Seven ways to make your workplace—and your desk—more sustainable

Bringing environmentally friendly practices to work can make a big impact on the planet

Whether you’re an individual contributor or the company CEO, you have the power to make a positive, environmental impact at the office. Considering Americans spend a third of their lives at work, there is ample opportunity to adjust what and how much you consume, what resources you use, and even what food you eat during your working hours. Below, find some ways you can make a difference both at a company level and from behind your desk. 

How to make your workplace more sustainable

Here are four company-level initiatives that can make a big impact.

1. Look for wasteful packaging in unexpected places 

When WeWork committed to eliminating single-use plastic, the sustainability and well-being team found that reusable stainless steel would be the best option for cups to supply the kitchen. But an obstacle emerged once the team landed on a distributor: Every cup was originally meant to be wrapped in its own plastic bag. The irony of going green!

Fortunately, Christine Nasi, a senior manager on the content and campaigns team who oversees all of WeWork’s branded materials, worked with the steel cup distributor to talk them out of their plastic wrapping process. Instead of plastic bags, the company used small pieces of cardboard to maintain safe shipping. How did Nasi convince them to switch to eco-friendlier packaging? “If your numbers are big enough, they will change the way they do business because they want to do business with you,” she says. Nasi believes that as consumers (and large corporations) continue to ask for more sustainable materials, distributors will have no choice but to deliver.

Because of Nasi’s work, 820,000 plastic bags and bubble wrap on stainless-steel cups and mugs will be eliminated in Q1 of 2020. Next time your company orders supplies or swag (more on that below), ask your distributors about packaging and their plastic use. Nasi says it’s also important to do your research: Could you get a similar product from a different distributor that doesn’t use plastic materials in its packaging? It’s worth investing your time to find out. 

2. Invest in reusable products and improve office-wide recycling

Swap plastic cutlery, cups, and plates for reusable dishware and office lunch will be much more sustainable. If it’s not realistic for your company to invest in these kinds of products, consider some other ways you might problem-solve: Could you gift every staff member a stainless-steel, reusable water bottle and do away with plastic cups? Instead of buying new dish soap every time the bottle runs low, could you find a refillable version that requires less plastic? Could you eliminate plastic coffee stirrers and use a reusable spoon? Even the smallest step forward is still a step forward.

If your office consumes a lot of coffee, there are plenty of better ways to treat those used grounds than tossing them in the trash. In select WeWork buildings in New York City, Common Ground Compost does good with caffeine’s by-product. If composting services like this don’t make sense for your company, perhaps an employee with a green thumb could volunteer to take the grounds home for their garden. You might find that getting creative around office waste—and giving employees the option to pitch in to reduce it—can really help make a difference. 

3. Examine your swag

Everyone loves a T-shirt stamped with their company logo, but at what cost? Textiles are another area where research is really important, says Nasi; fashion is the second-most polluting industry on the planet. “We researched really heavily, and I had each vendor send me [explanations as to] why they were sustainable,” she adds, noting that just because a brand promotes itself as “green” doesn’t mean it’s truly ethical in its practices. Ultimately, Nasi and team settled on a brand that prioritizes zero-waste and resource-reducing practices. Like the mugs and metal cups, the T-shirts are free of plastic packaging. Since November 2018, WeWork has eliminated more than 80,000 plastic bags on apparel. 

4. Be thoughtful about ingredients

Would your office supply nondairy alternatives for coffee if you explained their impact on the environment? Do you have any control over catering options, and could you sway your leaders to consider meat-free meals? Our food choices have an immense power to reduce climate change, so what gets eaten in the office matters. 

How to be greener at work

Here are three easy ways to make a positive impact on the environment every day at work. 

1. Make your workspace a plastic-free zone

Take a look around your desk and try to audit your plastic use over a week at work. What could be done differently?

  • Store your own set of reusable cutlery at your desk.
  • Refuse plastic cutlery, straws, and plastic bags when you’re buying lunch or breakfast.
  • Get yourself a reusable water bottle or a glass that’s a joy to drink from.
  • Pack lunch in washable containers.
  • Stash a couple of clean food containers in your workspace in case there’s ever an opportunity to take leftovers home.
  • Be the change you want to see in the world, as they say.

2. Start a sustainable lunch club

There are plenty of benefits to hosting a lunch club at work: Gathering for a break during the day can boost productivity and improve well-being. Plus, you and your colleagues can lean in to certain dietary themes—including vegan and vegetarian—to help the planet while enjoying food together. 

3. Be an example for your coworkers

If you keep a compost container at your desk (or in the office freezer), your colleagues will undoubtedly be curious as to why you’re tossing banana peels into a separate bin. Any effort you make to be greener has the potential to catch on. While not everybody may want to invest in a metal straw like yours, your attitude toward protecting the planet can be contagious. You might create a Slack channel for swapping green tips and recipes. This can be a place for people to ask questions, get educated, and collectively change the world. 

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Kate Bratskeir is a writer for WeWork’s Ideas by We, focusing on sustainability and workplace psychology. Previously, she was a senior editor at Mic and HuffPost. Her work has appeared in New York magazine, Health, Travel & Leisure, Women’s Health, and more.

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