recycling bin at officeQ: I work in a small office, but the amount of garbage we accumulate is ridiculous. How can I get my office to be a little greener?


A: Offices can quickly accumulate mini mountains of trash, ranging from ink cartridges to copy paper. But you have the tools to help your office staff reduce their carbon footprint and add quite a few points to the green karma bank. In fact, sustainability is becoming quite the buzzword in companies both big and small.

I rounded up a few ideas to kick-start the brainstorming process. Let them serve as talking points. Schedule a meeting for your coworkers, including your office manager and building supervisor. Set a goal of compiling a Top 10 list that works for your office. Here’s a starter list.

Community coffee
Stem the tide of paper and Styrofoam coffee cups that show up each day by investing in an office coffee pot. This measure also reduces gas consumption because coworkers won’t have to make a coffee run on the way to work. Create a sign-up sheet and encourage all the caffeine fiends to take turns buying a few pounds of dark roast. Consider this a green team-building exercise.

Your biggest challenges may be keeping the coffee stash full or assigning someone to make the coffee, but these are minor issues compared to green benefits. Also, those used coffee grinds can be composted. Share that little green nugget with any coworkers with home gardens. also suggests sprinkling a few of the nitrogen-rich grinds around plants to deter cats.

Those paper filters and tea bags also can be composted, but I suggest that you ditch paper filters and buy a metal version. That one-time purchase will make a further dent in what’s tossed each day.

BYOM — Bring your own mug

My favorite thing about community coffee, other than the cheap coffee, is the parade of funky coffee mugs that find their way into the workplace. Just make sure there is an area with dish detergent so that every mug can start the next day fresh and clean. To promote the green effort, you may even hold a contest to see who has the cheekiest mug. Feel free to share photos of the winning cup.

Fans of iced Passion tea and other chilled beverages have turned Starbucks’ double-insulated, BPA-free cups into a cult sensation. While these little treasures can be purchased for up to $50 on eBay, I have received reports of sightings at Bed, Bath & Beyond stores. It’s a green movement that began with Starbucks asking the same question that you posed.

Water, water everywhere!

Now that most people are on a water kick, you probably have noticed plenty of plastic bottles moving in and out of the building. While I admire those who have decided to focus on hydration, I’m irritating by the number of single-use bottles that get tossed each day. To reduce the amount of plastic consumed in your office, consider investing in a water delivery system. It’s much more energy-efficient and cost-effective than buying cases of bottled water each month. If the boss won’t spring for this, perhaps your coworkers can pitch in to foot the bill. You may be surprised how much cheaper this option is compared to 10 people purchasing a $1.50 bottle of spring water each day. In this economy, you may be able to cut a deal with the vendor, especially if you recruit other departments or offices in one building.

Become the lunch lady

Assemble an electronic folder that contains menus for all the restaurants within walking distance of your office. This promotes walking, reduces auto emissions and supports local businesses. Just make sure to check for updates. It may also be helpful to include coworker reviews. No need wasting your hard-earned greenbacks on yucky meatloaf.

Walk it out

Resist the lure of e-communication. Calling, e-mailing, texting and IM-ing people who are in the same building wastes energy. Burn two or three calories by walking over to your colleague and talking face-to-face. Better yet, take a walk around the building and get some fresh air.

Follow your paper trail

It’s time to launch a recycling program. That one change will put a quite a few dollars in the green karma bank. Every business could use a little more of that these days. In addition to using recycled copy paper, talk to the building manager about recycling options. If all else fails, sort items yourself and make a run to the local recycling plant. Since many recycling centers will not accept shredded paper, give it to those office gardeners for composting.

It also helps to reduce the amount items printed for one-time use. Send agendas and newsletters electronically and encourage colleagues to print only if necessary. The same green approach applies to company brochures such as annual reports or other advertising tools. Some may work as pdf files posted on the company website.

For any publications that must be printed, ask for paper that has been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and proudly display their label. This tells customers that your company chose paper harvested using sustainable methods.

Kill the vampires

While you are home watching TV, playing the Wii or surfing the Web, those computers are sitting there zapping wasted energy. Make a pledge to turn off all computers, unplug shredders and power down any other electronic devices when they are not in use. Unplugging laptops also helps give the batteries a much-needed workout.

These are just a few steps to help your company become sustainability leaders. I hope that others will submit more tips in the comments section below. Mother Nature needs all the love she can get!

— Morieka Johnson

Got a question? Submit a question to Mother Nature and one of our many experts will track down the answer. Plus: Visit our advice archives to see if your question has already been tackled.

Photo: ms_seal/iStockphoto

MNN homepage photo: gerenme/iStockphoto