Sustainability Checklist for the Office

This article provides a list of actions to follow within your office to ensure its sustainability both for the planet and your work environment.
Source: Photo by Jw. on Unsplash

Feeling overwhelmed by the influx of information around sustainability and environmental action can, ironically, lead us to inaction. This sense of analysis paralysis is familiar, often created by not knowing where to start. 

The good news is that getting started is easy, and your office is the perfect opportunity to take those first steps!

This article will outline where to begin, so you have a handy checklist to refer to in the office with your colleagues – and even add new ones of your own! After all, an office works best when everyone is involved and working together. Everyone’s decisions have an impact on sustainability.

While decorating your office with plants is good for your employees’ health and productivity, there’s far more that you can, and should, be doing. Let’s look at some of the ways you can have a bigger impact on the sustainability of your office.

1. Monitor Energy Usage

We understand that every small business operates differently, and the amount of control and flexibility will shift constantly. 

For those offices who do have some control over their energy usage, installing smart meters is a cheap and quick way to track energy usage. With smart meters, you can see where most energy is being used and change behaviours to reduce usage and save money. 

However, if you can’t do this (because of meter location issues, or restrictions because of landlords, for instance) then you can use smart plugs as an alternative. 

Smart plugs allow you to measure power use and to automate it, which will still give you data on the energy usage of different devices. You can also use them for scheduling, for example turning devices off overnight when they’re not being used, and when you’re out of the office.

You could also install motion detector lights which automatically switch off when there’s no movement.

If you’re a tenant, the ability to change to a renewable energy supplier may not be under your control. The good news is that more landlords are coming under pressure to make the switch too as part of their own sustainability journey. 

Try contacting your landlord directly to request a change. If you share the premises with other businesses, speak to them and see if you can collaborate. Reach out to the council or local partnerships to see if they can help apply pressure too. For our template email to your landlord, and additional letter/email templates such as the supplier engagement template, sign up to Hero.

2. Manage Air Conditioning

Air conditioning accounted for 10% of the energy used in the UK in 2010. Setting timers is vital to make sure energy isn’t wasted, especially out of hours when offices aren’t occupied.

Leakage from air conditioning units can be a major problem too, with the gases used in the systems having tens or hundreds of times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, thus making up a big part of your carbon footprint. Ask your contractor about the best frequency of filter cleaning and unit service, and set a regular schedule based on your contractor’s suggestion.

Regular maintenance and scheduling will help to stop leaks of dangerous gases and minimise the impact on your carbon footprint. Restricting usage will also reduce energy bills and save cash.

Source: Photo by Siân Wynn-Jones on Unsplash

3. Employee Commuting

Transport accounts for a third of UK emissions, and will likely play a larger part in your carbon footprint than you might expect. Transport emissions for a business includes commuting, as well as any business travel. You can use this commuting calculator to work out your carbon footprint.

Over a year, someone commuting 10 miles a day in a petrol car will generate 500kg of Co2e. On an electric bike, that’s just 7kg. The average commute in the UK is 9 miles. 

If you have 4 people driving to the office 5 days per week, and they live on average 8 miles away, that totals 15,000 miles a year. Even in an electric vehicle, this adds up to a few tonnes of Co2 emissions. 

The graphic below illustrates the various commuting options and their associated emissions travelling 10 miles per day in a 5-day period.

Instead of driving to the office everyday, you might consider one of the following options:

Cycling

Switching from a petrol car to a bicycle would massively reduce your employee emissions, as well as save them money. 

Not only do electric bikes have much lower footprints than cars, they’ve also been proven to increase staff mental health and productivity. Joining a cycle scheme allows your employees to save money on eBikes and bicycles, spreading the cost over 1-5 years through salary sacrifice. 

Car Clubs

Cars are parked 95% of the time. Even electric ones! Cars take up a lot of space and ownership can be expensive, especially if used infrequently. Car Clubs can replace up to 18(!) cars off the road, and are used far more efficiently than ownership. 

Joining a car club, such as Co-Wheels, is a cost-effective and environmentally-effective alternative to managing your own vehicles.

Hybrid Working

Working from home saves time, saves on office costs, lessens the carbon footprint of employees, and offers personal-life benefits. If working from home is not an option, consider hybrid working with some days spent in the office and others at home. 

Source: Photo by Abhijeet Gaikwad on Unsplash

4. Check your Suppliers 

Most of us already recycle and reuse where we can, and bring our reusable coffee cups to work. But how can you improve the sustainability of your office when it relies greatly on external suppliers? 

First off, engage directly with your suppliers! You can ask them for their sustainability policy, and any net zero targets or carbon measurement that they’ve done. This communication allows your suppliers to go on the net zero journey with you, ensuring transparency. The collaborative approach means a better, longer term supplier relationship.

Things to consider in the office, which are to do with your supplier:

Sustainable Digitalisation

Digital emissions account for around 2% of the global carbon footprint. This figure is expected to increase to 21% by 2030.

If you’re on a hosted platform like Shopify, Wix or SquareSpace, email them and ask them for their sustainability policy.

Digital SME provides articles and information on sustainable digitalisation. For more information on sustainable software and hardware, see here.

Sustainable search engines include Ecosia and Lilo, who plant trees and use their profits to fund social and environmental projects. For a 100% green web-hosting service, check out Krystal.

Office Catering

Sustainable catering involves considering the following criteria: where food is sourced (local is best), eco-friendly tableware and packaging, minimal food waste, and low-emission deliveries.

You can find a list of sustainable office caterers in the UK here.

Ensure you have vegetarian or vegan options in the office. You could eliminate meat entirely even once a week which will reduce your impact on the environment in a number of positive ways. 

You can check the carbon footprint of your food here. 

Source: Photo by Daniel Norris on Unsplash

5. Reuse, Reduce & Buy Refurbished 

Each product you buy has a carbon footprint from its manufacturing process. By buying used or refurbished items, you do not emit any new emissions and help the transition to a circular economy. 

Contact an office furniture refurbisher such as Coggin or TracoUK.

IT Equipment

IT equipment can make up over 10% of your energy use. Think laptops, computers and other gadgets that connect to the internet. Effective management of your technology through its lifetime (e.g. selling used devices) can reduce your carbon footprint by 36%.

Buying and selling used equipment through second hand specialists, such as 1st Technologies or Pyramid,  keeps your equipment in good health and ready for reuse over many years to come.

Contact TechBuyer for Server equipment needs.

Office Stationery

Print double-sided copies where possible (if you need to print at all!), and use failed print jobs as scrap paper. 

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

6. Take Action and Share Your Progress

Sending a clear message to your employees, suppliers, and customers that environmental factors matter to you will motivate your employees and invite new customers who value sustainability.

For a full checklist of industry-specific sustainability actions that are high-impact, cheap and fast to implement, checkout our online platform Hero, which gives you everything you need to do to reach Net Zero (and beyond!) for £15 a month. 

Further Reading

Browse the WWF’s UK Sustainable office guide: WWF UK Sustainable Office Guide 2020.pdf

This article examines green logistics companies, so that you can receive the services you need to operate while reducing your office’s environmental impact.

Small99 have partnered with selected small businesses to make achieving net zero easier. 

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