BY STEPHANIE LOUGH
Creating a sustainable workplace is a long-term process which involves strategizing and incorporating enduring features that will benefit the company and individuals without negatively affecting future generations. From the initial architectural design to day-to-day business operations, the “scope” of going green in the office is broad. How green you can go at work may depend on where you are and what you can afford, but the important thing is to do as much as you can. Here are some tips to get you going in the right direction.
If you are considering building out a space or re-purposing a space, start by considering building design, materials used, and office protocol, which can greatly improve or pollute an office environment. There are also sustainable tactics that can be applied to existing spaces to benefit the environment, the employees, and the bottom line.
Taking baby steps toward a greener office environment is a great step, but it’s just one part of a much more integrated process ─ and sometimes green-bound businesses need a little advice. To help business owners learn about creating a sustainable workplace, the United States General Services Administration (GSA) launched SFTool.gov, an interactive website with tips on design, recommendations for green products (everything from building materials to cleaning supplies), and resources for all things sustainable. Some of its advice includes:
• Install double- or triple-paned windows
• Personal adjustable blinds minimize the use of lights and help to keep a room cool without blasting the AC
• Increase natural light exposure
• Install sensors or timers to office lights, especially in high-traffic areas
• Choose light paint colors to reflect light
• Set temperature limits on thermostats to prevent abuse • Install low-flow toilets in restrooms
• Research different vendors, suppliers, and manufacturers and select the most eco-friendly options
Protect the People
While physical changes are the most apparent, sustainability also takes into consideration employees’ satisfaction levels. Studies reveal that in offices providing a more sustainable environment, there is an increase in employee productivity, retention rates, and overall job satisfaction.
Some ways to promote a healthier workspace and a happier workforce include:
• Flexibility – In design, in scheduling, and in all aspects of business. The “normal workday” is constantly changing, and the “9 to 5” work schedule doesn’t work for everyone. With smartphones and laptops, people can access email and work while away from the office.
• Adaptability – Ergonomic office furniture allows employees to create a space that can change for their different projects. This includes rolling desks, partitioned walls, and open spaces that can be changed to suit any given need.
Keeping employees healthy is as important as keeping them happy, and air quality in the office should be at the top of every employer’s priority list.
A study conducted by the GSA showed indoor pollution levels may be two to five times higher than outdoors, making it one of the top five environmental health risks according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Nearly 30 percent of U.S. office workers are affected by “sick building syndrome,” a common health complaint attributed to poor air quality caused, in part, by the of spreading of particles like mold and building materials, chemicals from non-sustainable cleaning supplies, and germs from fellow workers through building ventilation systems.
“We get several reports of sick building syndrome a year,” said Darin Perkins, director of the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health (ADOSH). “There are strict regulations that pertain to air and environmental qualities that are put in place to protect the health of employees.”
Through ADOSH*, companies can request a free environmental assessment, which includes monitoring employee exposure. “It’s important to check as new materials are being developed to create healthier, more sustainable work environments,” said Perkins. “We have come a long way since asbestos.”
The Bottom Line
Sustainability is about finding balance between nature and industrialized civilization. While green features and employees’ well-being are important, a company that is not profitable is not successful.
Fortunately, while building a green office environment may require some upfront costs, the benefits to employees, the environment, and the bottom line quickly become evident. “Businesses spend nearly $170 billion a year on costs associated with occupational illnesses,” Perkins said. “Those working in more sustainable environments have been shown to take less sick days, and are all around more productive.”
Workplaces that establish safety and health management systems can reduce costs due to injury and illness by an estimated 20 to 40 percent. Additional cost savings realized in a sustainable office include utility, water and repairs.
If major green changes aren’t possible, do what you can. Even smaller-scale changes, like recycling, can have a large financial impact over the lifespan of a business with a sustainable plan in place. Start with some simple solutions to create a healthier environment:
• Recycled office furniture – Chairs. Desks. Conference tables. There are a few standards that just about every office ever in existence has, or had at one point. It’s easy to find great deals on gently used, professional furniture.
• Live plants throughout the office, building and property – Plants have been proven to improve air quality and boost employees’ job satisfaction. Even a small potted fern can bring life into an office – literally.
• Reusing scratch paper, recycling – Try to reduce your paper use by printing only what is absolutely necessary – most things can be accomplished through email. Before tossing old drafts into the recycling bin, reuse paper until its life’s end. If you only used one side of the sheet, reload it to print on the blank side, or use it as scratch paper.
• Choose a green cleaning service – Choose a janitorial service that uses non-toxic cleaning supplies to ensure you are not adding any chemicals to the air.
Whether you’re in the initial stages of planning a new office build, repurposing an old building, or simply greening your current space, every little green bit matters. In the end, sustainable environments are good for employee, the Earth, and the bottom line.
Stephanie lives in Phoenix and writes for several local publications.Follow her on Twitter @StephLough. Photo by Crista Alvey SOURCES
– ADOSH Website http://www.ica.state.az.us/ADOSH/ADOSH_main.aspx
– Epa.gov – IAQ http://www.epa.gov/iaq/
– GSA.gov – statistics pulled from here: Sustainably Matters official guidebook http://www.gsa.gov/ graphics/pbs/Sustainability_Matters_508.pdf