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At work—what can we do?

About this guide

So you've been bringing your own coffee cup and turning off lights, and now you're wondering how else you can save energy and resources at work?

There are lots of opportunities to get your workplace involved in practical actions around the office. Some of the benefits include reducing business costs by doing things more efficiently and effectively to save time and money and avoid waste.

To maximise your impact, where possible:

  • involve your team or co-workers to generate ideas and solutions
  • take some time to develop a plan and build in ways to measure your impact
  • consider doing some research into the savings and benefits from any proposed changes you come up with
  • share your findings and progress with your whole organisation, including management.

Whether it comes from the boss or elsewhere, all changes are likely to be more effective when you can see the advantages and everyone has a say.

This guide has a few ideas to help you get started. They include simple actions and steps you can take right away, to some more far reaching changes that will have a longer term impact. The time and effort needed will depend on whether you're establishing new habits or helping your workmates create change as well. None of the actions will require significant up-front investments and most will save money—which can be a great incentive for getting your workplace involved.

Office savings teams

Office workers working outdoors in a field.

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If your workplace doesn't have one already, you could think about getting a team together to look at efficiency issues and help your organisation work towards improving its performance.

The team can look at developing and implementing an action plan as well as engaging staff by explaining and encouraging energy, waste and water saving activities. They might also encourage senior management to be involved so the action plan can really make a difference.

Here are some ideas to help you get started:

  • Place stickers near light switches and office machines reminding people to turn them off when not in use.
  • Place posters in kitchen areas to highlight what can and can't be recycled.
  • Send out regular tips to staff via email and run competitions between individuals and teams.
  • Conduct a group energy, water or waste assessment.
  • Look at travel-smart options for getting to and from work and between meetings.
  • Hold information sessions and invite guest speakers or show documentaries on environmental topics.
  • Set up a system where people can share their ideas, issues and solutions (for example, an email address or shared folder with a file hosting service).

Improve energy efficiency in the office

A hand holding an energy-efficient compact fluorescent lamp.

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Most offices are in use for around 50 to 60 hours each week—anything left on outside of these hours is wasting energy and money. Using office machines as efficiently as possible can cut costs and greenhouse gas emissions and may even extend the life of the machine. It can also improve the efficiency of your air conditioning as office machines generate heat when operational.

  • If your office has a fax machine, adjust the settings so that faxes go directly to computers rather than churning out paper. You may also be able to adjust it so you can send faxes from your computer—saving time and paper.
  • Over long breaks like Christmas, make sure all equipment, computers and appliances are turned off at the power point. Clear out and turn off fridges but don't forget to leave the doors ajar to prevent mould building up on the inside. If your workplace has vending machines containing non-perishables—turn them off too.
  • If you have a say in which office machines your organisation uses, look for energy-efficient features like power saving modes. The ENERGY STAR® mark can help you identify energy-efficient products. Check the machine manufacturer's website for information on energy saving features in their products and switch these on.
  • If you're buying new machines or your lease is up for review, use this as an opportunity to choose energy saving equipment or rethink what equipment you need.

Reduce waste at work

Placing a plastic bottle in an office recycling bin

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Help reduce the impact of your business activity on the environment by dealing thoughtfully with the waste you produce at work.

  • Promote recycling at work by setting up or requesting recycling bins for organic (kitchen) waste, glass, paper, plastics, e‑waste including batteries and phones.
  • Recycle toner and ink cartridges and buy re-manufactured ones. They're generally less expensive and better for the environment
  • Encourage your workplace to buy recycled paper products. See the Victorian Government's Save paper (PDF 207KB) fact sheet for more information.
  • Order from the large range of recycled and eco-friendlier stationery—like envelopes, ring binders, notebooks and more. Go for reusable clips instead of staples.
  • Re-use and recycle e-waste by giving old technology to someone who needs it, or to schools and charitable organisations. For items that no longer work, you can look for take-back schemes from electronic manufacturers or local recycling schemes.
  • Where possible buy less and order any supplies in bulk to reduce packaging waste.
  • Avoid plastic shopping bags by keeping a stash of re-usable ones in office drawers and common areas.
  • Swap or recycle items you're no longer using at home at work. Create a spot for a 'freebies table' in a common area and list items to swap or sell on your electronic or regular noticeboard.
  • If you're really serious about managing waste, work with management to encourage them to work with your waste service provider to establish the best recycling system. You could also look at creating purchasing guidelines to promote the use of more efficient and sustainable products that use less energy and packaging.
  • Check if your office has recycling bins for printer cartridges, batteries, cardboard, paper, organic or mixed (for plastic, cans, glass, etc) waste. If not, you might need to help your workplace improve its recycling routine.

Check with your local council or Planet Ark's Business Recycling website to find out what can be recycled in your area.

Measuring your impact

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Understanding your workplace's energy and water use and the waste you generate will help your organisation develop a plan to improve its energy efficiency and save money.

Depending on the size of your workplace, you could do a basic sustainability assessment as part of a savings team. Or encourage your workplace to engage a consultant who can help identify savings opportunities and develop a plan to make it all happen. Some state and territory governments subsidise assessments to support sustainability practices in local businesses.

You can track and understand your energy bills so you can monitor any changes and measure any progress and adjust your action plan accordingly

Resources

If you need more ideas or your workplace is keen to do more, the following websites contain guides and resources to help you take action where it counts.

Efficiency and savings

Energy

Waste

Travel