Community Featured homepage

Launching Your Green Office

The Office of Sustainability celebrates their certification at the 2017 Green Carpet Awards

Whether you are launching the Green Office Program in your office for the first time or picking it up again after a bit of a hiatus, or even if you are getting a new office space ready for the first time, here are some suggestions for where to start. Whether it is on the individual scale or at the scale of how your office operates, your decisions today will set the foundation for your future impact.

  • If you need to purchase new office electronics, look into buying energy star products and/or purchasing second-hand. 
  • Given folks are more used to electronic filing than ever, consider doing an audit of personal printers and seeing if there are any that can be taken offline. This saves electricity, ink and paper.
  • Need to purge before people return? Or clear out someone’s desk or office after they leave? Donate to a non-profit, the Office Supply Exchange, or offer up on WashUReUse.
  • Are there opportunities to reduce overall material items based on what you learned you didn’t need during the pandemic? Redefine the basics to have on hand, and order as-needed with only a modest stockpile.
  • Maintain the best practices you mastered for filing documents on the cloud and doing without paper copies. 
  • Take a moment to cancel subscriptions to magazines and catalogues you don’t need.
  • Can you reduce your paper stock if you are printing less?
  • If you do need to purchase more paper, source with high recycled content and FSC certified.
  • Do you need to fully restock office supplies? Hold on the blanket purchase until you know you need something or can poll for what people want/need. 
  • If you are doing full restocks, employ best practices like: 
    • Check the Office Supply Exchange for free office supplies re-circulated from elsewhere in the university. Don’t see what you need? Utlize WashU Marketplace and Office Essentials, a local, woman-owned and WashU-approved office supplies supplier. They have filters and a favorites list for minority-owned suppliers and sustainable products.
    • Check WashU ReUse (Rheaply) for furniture, equipment and supplies before buying new.
  • Do you need to purchase a headset to attend virtual meetings from an open office space? Seek out options that are high quality, long lasting, and that have other lower impact attributes, like reduced packaging or less plastic.
  • This transition point is the perfect time to reconsider your commute. WashU Rides is a free, one stop resource for exploring sustainable transportation options at WashU, including carpooling, bike routes, transit stops and more!
  • When hosting meetings with people from other WashU campuses or external stakeholders, consider a virtual meeting to save on commute time, parking and driving. 
  • Rather than multiple visits from non-local consultants, consolidate in-person trips and meet virtually when possible. 
  • Provide flexibility to staff to be able to work remotely on occasion when it makes sense.
  • During the hiring process, try to conduct interviews virtually.
  • Invite non-local speakers to join virtually.
  • Support local restaurants & caterers. Check the Green Dining Alliance website for sustainable locals. 
  • Source promotional products and apparel from WashU’s list of licensed suppliers, who have been vetted by Public Affairs through an RFP process that included sustainability as a parameter (some are more versed in environmentally-friendly items than others).
  • Carefully select promotional items (SWAG), prioritizing items that are useful, reusable items, durable, and made from natural or recycled materials.
  • Start out with a Green Office team meeting to go over resources, policies, or goals for the office. Engage your team members!
  • Fill out the Green Office checklist to get a sense of where you are and help focus your re-entry activities.
  • In general, what does your office do and how are you uniquely positioned to contribute to the university’s commitment for environmental sustainability?
  • What did you learn from the pandemic retreat that could be applied to future work in your office?
  • Before the pandemic, did you have innovative green office practices in place? Be sure to re-implement as needed. Or, revisit your goals and opportunities from past checklists and put them into practice!
  • What green office goals do you have for the next year? How will you tackle them?

Lessons Learned from Remote Work

During the early parts of the COVID pandemic, working remotely became the new norm for many. Public health policies resulted in less business travel, lowering the harmful emissions that resulted from driving to and from campus during regular commutes, for meetings and long distance travel. The offices on campus remained largely vacant, cutting down the energy usage required to use printers, lights, heating and cooling systems, and computers.

Before COVID-19 sent everyone home, a large portion of a typical office’s waste came from food, whether it was from individual packaging or large catered events. This waste was drastically cut while remote work and virtual events were common. These virtual events also allowed for wider audience participation, with the ability to include people across the nation that might not have been able to attend in person under normal circumstances.

Another effect that remote work had on sustainable office practices was a decrease in overall office purchasing, primarily paper, snacks, and single use items (such as tissues). There was an increase in digital documents and filing systems which lead to a massive decrease in paper purchasing, use, and waste.

While some of these practices will return to the status quo (like tissue purchases and heating and cooling), we encourage offices to think about new applications of lessons learned. For example, virtual meetings and speaker engagements significantly reduce both daily and long-distance travel. Travel makes up a significant portion of the university’s indirect (Scope 3) emissions.

In addition, rethinking the office “stock”, whether it is office supplies, snacks, coffee or paper, is a good way to reduce expenses and waste. Savings could justify any slight increases in sourcing greener products, like copy paper with more recycled content or fair trade coffee.

The tips above were compiled from green office liaisons and the team at the Office of Sustainability. As for those who will continue to work remotely, review our tips on developing a green home office.