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At work—what can I do?

About this guide

There are many things you can do while at work to save money, save energy and reduce waste. This guide focuses on practical actions in an office environment, but some of the tips will apply whatever your workplace.

Taking on board these practical everyday changes can add up to make a real difference—especially if they catch on with your co-workers. Our tips include simple steps you can take right now, and some that require a little more planning. None of the actions will require significant up-front costs and most will save money.

Six practical things you can do from your desk

No matter what your role in your organisation, you can still contribute to saving money and resources. Here are six things you can do now without consulting anyone (and if your co-workers join in, you'll be making an even bigger impact).

1. Switch to re-usable coffee cups

The takeaway 'paper' cup is often not recyclable as most paper cups have a thin plastic lining that prevents them from being recycled—sending more waste to landfill. Then there is the energy used to manufacture, package and transport an item that will be thrown away after just one use. If you drink one coffee a day, that could add up to more than 200 cups a year—which can add up to a lot of trees—especially when you consider all the people in your building buying coffee too.

Choosing to bring in a re-usable coffee cup can make a real contribution to reducing a growing problem.

2. Bring a re-usable water bottle

A re-usable water bottle

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There are many advantages to using a re-usable water bottle:

  • You could save thousands of dollars a year by avoiding the costs of bottled water, which at over two dollars a litre, is more expensive than petrol. Just top up your re-usable bottle with free tap water.
  • You will reduce landfill. Although plastic bottles are recyclable, they continue to end up in landfill or littering waterways and oceans. Plastic bottles were in the top 10 most common items collected on Clean up Australia Day in 2010. By using a re-usable bottle you'll help reduce the impact of bottled water by avoiding the impacts of extracting the water, and producing, treating, filling, shipping and disposing of bottles.
  • You won't need to head to the shop every time you're thirsty. Keep your re-usable bottle on your desk at work or in your bag, and when you're out and about.

None of this is to say that you should never buy bottled water, but it helps to be aware of the associated impacts and give some thought to the alternatives as well. You can use home filtering systems, refillable water bottles and drink tap water.

If you do buy bottled water, remember to recycle the bottles after use or you could even re-use them as bird feeders, a drip watering system for your garden or to grow your own seedlings.

3. Bring your lunch to work

A salad in a plastic container ready to eat at work

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Australians are spending billions of dollars each year on food that they buy but don't eat. Think about bringing your lunch to work—it could save money and reduce waste.

  • Take-away food can result in paper or plastic waste, and is likely to be more expensive than bringing your lunch with you.
  • Bringing your lunch is also a great way to use up leftovers and minimise food waste at home. In New South Wales, the average family throws out more than $1,000 in wasted food every year. As well as costing money, this food ends up in our landfill where it produces methane—a harmful greenhouse gas, 21 times stronger than carbon dioxide (CO2).
  • Make it a litter-free lunch. Pack portions of what you're going eat into your own re-usable containers rather than buying individually wrapped snacks and items that add waste and dollars to your lunch bill.
  • Keep re-usable spoons, forks and chopsticks in your drawer so that you don't need the disposable kind (which can be clumsy to use at the best of times). Or ask your workplace to supply some in common areas for everyone to use. If you do buy your lunch, consider taking the time to eat in at your local cafe or restaurant where you can enjoy a break from the office and avoid all the unnecessary take-away packaging.

4. Use the off switch

Lots of equipment is drawing power even while you're not using it.

  • Turn off your mobile phone charger at the power point once it's finished charging your phone. It's still using energy if left on—even when your phone is not plugged in. Another option is to recharge during car trips. Most cars have a connection point but you'll need the correct adapter.
  • Switch off the light at work if there's enough daylight to work effectively. Switch it off when you go out for more than 10 minutes (if there's no one else in your area) and when you go home too.

You can put signs near light switches to act as a reminder and encourage others to do the same—which can be helpful for busy people.

5. Maximise computer efficiency

Close up of hands on a mouse and keyboard

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  • Switch off your computer and screen when you leave work for the day. Otherwise you're still burning energy even if you aren't burning the midnight oil.
  • If you're on a networked computer you may need to check with your IT area that computers aren't backed up or upgraded at night. Ask them about installing software that automatically powers down computers when they're not in use.
  • Turn your screen off when away from your desk for more than 15 minutes—screen savers don't save energy. You could consider encouraging others in your team to do the same.

6. Print smarter and go paperless where possible

A print button on a printer

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  • Make it a habit to think before you print: could this be read or stored online instead? When you do need to print something, set your printer to print on both sides, use the black and white print option where possible and try using the blank side of old documents for faxes, drafts or scrap paper.
  • Keep a box next to your desk to place paper for recycling and empty it into the larger office recycling bins (if you have them) once it's full.
  • Use colour printing only when essential. It will save you costly ink and toner cartridges.
  • If you receive unwanted catalogues, newsletters, magazines or junk mail, submit a request to be removed from the mailing list (or ask for the online version) in preference to recycling them.
  • Plant Ark's RecyclingNearYou is useful for finding out about services in your area and what can be recycled easily.

Travel at work

How you get to and from work is another area where you can make a personal contribution—it's a great way to reduce your daily travel costs and impact. There are even ways you can save your organisation money by considering alternative transport options and using technology to reduce the need to travel to meetings during work hours.

Getting to work

Making active travel as well as public transport part of your commute to work has a range of benefits.

  • Reducing the number of car trips you make will reduce your fuel and running costs and the wear and tear on your car. Heavy traffic on our roads increases traffic congestion, as well air and noise pollution.
  • You can use your car less by walking, riding, using public transport or car pooling and car sharing to get to work. This can cut your transport costs and reduce or even remove the need for your car or the second car and help you get some exercise into your day.
  • Try using public transport one day a week as a start and build this up over time. It can help you find more hours in your day by giving you time to read, relax and do some work as well as helping you save on parking and vehicle costs. If you live within cycling distance, you could try riding one day a week in good weather and increase the number of rides over time.

Working from home

A young woman at a desk working from home

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Why not see if you can work from home sometimes?

Teleworking can result in increased productivity, reduced office expenses and improved staff retention. With its flexible work hours and arrangements, teleworking can be a very attractive option for parents, carers, people with a disability or employees simply seeking to improve their work-life balance.

If you can't telework, you may be able to organise more flexible working hours allowing you to avoid peak hour travel. Traffic congestion and interruptions contributes to increased fuel use and costs. Flexible work hours can help you avoid traffic jams, reduce air quality issues and save time.

Travel for meetings

A young man working at a desk and using the phone rather than travelling for a meeting.

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If you need to travel locally for work, consider taking public transport or carpool with your colleagues. With a little planning, public transport can be as quick as driving once you consider the time needed to find a parking space (and it can be the fastest and cheapest way of getting from the airport to the CBD in peak hour). Some workplaces provide public transport tickets for staff use. If your workplace doesn't, why not ask them to?

If you'd like to go further you could even consider setting up a bike fleet for cycling to and from meetings. Electric-assist bikes are a good option too, as they reduce the amount of effort you put in so you can avoid getting hot and sweaty.

As the least efficient transport mode, air travel between cities for meetings or conferences has a significant costs and impacts. If your destination is only a couple of hours away, public transport can be a viable alternative to air travel, saving money along with air and noise pollution.

Although face-to-face meetings are important, virtual meetings (teleconferencing, web-conferencing or video-conferencing) can be just as effective and a more sustainable option. The technology to enable virtual meetings is no longer exotic or expensive; in fact it can be free. If you have an internet connection the tools can be just a few clicks away. There is advice online on how to make the most of digital business tools.

Resources

For more ideas and help to get you started try these resources: