Most of us spend at least 8 hours a day in the workplace, which means at least 1/3 of our daily trash is created there as well.
Here’s how you can transform 1/3 of your hours into a more eco-friendly one.
We’ve seen how Teach For Malaysia (“TFM”) transformed their office space into a more eco-friendly environment by understanding the current mindset of people. I’ll share the ways they have adapted their office of 28 people to reduce their waste, and add a few more of my own!
1. Set Up Recycling Bins
If your building already has recycling facilities, perfect! But what do you do when it doesn’t ? Setting up recycling bins is the easy part, but dealing with the actual recyclables collected may require a little maneuvering.
If you are in a larger company, enlist with a local vendor for recycling (like Icycle Global), however there may be minimum volume requirements for collection.
Alternatively, speak to your office cleaners. Often, the cleaners in the building are already collecting some of the recyclables, which are a commodity that can be sold as an alternative source of income. However, they often limit it to cardboard, papers and tin cans as these are the easiest to sell.
Work with the cleaners so that more recycling can be saved from the trash in a more systematic manner. If employees start recycling responsibly into the right bins (i.e. clean and sorted), the cleaners won’t have to pick through the trash or only salvage the ‘easy’ items. They’ll likely have more recyclables to sell to their ‘jalan’ which comes in a lorry once their own minimum volume is ready for collection, diverting more out of a landfill.
For smaller companies or in standalone shop lots where this may not happen, it often falls to motivated employees to physically transport recyclables to a recycling collection point.
2. Reduce Paper Use
Go digital as much as possible. A single sheet of paper may not account for much carbon footprint, but that number racks up pretty quickly in an office environment. Revert back to the question, why waste when I can save? Recycling still has its own carbon footprint after all (although always preferable to the landfill).
For any printing that does happen, reuse and recycle the paper.
At TFM, they only have sorting bins set up beside the printer and NO rubbish bin. When the only option is to recycle and you remove the alternative (i.e. to just “throwaway”), they avoid recyclable paper waste from potentially ending up in the trash.
Clear instructions are put up by the printer on how to load reused single-side papers for printing to avoid any confusion and encourage reuse.
They also reuse Post-It Notes for note taking by returning used Post-Its, flipped over to the empty side, to a common station by the office phone.
It’s all about noticing the sources of paper usage and then finding ways to reduce unnecessary paper wastage.
3. Takeaway / Tapau / Dapao Station for Lunches
Food takeaway waste is a major source of trash, especially with Malaysia’s food trucks and local roadside culinary excitements.
TFM set up a communal station called “The Tapau Station” in the pantry for reusable containers, bags and metal cutlery for everyone.
Some are communal containers contributed by the staff while some were personal. If you ever forget yours, there’s a spare available for you to use.
Every time lunch hour hits, they actively encourage each other to grab a container before they head out to get takeaway lunches together.
They introduce external guests who come in for meetings to the same practices and provide them reusables to use, spreading the message to #saynotosingleuse even further!
Grab your tumblers for your coffees and post-lunch bubble teas too!
4. Encourage Everyone to Take The Stairs, Instead of the Elevator
As someone who used to climb 9 flights of stairs with my colleagues after lunch, I am a big fan of this.
A new initiative they are starting is to encourage everyone to take the stairs instead of the elevator. As the TFM office is on the 1st floor, this will be an easy feat but would still require a reminder.
Put up a sign by the elevator saying “Here’s Your Free Gym Today, Take The Stairs!”. It’s a cool trigger to shift people’s perception to something that is ‘good for me’ to motivate them.
5. Brown Bag Lunches / Guest Speakers
Birds of a feather flock together, and we often don’t wander far from people who are similar to us. A great initiative by TFM is their Brown Bag lunches. They invite guest speakers to join them for a casual “takeaway” lunch in office (in reusable containers of course!) to build awareness and introduce different aspects of sustainable living.
Most people think about recycling when they think about living sustainably. This provides more interactive learning opportunities that can be less preachy in areas that they may not have considered. Think urban gardening, upcycling crafts, conservation work, composting, decluttering, fashion, the possibilities are endless.
Work-life balance can begin in the office by sparking new conversations and curiosity for personal projects.
6. Refillable Water And Snacks
A convenient water cooler and refilled glass jars of snacks line the pantry of the TFM office. No one needs to go hungry or thirsty while avoiding single-use plastic! Every hit of the tea-time munchies can now be plastic-free, especially if it’s refilled at bulk food stores and traditional stores.
One of the most impactful personal choices to take for the good of the environment is to skip eating meat. Encourage everyone to join in for a #MeatlessMonday and explore different nearby vegetarian restaurants as an office.
Going meatless can be unnerving for some, so it is up to the plant-based folk in the office to introduce them to how delicious and nutritious being vegetarian can be.
8. Add Natural Air Filter Plants To Your Workspace
The office with it’s recirculated air and artificial lights can be a sterile place. Bring nature indoors and add indoor plants that are natural air filters to greatly improve everyone’s working environment.
Air filter plants help filter indoor pollutants like volatile organic compounds (VOCs), formaldehyde and other common indoor air toxins.
Just make sure they’re nearby a window and watered accordingly to keep them healthy,
Some can even grow in just water, like the snake plant and devil’s ivy / money plant.
9. Quit The Free Stuff
Free corporate-branded stuff are a common sight in a lot of corporate offices. Though it can be exciting to get new diaries and lanyards etc. , most employees have more than they can use. It creates a lot of unnecessary trash, many of them unused even until after an employee leaves the company.
If this sounds familiar, speak to your bosses, department heads or the marketing department to encourage a review on internal merchandise.
Some suggestions could be :
- Use a generic company t-shirt which can be reused for all company events, instead of single-use event specific t-shirts
- Implement a ‘request what you need’ system instead of automatically distributing new stuff with every employee training / event or new staff hire.
- Issue a generic notebook (if needed) instead of yearly diaries so that they are likely used until its last page and encourage more reliance within the company on online calendars and notes
We can avoid the creation of a lot of trash with simple suggestions, while saving the company money!
If this sounds unnerving, you can still personally REFUSE an item that you don’t need when it is offered.
10. Communicate The WHY of Green Initiatives
Communication is key to making these initiatives effective. Set up a committee of like-minded colleagues with the support of your bosses to drive the initiatives, just like TFM.
Introduce your colleagues to the WHY to all these eco-friendly changes.
Go further than an email blast and organise a talk on environmental issues and help people make the connection between their individual actions and the impact it has on the environment. Introduce the 5 Rs of Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot.
Most people are motivated to adopt changes after understanding the gravity of the situation and how easy it is to contribute to a better world. (*this #zerowaste girl started her journey from a ‘How To Live Zero Waste’ talk too)
Bring data into the picture by recording and publishing the results of the efforts made in the workplace. This helps everyone visualise the direct impact they are making and encourage them further.
You’ll be fostering a more eco-conscious community in the office working towards the same goal of lowering the impact on the environment.
If no one is doing it, you can volunteer to host your own talk and start from there. There is no right or wrong, or sequence to how you need to do things.
All we need is one change maker in each organisation, and it could be YOU.