Switch to LED Lightbulbs
Lighting takes up about 10% of energy use in commercial buildings. The quickest way to save costs and contribute to the environment is to switch the type of lighting. The type of lighting used in educational institutions can even influence factors like eyestrain, focus, and health.
LED lighting is mercury-free, recyclable, and free of PCB carcinogens found in T12 fluorescent light sources. Compared to incandescent or CFL light bulbs, LED light bulbs last longer without losing quality over time. Even though other types of bulbs might last the same, they’ll tend to dim as they near the end of their lifespan.
The technology has also gotten a lot cheaper today so that it’s easily the better investment. You can also combine LED bulbs with sensors so that the lights switch off automatically in spaces that don’t need to be lit.
4. Switch to the Cloud
When you store all your data and documents in the cloud, you can help eliminate paper waste because everything becomes digital. Apps like Google Drive and Dropbox allow everyone to access documents on their computers or mobile devices so there’s no need to print paper.
Using software to digitize commonly used documents such as consent forms that require signatures also ensures that your institution remains paperless. Opt for e-signatures and electronic documents rather than sending them in the post. Not only does this save paper, but it also saves time and money because the process is faster and reduces expenses for paper, printers, ink, postage fees, etc.
5. Prevent Wasting Water Through Protective Measures
In public buildings and institutions, water gets used mostly in kitchens and bathrooms. Healthcare facilities also consume large quantities of water through washing machines for linens. Colleges and schools usually have large dining halls, dorms and athletic facilities and offer shower and laundry facilities for students, faculty and staff.
Here are some tips to make your institution more eco-friendly:
- Install low-flush toilets
- Try eco-friendly dishwasher and laundry settings
- Use eco-friendly water faucets that regulate water usage
6. Provide Sustainable Lunch Options
Team lunches and cafeterias can also be a big source of environmental waste. Schools and colleges in particular often use disposable trays, utensils, and processed foods that often travel far from their source locations. In NYC alone, public schools discard about 850,000 styrofoam lunch trays everyday––8.5 times the height of the Empire State Building when stacked.
Currently, about 83% of global farmland is dedicated to raising livestock for meat consumption and produces 60% of all agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.
Research shows that a vegetarian or vegan diet produces fewer carbon emissions, reduces water waste, and even promotes a healthier diet.
Provide vegetarian or vegan options in your cafeterias or participate in initiatives like Meatless Mondays to make your institution healthier and more environmentally-friendly.
7. Encourage an Eco-Friendly Commute
A recent study in Sweden showed that switching the commute from car to bike produces more than double the effect on the environment compared to introducing congestion taxes. It also resulted in 449 years of life saved annually from reduced exposure to vehicle emissions and improved air quality.
If your city has a bike sharing program, encourage your employees to participate by providing a commuting stipend––which can also be used for public transportation––or offering membership. If that’s not an option, promote a carpooling schedule to help them save on gas as well as reduce carbon emissions.
8. Drink Coffee the Right Way
Kitchen appliances such as coffee machines are some of the biggest culprits of energy waste. Single-serve coffee machines use up a lot of plastic through pods. Even manual brewing methods require boiling water, which takes up energy.
Considering that Americans drink about 587 million cups of coffee each day, that is a lot of waste. But for large offices that need to serve coffee to hundreds of employees, often the quickest way is to use wasteful methods like espresso machines, single-serve machines, and paper cups (Americans throw out 80 billion single-use cups each year).
Not only that, the process of cultivating and transporting coffee beans can have a devastating impact on the environment. It can hurt wildlife, ruin habitations, and generate a lot of water waste.
To make sure that your coffee-drinking habits stay as eco-friendly as possible, try:
- Using manual brewing methods for small offices
- Using reusable coffee filters
- Implementing a policy of using only reusable cups
- Ordering coffee beans produced from sustainable sources
9. Order Eco-Friendly Cleaning Supplies
Whether it’s printers, kitchen appliances, or cleaning products, making your institution eco-friendly through the products you use can have a beneficial impact on the environment. But when it comes to cleaning products in particular, not only is it eco-friendly but it’s also much healthier for everyone in the building.
A recent study by the University of Bergen followed women working as professional cleaners or exposed to more cleaning products saw their lung functions decline as if they were smoking 20 cigarettes a day over 10 to 20 years.
Many cleaning products contain harmful chemicals including:
By switching to eco-friendly, organic cleaning products, you eliminate environmentally toxic chemical waste as well as create a healthier institution.
10. Join an Environmental Coalition
There’s strength in numbers. Join other companies participating in promoting corporate environmental responsibility, or join an environmental alliance in your city. If your state or city has governmental programs, set aside a day for your employees to volunteer.
To help you get started, here are some organizations and programs you can check out: