Motivated by the desire to make the world a better place, operating in harmony with green principles should come naturally to not-for-profit groups. But, like all consumers of energy and materials, even well intentioned nonprofits can find reducing their carbon footprint and avoiding pollution to be a challenge. Fortunately, there are many simple steps your organization can take to improve its environmental practices—and save money at the same time.
A good place to start is in the office. Computers, mobile phones, faxes, and printers can eat up considerable amounts of electricity, and some electronics contain particularly harmful substances that can pollute the environment and damage health. The Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (www.epeat.net), a project of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Green Electronics Council, can help you assess the energy consumption of the equipment your organization is currently using, as well as the impact on the environment of manufacturing and disposing the devices.
If you discover that some of your organization’s office computers or printers are wasteful or potentially harmful, trading them in immediately may not be the solution, as throwing away these devices has its own negative environmental consequences. Instead, consider strategies for minimizing the use of equipment, such as reminding staff to turn off computers when they leave their desks for longer periods of time, and setting all equipment to switch automatically into sleep mode when not in use.
When the time comes to replace equipment, look for devices that are energy-efficient and manufactured with a minimum of toxic materials. Rather than disposing of equipment, look for opportunities to donate devices that are still functional. If IT equipment can no longer be used, send the devices to a recycler capable of disassembling the equipment responsibly. Your organization can also conserve funds, as well as protect the environment, by purchasing refurbished equipment.
While a completely paperless office may not be a possibility, your organization may be able to reduce the amount of paper it currently consumes. Ask several employees to meet and discuss how paper is used in the office. They may, for example, conclude that certain tasks that currently involve paper can be performed electronically. Send a report summarizing the group’s findings to all staff members and volunteers via email, reminding them to think before printing.
Nonprofits should also be aware of the types of paper they use, and how paper products are disposed. If your office does not have one already, implement a recycling system for paper and other office products, especially those that contain toxic substances. Local suppliers should be able to provide your organization with high-quality recycled paper, both for daily use, and for printed marketing and informational materials. A wide variety of green office products, such as toner and adhesives, are now available from many suppliers at increasingly low prices. If you outsource printing, look for a firm that has eco-friendly practices.
Heating and cooling also consume considerable amounts of energy in most offices. Employees should be encouraged to control the temperature by closing doors and turning down the thermostat at night. Shades, fans, and natural ventilation can go a long way toward cooling indoor spaces. Ask staff to bring a sweater in winter and wear lighter clothing in the summer.
There are many other ways to conserve electricity. Install motion sensors instead of turning on all lights every morning, and rely whenever possible on natural light. Switch from incandescent to fluorescent lighting where appropriate, but make sure that all fluorescent bulbs are disposed of safely. When coffee or tea is made, pour the hot beverages into thermoses, rather than allowing coffeemakers to remain on.
Driving and other forms of travel produce carbon dioxide emissions that may be contributing to climate change. If possible, allow some of your employees to telecommute at least part of the time, or to work a four-day week. Some organizations have created incentives to encourage employees to take public transit, carpool, cycle, or walk to work. Look at ways to reduce the number of long-distance trips your staff takes, especially when flying is required.
Ask employees and volunteers for their ideas on how the organization can improve its environmental practices, and integrate some of their suggestions into management’s efforts to create a more eco-friendly workplace. As changes are implemented, ask staff for feedback on how well the program is working, and what additional steps might be taken to accelerate the greening process.