It is now almost impossible in our daily lives to avoid media references to the vulnerability of the environment: the rainforests are disappearing; supplies of drinkable water, along with our capacity to produce food for a growing population, are in decline; and the world’s climate is warming – and, apparently, it’s at least partly our fault. Prophesies of gloom galvanize some of us into action and depress others into inactive despair. Still others get annoyed with predictions of the apocalypse and distrust the science they are presented with in the first case.
But whether or not you’re convinced that climate change et al are man-made, there’s no denying that natural resources always have been and always will be finite and in limited supply. With populations increasing in expanding economies, there simply isn’t enough stuff in the world to carry on business as usual. This doesn’t oblige us to wear hair shirts and slurp gruel in dingy, electricity-free hovels. But it does require us to respect the environment in order that it can recover from any degradation caused to it by economic activity – not least so we can continue to some extent what we were doing before.
Being or going green needn’t be a burdensome moral obligation, however. Going green makes sound business sense, particularly in times of economic austerity when we are forced to tighten the purse strings. Reducing the amount of energy we use in our workplace also reduces our energy bills. Videoconferencing rather than flying halfway around the world for a business meeting saves considerable time and cash. Adopting a waste management strategy means spending less on consumables. Furthermore, customers ever-increasingly notice the green credentials of the products they consume and the companies they buy from: Green sells.
Finally, whether justified or not, businesses which are not early to adopt sustainability strategies are likely to find themselves left behind as governments of whatever hue introduce more Draconian environmental legislation.
With all this in mind, we’ve cobbled together some information and useful tips on becoming more aware of and sensitive to environmental issues while saving your business money.
What does “sustainable” mean?
As the Earth’s population increases (projected to be at least 9 billion by 2050), our demands on the planet’s resources become more and more intense. At a global level, being sustainable means engaging in activity which meets our present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to do the same. At a business level, sustainability means demanding only so much of energy and natural resources that can be continued in the future. A business model, for example, based on the continual depletion of a natural resource logically necessitates short-lived business practices and isn’t sustainable. On the other hand, businesses which allow the environments and resources on which they are dependent to replenish can continue indefinitely. Above all, though, sustainability can be regarded as a business opportunity: industrial “waste” in one context might be a resource in another as witnessed in recycling practices.
The waste management hierarchy: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Sound waste management is not only central to a sustainable office – it keeps costs down too. Waste management hierarchies take many forms but essentially they all prioritise non-use over disposal.
Recycling glass bottles, plastic, tin cans and Paper is obviously better than sending them to landfill which is quickly running out in the UK. There is also something quite satisfying about recycling and it makes us feel good about ourselves.
However, in the waste hierarchy scheme of things, recycling is something of a last resort. The highest priority is not to produce waste in the first place. Eliminate – don’t use if you don’t need to. Reduce the amount you use if you do. Reuse if you can and recycle what you can’t reuse. And dispose of what’s left responsibly.
Here’s an example waste management hierarchy principles applied to printer Paper:
- Eliminate use by rethinking the ways Paper is used in the office. For instance, is a hard copy always necessary or will electronic files often suffice?
- Reduce use by printing on both sides of Paper, changing printer settings to print two or more pages per sheet, and so on.
- Reuse Paper by feeding through printer again or using as scrap for note-taking.
- Recycle only when all uses have been exhausted.
- Dispose. By-products of Paper which can’t be reused or recycled (e.g. non-recyclable plastic packaging) should be disposed of responsibly, bearing in mind that some non-biodegradable products may stick around for up to 500 years.
Paying for waste disposal by quantity is a very real prospect in this country in the near future and is already underway throughout much of Europe. This means that the more waste we produce, the more it will cost us. In the meantime, perhaps partly due to recessionary pressures, it is increasingly more common and culturally acceptable for businesses and individuals to reuse materials.