For anyone who has ever worked in a typical office setting, you know that office supplies and products tend to pile up and conservation doesn’t tend to be an important issue. Office products frequently come with enormous amounts of packaging, aren’t made of the most environmentally safe materials, and a good amount of them are produced thousands of miles away. Realizing that it takes certain office products to run a successful business these days, there is another framework within which we should be considering our purchasing practices when it comes to office products. This framework involves realizing the impacts of our office product purchases, reducing waste, and stressing conservation.
There are many benefits to greening your office products, including creating a stronger market for green products, saving money, and reducing the stress on our planet’s natural resources. The first step we’d recommend for trying to green your office product purchasing practices is to examine what your current needs are to make your business run. Chances are that when you conduct this “audit” of sorts, you will realize that you have much more than you could get by with. Once you have the list of office products you need, it is time to create a set of criteria for purchasing future products, as well as disposing of current products when they are no longer needed or usable.
A good starting point for purchasing criteria can be found on the EPA’s website through their Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines. The best way that I have found to think about the way we produce, use, and dispose of products is an idea called Cradle to Cradle. The idea is that we should model our manufacturing and consuming practices on nature. In nature, there is no such thing as waste. One process’ waste becomes another process’ food, so that there is a closed loop cycle in which ‘products’ are reincorporated into the material stream and reused in some way.
Office paper products include everything from printing paper, notepads, binders, memo pads, notebooks, post it notes, envelopes, folders, dividers, and labels. The options for green paper products have become much more plentiful in the last ten years. There are now options to buy paper that is made from recycled content (100% being the most preferable), sustainably harvested wood (FSC Certified is the most preferable), or even made of alternative materials that don’t include traditional forms of paper at all. Try to purchase paper products that meet a third party certification such as the above mentioned FSC label, or the Green Seal label. Because there are so many different paper products available which have less of an environmental impact than traditional paper, there should be no reason not to be purchasing and using greener paper products in your office. In some areas, it may still be a little more expensive, but the more that people create a market for greener paper products, the more the price will become competitive with traditional paper products.
A few products to check out are reusable envelopes from EcoEnvelopes, business cards with options of FSC- certified paper, recycled paper, soy ink, and chlorine free manufacturing, recycled binders, folders, dividers, labels, and CD cases from Sustainable Group, and for information about a process that creates tree-free paper called Banana Paper visit EcoPapers website.
We all know that our desks get cluttered up with desktop accessories such as pens and pencils, pencil holders, staplers, tape, white-out, rulers, hole punchers, staple removers, calculators, scissors, and other products. So if you really need to have these products to function in the office, at least start thinking abut buying products that are more sustainable than the typical models and brands tend to be. Try to avoid buying products with a ton of unnecessary packaging, and look for items that are made of renewable, natural, or recycled materials. Decor Craft Inc. offers two interesting products: a wooden stapler and a cork memo pencil holder. Take a look at Green Earth Office Supply for recycled and refillable pens, recycled paper clips, and other green office products.
When it comes to office furniture, a lot of offices would be surprised to find out just how much furniture is scattered around the office. The main furniture that is found in offices are desks, tables, chairs and couches, bookshelves, and file cabinets. The majority of these products are made out of non-sustainable materials and place an incredible stress on the natural resources of our planet. You don’t have to sacrifice aesthetics or comfort to be able to get office furniture that is more eco-friendly. There are many manufacturers now producing green furniture for the office.
Take a look at an example of a more eco-friendly filing cabinet which is made of recycled steel and doesn’t use any VOC’s. As for office chairs, some sustainable choices are Haworth’s Zody Chair, and SteelCase’s Think Chair, both of which are Cradle to Cradle Certified. EcoWork also designs and manufactures eco-friendly furniture.
Computers, Printers, Phones, Fax Machines
When it comes to the more technical equipment that most people need for their offices, it can be a little bit tougher to find green products. Since the technology used to manufacture these products is a little tougher to use natural and renewable materials for, two of the most important things to consider when purchasing computers, printers, phones, fax machines, etc. are whether : a) they are energy efficient; b) the manufacturer has a program that takes back the products when they stop working; and c) the products contain any toxic materials that could cause human health problems. Consider buying used equipment from a company like MicroStar that will save you money and keep the products out of the landfills. When it comes to these types of products look for energy efficient models, and consider purchasing Renewable Energy Certificates (REC’s) to provide the power for these products. If you buy new products, don’t forget to choose products that are Energy Star certified!