Green Your Office

Ami Voeltz
Do It Green! Minnesota

Business-to-Business Mail

Businesses and institutions receive a great deal of unsolicited mail, such as catalogs and advertising mail for products and services of all kinds. Even when these materials are wanted, there can be a tremendous amount of waste and duplication. Do these sound familiar?

Maybe you receive mail for staff members that are long gone, or multiple mailings for the same person, often with small inconsistencies, that make them seem like unique records, or poorly targeted mailings, such as office supply catalogs for the CEO or E-commerce seminars for your building maintenance staff.

Handling this unwanted mound of paper and plastic costs you money. There’s certainly a lot of paper waste which needs to be sorted and hauled away for disposal or recycling. But perhaps of greater concern is the amount of staff time you may have invested in handling and sorting all of this extra material. At one office mailroom, a six-week study showed that the mailroom staff was spending 25 % of its time sorting Standard Class advertising mail.

What can you do about this?

  • Call or e-mail businesses that send you catalogs or advertising flyers and ask them to remove you from their list.
  • Control your exposure by being careful with how you share your businesses’ information. Data for mail lists is often collected from purchases, conference registrations, websites and business cards. Include a statement about preventing waste and protecting privacy on purchase orders, registrations, conferences and subscriptions.
  • If your organization maintains databases or mail lists, be very selective about how you use data, and offer listed parties the option of not being distributed.
  • Keep your mail lists up-to-date. You waste money and time mailing materials to addresses that are no longer valid.
  • Spread the word. A company or organization should let everyone know about the goal of minimizing waste from unwanted mail.

Direct Mail Waste Reduction Success Story


Two departments in the Itasca County Courthouse decreased their junk mail by 90 percent, from about 100 pieces to 10 pieces per week. They did this by sending pre-printed postcards asking that their names be taken off mailing lists. Anyone in the participating departments receiving junk or duplicate mail deposited it in a collection box. Periodically, a staff person took each piece of mail and enclosed a postcard in the sender’s pre-addressed mailer. If this was not supplied, the staff person cut off the portions containing addresses of the sender and the recipient and pasted them to a postcard that read: "To whom it may concern: In an effort to reduce our disposable waste products, we are requesting that you remove our name from your mailing list. Thank you."

Purchasing & Shipping Practices Tips:

  • Purchase products in concentrated form or in bulk.
  • Negotiate with suppliers to provide merchandise in returnable or reusable packaging – or in packaging that you can recycle through your in-house recycling program.
  • Instead of cardboard boxes, use durable containers for shipping to your branch offices, stores, or warehouses.

  • Set up a system for returning cardboard boxes and packaging materials to distributors for reuse.
  • Reuse packaging materials – such as boxes, newspaper, tissue, polystyrene "peanuts" and foam pads — from incoming shipments as alternatives to buying new packing material.
  • Return, reuse and repair wooden pallets and crates.
  • When billing customers, use "two-way" envelopes which can be folded inside-out and returned to you with payment.

Office Space Design

To create the best possible work environment for employees and conserve natural resources, consider the following ideas when building, renovating or designing office space:

  • Recyclable carpeting.
  • Low flow shower heads.
  • Improve air quality (HVAC system).
  • Recycle bins & services, including paper bins.
  • Be sure hot water sources are as close as possible to kitchens, lab and showers to conserve energy.
  • Purchase locally produced building supplies. (ceiling tiles)
  • Purchase certified wood products. (See: ENVIRONMENT: Forests & Lumber).
  • Low-energy or heat mirror windows.
  • Flooring with low-toxic adhesive or backing.
  • No-formaldehyde wooden particleboard cabinets.
  • No VOC wall paint.
  • Recycled countertops.
  • Light Shelves, which provide natural light to the center of the building.
  • Use flexible interior, such as moveable walls, to reduce waste in renovations.
  • Choose durable office furnishings to avoid replacement.

  • Use reusable dishware in your coffee and/or cafeteria area.
  • Use cloth towel roll dispensers in bathrooms and cloth towels in kitchens.
  • Work with janitorial service to use less toxic, non-toxic or no-VOC cleaning products.
  • Have your building’s compost waste sent to a composting facility. (Food scraps, soiled paper products, etc.)

For more information contact the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in Duluth or the Green Institute in Minneapolis about their "green" buildings.

Reducing Paper Waste

Office paper is highly recyclable, but reducing or preventing paper waste is even more cost effective than recycling. Also consider buying the most environmentally-friendly paper (100% post-consumer recycled) to stock in your printers, copiers and fax machines. Some ideas for reducing office paper:

  • Double-sided copying and printing.
  • Reusing paper. Keep a collection box by the copy machine for bad copies so the second side can be reused.
  • Make use of electronic communication.
  • Use smaller cover sheets or eliminate the cover sheet all together.
  • Reuse items from old packaging.
  • Reuse materials in-house, through clients, customers and consumers.

Start a Recycling Program

Business Recycling and Waste Reduction

There is not much difference between tossing a piece of paper into a trash can and tossing it into a designated recycling container. But recycling will affect every employee in your company and require changing several procedures. Consider starting up a recycling program in your office. If this may be too much responsibility, at least get the ball rolling by offering a proposal and/or resources on how and why to start a recycling program to your management. Here are some outlined steps to begin and maintain a successful recycling program in your office. This is only meant to be a summary; please refer to the above web site and resource box for more detailed steps.

1. Enlist the Support of Top Management

Before you begin, enlist the support of top management. For most companies, recycling can be implemented for very little time and money. Most executives readily see the benefits:

  • Reduced supplies and materials expense
  • Reduced waste collection and disposal costs
  • Improved corporate image within the community
  • An increase in employees’ pride in their workplace
  • A positive impact on the environment.

2. Identify a Recycling Coordinator

Just as with any other program in your organization, an effective recycling program needs leadership. In many companies, recycling starts because one person volunteers for the job of recycling coordinator. The most important qualifications for the job are enthusiasm for recycling, organizational experience and good communication skills. The coordinator should take responsibility for:

  • Selecting a recycling service company.
  • Organizing the collection system.
  • Getting the employees involved in tracking the progress of the program.
  • Keeping files on contracts and on weight receipts provided by recycling companies that show quantity of each material collected each month.

Depending on the size of your organization, the coordinator will spend anywhere from a day or two to a couple of weeks getting a recycling program off the ground. After the program has started, the coordinator should need only a few hours each month to oversee the program.

3. Understand Your Recycling Opportunities

Most organizations regularly generate materials that now are required to be recycled under the county’s business recycling regulations. Check with your county to find out what those are. These are the most commonly recycled products:

  • White office paper
  • Corrugated cardboard containers
  • Newspaper
  • Glass bottles and jars
  • Aluminum cans
  • Steel/bit-metal cans
  • Plastic containers
  • Food scraps & yard trim (Composting)

4. Select a Recycling Company

The next step in starting recycling in your workplace is to identify a recycling service company who will either:

A. Pick up your recyclables and transport them to markets for further processing or,

B. Accept the materials your business takes to them.

Types of companies. Several types of companies are available to pick up your recyclables:

  • Waste paper dealers pick up large quantities of office paper or corrugated cardboard containers.
  • Waste collection companies offer pickup service and transportation of recyclables to a private processing facility.
  • Specialty recycling firms, some operating on a not-for-profit basis also pick up recyclables, often in smaller quantities, and may sell and deliver recycled paper products to you.
  • Scrap dealers pick up a wide range of materials; including waste paper, scrap metals, etc.

5. Designate Collection and Storage Areas

In consultation with your recycling company, set up a system to collect recyclable materials to meet your business needs. The key to a successful recycling program is making it as easy as possible for employees to use. The less sorting, decision-making and walking required, the more successful your program will be.

6. Promote the Program

Recycling requires individuals to change long-established habits and to make a little effort to do things differently. Most employees will be enthusiastic about recycling. However, your program will be more effective if you develop a positive, upbeat publicity program to keep that enthusiasm high. Kick-off your program. Establish an official "start date" for your program and let your employees know well beforehand that it is coming.

7. Sustain the Program

Your recycling program will be successful if you positively reinforce your employees’ new recycling habits. Report back to them on how the program is going, using specific details, such as "Dollars saved" or "Trees saved." Also, let employees know if too much of the wrong types of recyclables are being mixed in.

8. Monitor the Program

Periodic checkups, and quick correction of any problems, will ensure that the program runs smoothly and that your company is recycling as much as possible. You can ask questions such as: "Are employees satisfied with and using containers?" or "Do custodians empty recyclable containers properly?"

Sidebar: The Natural Step to Sustainability

From The Natural Step to Sustainability: A Win-Win-Win for Profits, People and Planet, Terry Gips

Following a set of guiding principles called The Natural Step (TNS), $1.4 billion Atlanta-based Interface has developed the first recyclable floor coverings and a solar-powered manufacturing plant while saving approximately $88 million in just four years. Sustainable forestry products manufacturer Collins Pine is saving $1 million a year.

TNS emphasizes that the only long-term, sustainable manner in which business and society can operate is within the Earth’s natural cycles, according to the following four basic sustainability conditions:

1. Substances from the Earth, such as fossil fuels, metals, and other minerals, must not be extracted at a faster rate than their slow redeposit into the Earth’s crust.

2. Substances produced by society must not be produced faster than they can be broken down and reintegrated into the cycles of nature.

3. The productive surfaces of nature must not be diminished in quality or quantity, and we must not harvest more from nature than can be re-created and renewed.

4. Basic human needs for all people should be met with the most resource efficient methods possible.

Learn more: TNS is being shared through a newsletter, introductory presentations, one-day seminars and network meetings with businesses, nonprofits, communities, government agencies, schools and other organizations. To get more information, contact:

Alliance for Sustainability

The Natural Step-US

Sidebar: More Resources

Resourceful Waste Management Guide
Steps and resources for setting up waste reduction and recycling programs.
Solid Waste Management Coordinating Board (SWMCB)
Obtain a copy: 651-215-0232

Minnesota Recycling Directory
Listing of buyers and sellers of recyclable materials.
Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance
Obtain a copy: 800-657-3843 or 651-296-3417

Minnesota Materials Exchange
An online catalog that connects businesses who have reusable goods to businesses who can use them.
Minnesota Technical Assistance Program (MnTAP)

Read Up
Act Locally

Web Resources



Print Resources

Going Green: A Guide to Becoming an Environmentally-Friendly Business, 415-616-6800 or

EnvironMentors Advisor: Prevent Waste, Produce Profit, Contact North East Business Assoc. to receive a free copy: 800-657-3843 or 651-296-3417

Office Waste Reduction Kit & Source Reduction Manual & instructional video, Contact the MN Office of Environmental Assistance for a free copy: 612-789-4352 or 800-887-6300



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Minnesota Technical Asst. Program (MnTAP)
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Minneapolis, MN 612-624-1300

MN WasteWise
30 E. 7th St.
Suite 1700
St. Paul, MN 651-292-4650

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