Sustainability in the Office

Reprinted with permission from Minnesota Waste Wise
Offices contribute greatly to the waste generated in
Minnesota. According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), each
year the average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of office paper, and the
average American throws away 1.6 billion single-use pens. The first step to
achieving a sustainable office is to follow "reduce, reuse, then recycle."
Sustainable is defined in Merriam-Webster as "of, relating to, or being a
method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted
or permanently damaged."

Think "reduction" first. How can your office simply reduce the
waste it generates? Address all areas, including paper use, printer and toner
cartridges, office supplies, furniture, electronics, food waste, and energy
usage. After stressing basic waste reduction, it is important to implement
eco-friendly purchasing policies that support your sustainability mission.
Centralize purchasing to require product and vendor approval. Use products and
services that support responsible manufacturing, follow the "reduce, reuse,
then recycle" rule, and are long-lived. Promote reuse, when possible, and look
for options to recycle before considering the trash. By implementing
eco-friendly purchasing of approved products and vendors, attention can be paid
to purchasing items that are easily recyclable.

Doing this research prior to purchase makes determining the
product’s end life much easier. In addition, the savings from reducing office
waste can be significant. A recent study estimates that associated
paper costs can be as much as 31 times the purchasing costs. That means a $5
ream of paper may cost your company up to $155 when the printing job is
complete (MPCA).

Office Waste Tips

Several waste streams are commonly generated in
offices, contributing to significant amounts of trash generated each year.
Items which should be looked at include paper, office supplies, furniture,
meetings and break rooms.

Paper: Reduce paper use by printing efficiently and
selecting alternatives to paper when possible. As a result, printer cartridges,
machine maintenance, storage space, and disposal costs will all see a
reduction. Reuse paper by printing on one-sided documents and using waste paper
for taking notes or telephone messages. Recycle all paper waste generated and
work with your recycler to educate employees about your paper recycling

Office Supplies
& Furniture
: Reduce and Reuse
waste by centralizing the purchasing of these items. Limit purchasing approvals
to "when needed" rather than "when wanted." Provide a materials exchange for
employees or donate items to schools and other community organizations that are
in need. Recycle any items that are no longer usable.

General Office Tips: Studies have shown it takes three weeks to break
a habit. Encourage employees to be more conscious of changing habits, such as
drinking morning coffee in a reusable mug rather than a disposable cup, turning
off lights when exiting a room, and not printing a document unless absolutely
necessary. Set goals to mark achievements in waste reduction, reuse, and
recycling within the office.  

Read Up
Act Locally


Do It Green!, Minnesota,
(see Business section)

Minnesota Pollution Control, Agency,

Minnesota Waste Wise,
St. Paul, MN,

National Resources Defense Council,

Office Sustainability

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