Green Office

Paper Reduction

Rethinking the way your organization buys and uses paper helps trim the bottom line and can generate positive publicity.

Follow the tips below to reduce your office’s paper use, and visit NRDC’s Paper Project for more detailed information and tools to help reduce office paper use.

Also, consider joining the EPA’s free WasteWise program, which provides members with several benefits, including a technical assistance team that will help your organization conduct a waste audit and reduce waste.

For a useful discussion of waste reduction, see the EPA’s Resource Conservation section on reduction and reuse.

For information on paper purchasing and paper recycling, see the Paper Purchasing and Recycling sections of this guide.

Calculate environmental benefits of recycled paper.

Reducing Paper Use Saves Money

A typical office disposes of about 350 pounds of wastepaper per employee per year. Identifying ways to reduce paper use can save money, time and space in your offices.

In 2005, the EPA Region 10 offices (in the Northwest U.S.) made a concerted effort to reduce paper use. Through a variety of initiatives including default double-sided printing and collection of scrap paper for reuse, the office reduced paper consumption by 30%, yielding an annual savings of $49,000.

Between 2000 and 2004, Bank of America reduced its paper consumption dramatically through an institution-wide campaign of online reports and forms, email, double-sided copying and lighter-weight papers. By reducing the basis weight of its ATM receipts from 20 pounds to 15 pounds, Bank of America saved more than just paper; this simple move also gained the bank additional savings in transportation, storage and handling costs, to the tune of $500,000 a year.  Paper used for internal operations decreased 32%, saving more than a billion sheets of paper. A cost cut of $20,000 was made on a single report, by sending out postcards notifying clients that it was available online. By making forms available online instead of sending out hard copies, the company saved an estimated $10 million, not including the savings in postage and storage. 

Smart Paper Practices Toolkit

Sample Memo for Developing a Smart Paper Plan
Get senior management on board with your organization’s plan to rethink paper use in the office.

Office Paper Use Questionnaire
Use this questionnaire to assess current practices in your office and find out where there’s room to improve.

Paper Reduction Worksheet
Start off with simple paper reduction strategies like these. Edit the spreadsheet and add your own strategies to create a customized plan for your office.

Sample Signs
NRDC’s New York eco-committee created these signs to help its New York office follow the new guidelines.

Sample Paper Procurement Policy
NRDC worked with a major printing company to develop these guidelines, which it now uses as procurement guidelines.

Paper Supply Verification Form
Use this form to find out if your supplier is providing your organization with environmentally friendly paper. 

Paper Use Reduction Tips

Communications

  • Use e-mail instead of paper or faxes whenever practical – for internal memos as well as communications with clients and customers.
  • Don’t print e-mails. Use a standard email signature such as “save a tree, don’t print me.”
  • Print less: keep mailing lists current, and don’t overprint copies or outside print jobs.
  • Reuse what you can. Stock your fax machine with paper already printed on one side; reuse oversize envelopes and boxes; use one-sided “draft” paper in your printers.

Printers and Copiers

  • As printers and copiers need to be replaced, purchase units that can print on both sides of a sheet of paper. Then set all computers and copiers to a default setting for double-sided printing.
  • Save and collect 8.5 x 11 inch paper that’s been printed on one side, restack it neatly, designate a paper drawer on each printer (or as many printers as practical), and use it to print drafts.
  • Adjust the house style on word processing programs to use a slightly smaller font and slightly wider margins; use the electronic “edit” and “comment” features to work on drafts instead of printing.

Incoming Mail

  • Cut down on the number of periodical subscriptions you buy. Survey to see who subscribes to what, then work out a sharing system.
  • Reduce the amount of unwanted mail your organization receives by unsubscribing or requesting to be removed from generic mailing lists.

Bathrooms

  • Use coreless toilet paper rolls
  • Use paper towel dispensers that release single sheets instead of continuous supply, or high-efficiency hand dryers.

Office Kitchen

  • Stock the kitchen with real mugs, plates, bowls and utensils to discourage the use of paper and plastic disposables. Consider cloth napkins or use paper towels with high post-consumer recycled content.
  • Encourage employees who carry in lunches to use reusable bags and napkins. Consider providing sponsor-branded bags for employees to use.

Additional Resources

  • NRDC Paper Project
  • Environmental Paper Network
  • Minnesota Guide to Source Reduction
  • A Common Vision for Transforming the Paper Industry
  • WasteWise – How to Start or Expand a Recycling Program

Purchasing

Many companies have instituted purchasing policies that give preference to environmentally intelligent products in an effort to enhance their environmental performance. Consider implementing your own environmentally preferable purchasing policy based on the sample policy below.

Sample Purchasing Policy

The goal of this policy is to ensure that products and services purchased by or contracted for [our organization] conform to [the organization’s] Environmental Policy. [Our organization] will strive, where feasible, to purchase environmentally preferable products and services that meet the organization’s needs.

Where possible, purchasing decisions shall favor:

  • Products that contain the highest percentage of postconsumer recycled content possible
  • Products that reduce greenhouse gas emissions or are made with renewable energy
  • Products that are reusable, recyclable or bio-based/compostable
  • Products that eliminate or reduce the use of chemicals hazardous to the environment and public health
  • Products that reduce air and water pollution
  • Products with minimal packaging
  • Suppliers that provide environmentally preferable products and can document the supply-chain impacts of their efforts
  • Products that serve several functions (e.g. multipurpose cleaner) and reduce the overall number of products purchased.

Environmentally preferable products and services that are of comparable quality and price to their standard counterparts shall receive purchasing preference. In situations where environmentally preferable products are unavailable or impractical, secondary considerations shall include the environmental management practices of suppliers and producers. 

The purchase of environmentally preferable products is part of the organization’s long-term commitment to customers, employees, and the environment. By sending a clear signal to producers and suppliers, [our organization] hopes to support wider adoption of environmentally preferable products and practices.

Creating a Purchasing Policy for your office

Purchasing policies can be as prescriptive (or aspirational) as your organization chooses. In some cases, environmentally preferable products can be purchased at little or no increase in cost. And in those cases where the price of environmentally superior products exceeds those currently used, the increased cost can sometimes be mitigated by more efficient operations. Recycled paper, for example, sometimes costs more than virgin paper. However, this cost can usually be offset by double-sided printing and other reductions in paper use.

A company-wide purchasing policy encourages sustainable purchasing practices at all levels of the organization and helps ensure that green efforts are not diminished with employee turnover. Purchasing policies should be comprehensive and cover a wide range of products and services. Policies can vary widely, and you should implement a policy that works best for your organization.

Corporate Purchasing Policy Examples:

Additional Resources

Energy Use

Offices consume energy, from heating and cooling, ventilation, electronics, lighting, and other appliances. By increasing the energy efficiency of your offices, your organization can save money and improve its environmental performance.

When purchasing new energy-consuming products, consider buying the most energy efficient model that fits your needs. Visit the federal government’s Energy Star products database for listings of the most energy efficient products on the market. For product categories that are not rated by Energy Star, consult the Federal Energy Management Program’s procurement guide. See below for additional suggestions on how to reduce your organization’s energy use.

Also consider including Energy Star and energy efficiency specifications in requests for proposal and contracts. Contract language examples and additional product specifications can be found at EPA’s Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Database.

Calculate savings from energy efficient products.

For a list of energy efficiency incentives in your state, visit the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency

In addition to purchasing efficient products, there are several other things that your organization can do to reduce office energy use.

Product specifications

When replacing HVAC equipment, keep the following in mind:

  • Look for EPA’s Energy Star seal.
  • If Energy Star does not rate the particular appliance, purchase the most efficient model feasible.
  • Look for other energy saving features such as programmability and power-saving functions.
  • Many products continue to use energy, even when they’re turned off. Look for products that use as little energy as possible while in “off” mode.

Energy use reduction tips

  • Turn off computers and monitors when not in use.
  • Turn off printers and fax machines overnight.
  • Install motion sensors on lights.
  • Replace incandescent lights with compact fluorescent bulbs.
  • Replace incandescent exit signs with light emitting diode (LED) signs.
  • Turn off lights when leaving the office.
  • Install programmable thermostats.
  • Activate energy saving features on computers (and turn off screen savers, which use more energy than just leaving the computer on).
  • Make maximum use of daylight to reduce the need for lighting.

For an additional list of energy efficiency tips, visit NRDC’s Clean Energy page.

Sample letter to current suppliers

Dear _______,

[Our organization] has recently initiated an effort to improve our environmental performance in all aspects of our operations. We would like to meet with you to discuss these objectives in more detail. We would also like to discuss ways to cost-effectively switch to more efficient products within the next few years.

By reducing our consumption of energy, we can reduce the environmental impacts associated with our energy use and save money at the same time. We would like to reduce as much as possible the harmful effects associated with our operations, and we would like to speak with you about more efficient alternatives to the products that we are currently using. 

Please call me at your earliest convenience so that we can organize a meeting to discuss this further. Thank you for your time.

Environmental Benefits

Energy use is one of the largest environmental impacts in any facility and also one of your organization’s highest operational costs. Most energy consumed in the United States comes from coal, which contributes significantly to man-made global warming and also to smog, soot, and numerous negative health conditions. In addition, coal mining – especially surface mining and mountaintop removal – is devastating many of the world’s most ecologically important landscapes and ecosystems.

Reducing energy use can have a positive impact on all of these issues and will also have a positive effect on your bottom line. EPA’s Energy Star program rates electronic products on energy use and grants their seal to those products that meet their standards.

Additional Resources

  • Energy Star
  • EPA’s Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Database
  • U.S. Department of Energy – Energy Efficient Appliances and Electronics
  • New York City – Manual for Quality, Energy Efficient Lighting
  • Environmental Benefits and Cost Savings Calculator for Purchasers
  • Energy Star Savings Calculators

Food and Catering

The food you eat has an impact on your health, the health of others, and the environment. Using the product specifications and sample letter below, consider consulting with your current caterers, suppliers, and vendors to determine the availability of environmentally preferable food and serviceware options, subject to your current corporate sponsorship agreements. Also consider including environmentally preferable food specifications when catering events, and in future contracts and requests for proposal.

Environmentally intelligent food specifications

  • U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) “Organic” products
  • Seafood products certified by the Marine Stewardship Council
  • Zero trans fat
  • Non-genetically modified organisms
  • Vegetarian options
  • Free range and/or pasture-fed meat and poultry
  • Meat, poultry, and dairy products raised and processed without hormones and antibiotics
  • Fair trade, shade-grown coffee
  • Wine bottles sealed with natural cork instead of more polluting closures like plastic stoppers or metal screw-caps
  • Locally grown food
  • Minimal packaging
  • Products delivered in minimal, reusable, recyclable, or bio-based/compostable packaging

To locate nearby markets and other local food sources, search the Local Food Guide Database. The Organic Consumers Association’s business directory is another source of information about where to buy local and organic food.

Where possible, consider supplying office kitchens with reusable plates, glasses, and utensils instead of disposable items.  Also consider stocking kitchens with bulk items for condiments instead of individual packaging.  When hosting events and meetings, opt for reusables instead of disposables, and ask caterers to eliminate disposable serviceware from your orders.

Where it is not possible to choose reusable serviceware, consider disposable serviceware products that are recycled or bio-based content that can be recycled or composted.  See the Serviceware and Paper Products section of this guide for more information.

See the Composting and Food Donation sections of this guide for information about reducing and recycling food waste.

Bottled Water

Supply filtered tap water to employees in your office, or supply water from bulk containers. Encourage the use of reusable containers that can be refilled with tap water, or consider purchasing water coolers with reusable water jugs. For information on water filters, visit the website of the National Sanitation Foundation International, which provides listings of NSF Certified Drinking Water Treatment Units.

Discourage employees from purchasing single-serving bottles of water when possible. The production and consumption of bottled water has significant environmental impacts: Hazardous air pollutants are produced during the nonrenewable, fossil fuel-derived manufacture of plastic bottles; the transportation of these bottles consumes a significant amount of energy; and in the United States, an estimated 75 percent of these bottles are thrown in the trash instead of being recycled.

Natural Cork Stoppers

Wine stoppers made from natural cork are renewable, biodegradable, and recyclable. Cork is harvested from cork oak trees in a traditional, environmentally sustainable process where only a layer of bark is removed and the tree remains intact and undamaged. Cork oak forests are concentrated in the Mediterranean Basin biological hotspot that support 25,000 species of birds, plants, and wildcats, and cork production provides thousands of stable jobs for local communities. Many cork producers have acquired or are in the process of acquiring Forest Stewardship Council certification, which further ensures that the cork has been harvested legally and sustainably.

Artificial stoppers or screw tops cause much more global warming pollution during their manufacture, are made from non-renewable materials (including fossil fuel-derived plastics and aluminum) using more energy per ton to produce, and millions of artificial stoppers end up in our landfills and oceans.

Sample Letter to Food and Beverage Suppliers and Caterers

Dear _______,

[Our Organization] has initiated a policy to improve our environmental performance in all aspects of our operations. We would like to meet with you to discuss buying ecologically superior food and serviceware products in more detail. We would also like to discuss ways to cost-effectively switch to reusable serviceware, less packaging, and recyclable or reusable packaging within the next few years.

We would like to reduce as much as possible the harmful effects on the environment and public health that are associated with our operations, and we would like to speak with you about healthier and environmentally preferable alternatives to the food products, serviceware, and food packaging that we are currently using.

Please call me at your earliest convenience so that we can organize a meeting to discuss this further. Thank you for your time.

Sample contract language

[Our Organization] has adopted an environmental policy to improve its environmental performance. To further these goals, food-related products and services contracted for by the organization will be evaluated in part on their health and environmental attributes. Specific factors to be considered include:

  • U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) “Organic” products
  • Seafood products certified by the Marine Stewardship Council
  • Food with Zero trans fat
  • Non-genetically modified organisms
  • Vegetarian options
  • Free range and/or pasture-fed meat and poultry
  • Meat, poultry, and dairy products raised and processed without hormones and antibiotics
  • Fair trade, shade-grown coffee
  • Wine bottles sealed with natural cork instead of more polluting closures like plastic stoppers or metal screw-caps
  • Locally grown food
  • Minimal packaging
  • Products delivered with minimal, reusable, recyclable, or bio-based/compostable packaging and serviceware

Please address these concerns when submitting your proposals.

Environmental Benefits

The food we eat has diverse impacts on human health and the environment. Agriculture is one of the leading sources of water pollution in the world, causing pesticides, sediment, and fertilizer to run into rivers and streams, and the transportation of food contributes to global warming and other forms of air pollution. Food packaging uses considerable amounts of paper and plastic, and discarded food fills up landfills and contributes to the release of methane gas into the atmosphere.

Additional Resources

Recycling and Composting

Implementing a recycling and composting program at your offices can reduce waste and save money.

Recycling is the most widely practiced of all environmentally preferable activities, but care needs to be taken in order to design an effective and efficient program.  Implementing a composting program can offer additional opportunities to reduce waste, ranging from collection of grass clippings and other landscaping wastes, to collecting food waste and compostable serviceware in kitchens.

Office Recycling

Your waste hauler may be a valuable source of information about recycling options in your area. Talk to your waste hauler about the recyclable materials in your waste stream and how to separate these items for collection. Consider centralized waste bins in common areas, and replace individual desk waste bins with paper recycling bins since 90% of what is discarded at an office desk is typically paper. Make sure all bins are clearly labeled, and make sure to inform employees and cleaning staff about your office’s recycling policies.

Also consider joining the EPA’s free WasteWise program, which provides members with several benefits, including a technical assistance team that will help you conduct a waste audit, reduce waste, and implement a recycling program. In addition, it is helpful to engage building operators when implementing your office’s recycling program.

For listings of recycling service providers near your city, visit Earth 911’s Business Resources directory and the Environmental Yellow Pages.

Calculate the environmental benefits of recycling.

For a comprehensive discussion on waste reduction, see EPA’s Resource Conservation section on reduction and reuse.

In addition, the following guides are excellent resources for those wishing to improve their existing recycling programs:

  • Waste Prevention and Recycling at the Office
  • Comprehensive Guide to Venue and Event Recycling
  • Recycling Advocates – A Guide to Reducing Waste at Any Event
  • WasteWise – How to Start or Expand a Recycling Program
  • Minnesota Guide to Source Reduction

Recycling in the Mail Room

Shipping materials such as polystyrene foam (Styrofoam), bubble wrap, and loose polystyrene fill (packing peanuts) can account for a lot of company waste, are difficult to recycle, and are usually made from nonrenewable fossil fuel-derived materials. Reusing these materials in future shipping can avoid the unnecessary production and purchase of these plastics and reduce your organization’s waste. If your organization is on the receiving end of these materials, ask your vendors to avoid using them in the future, and visit The Plastic Loose Fill Council for information on drop-off collection centers that will recover your loose polystyrene fill for reuse. Also, consider using reusable transport packaging to reduce your shipping waste and conserve resources. Visit Use Reusables for information on reusable packaging and its benefits for both your organization and the environment.

Office Composting

Composting reduces the environmental impacts associated with waste disposal, and if done properly, it can even save your organization money through reduced waste, hauling, disposal, and fertilizer costs.

Composting infrastructure varies widely by market. Consult with your waste hauler to learn more about the services it provides and the composting facilities available in your market. Also consider joining the EPA’s free WasteWise program, which provides members with several benefits, including a technical assistance team that will help your organization investigate composting.

For listings of compost service providers near your city, visit Earth 911’s Business Resources directory and the Environmental Yellow Pages.  Also visit the EPA’s Composting website for more information on composting programs in your area.

For a comprehensive discussion of waste and use reduction, see EPA’s Business Guide for Reducing Solid Waste and NRDC’s “Too Good to Throw Away”.

What is composting?

Composting is the controlled breakdown of organic waste (generally yard waste and certain types of food) into a useful product that can be used as a mulch and fertilizer. It is easy and cost-effective, and since it can reduce the volume of your office’s waste stream and reduce the need to buy mulch and fertilizer, composting can even save money. You can consider whether it’s possible to set up a composting program on-site, or work with your waste hauler or other local haulers to collect organic waste for offsite composting.

Recycling and composting can save money

Recycling and composting can save money through avoided disposal and hauling costs, although market conditions vary by material and by region. Many recyclable items can also be sold on the market as a source of revenue. A waste audit can help your organization identify these potential savings and revenue opportunities. Many companies have found significant savings through their own efforts to increase recycling.

By introducing a comprehensive waste diversion program aimed at zero waste, the Seattle Mariners have increased the diversion rate at Safeco Field from 12% in 2005, to over 70% in 2010.  Through increased recycling, the development of an aggressive composting program, and avoided landfilling, the Mariners saved $70,000 on waste disposal between 2007 and 2010.   The Mariners have continued to improve these efforts, averaging an 82% recycling rate between 2010-2011. 

Since 2007, the Cleveland Indians have cut their annual waste in half by installing balers and separating recyclables onsite at Progressive Field. In 2007 the ballpark generated 1261.6 tons of trash; by 2010 this was down to 613.4 tons, a 49% reduction. The reduced number of trash compactor pickups combined with money from selling recycled materials paid for the stadium’s recycling equipment upgrades within six months, and now save the Club $50,000 annually.

Through an aggressive waste diversion program at the Rose Garden Arena, the Portland Trail Blazers divert 80 percent of their waste from landfills. They accomplish this by maintaining extensive recycling stations for visitors and a food-waste composting program that includes vendor participation. These projects together have helped divert more than 800 tons from landfills each year.  The Trail Blazers achieve an annual savings of over $200,000 in operating expenses by keeping recyclables out of the landfill.

The 2011 U.S. Open launched a composting program at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center that diverted food waste, kitchen wastes, and compostable serviceware and napkins from the food court to a compost farm in Connecticut.  52 tons of organic waste were kept out of the landfill, resulting in a 30% reduction in carting costs for the USTA.

For more examples of how smart waste practices can save your organization money, see the following websites:

Environmental Benefits

Recycling is one of the easiest and most widely accepted activities used to advance sustainability. Setting up a recycling program is relatively simple and a great way to involve staff at all levels in your organization’s environmental priorities. Recycling protects habitat, and saves energy, water, and resources such as forests, fossil fuels, and metals. By recycling paper, cardboard, metals, and plastics, you can help reduce the harmful impacts associated with the extraction and processing of these resources, including oil spills, deforestation, biodiversity loss, and water pollution. Manufacturing products from recycled content is less polluting than producing the same products from newly harvested or extracted materials. Making paper from recycled fibers, for example, uses less energy, less water, and produces less air and water pollution than making paper from trees.

Generating compost and using it in facility landscaping can save money by reducing the need for water, fertilizers, and pesticides. Food, landscaping debris and wood waste make up a third of our everyday trash. When organic compounds decompose in a landfill, they generate methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Composting reduces the amount of waste directed to landfills by transforming organic waste into useful fertilizer, and it reduces the emissions of harmful greenhouse gasses.

Additional Resources

  • EPA – Recycling
  • National Recycling Coalition
  • Recycling Environmental Benefits Calculator
  • EPA’s Waste Reduction Model (WARM) Calculator
  • Comprehensive Guide to Venue and Event Recycling
  • EPA – Stadium Recycling: How to Get Started
  • Recycling Advocates – A Guide to Reducing Waste at Any Event
  • WasteWise – How to Start or Expand a Recycling Program
  • Minnesota Guide to Source Reduction
  • Master Composter
  • EPA – Composting
  • HowToCompost.org
  • The Compost Guide
  • Garden Guides – How to Compost

Electronic Waste (E-waste)

When batteries, thermostats, computers, and other potentially hazardous electronic wastes are improperly disposed, they can pose significant risks to public health and the environment.

Choose an e-Steward electronic waste recycler to ensure that your electronic waste is being properly recycled. By choosing an e-Stewards® Recycler, individuals and businesses are choosing the most trustworthy recyclers, ones that have been independently verified to handle e-waste in the most globally responsible way — using safe technologies and careful protections for workers.

Check with the e-Stewards Recyclers in your area about recycling your e-waste. For a list of e-Stewards Recyclers and more about e-Stewards Certification, see www.e-stewards.org.

e-Stewards Certification is the only marketplace solution supported by the environmental community and the most responsible electronics recycling companies. It was created to be both principled and practical, and it joins other best-practice certification programs such those by the Marine Stewardship Council and Forest Stewardship Council, as the most protective standard and the most rigorous program for verifying recyclers are doing things right.

Giving away or selling used electronics are great ways to extend their use and keep them out of landfills. Some services provide second-hand computers to schools or nonprofits, so your functional old computer could become a valuable tool for someone in need. Please assure that an e-Stewards certified recycler is used by whomever you donate your used electronics to.

No matter where you take your e-waste—to collection events, recyclers, or take-back programs—you should be sure that 100% of the electronic equipment will go only to e-Stewards Recyclers. It’s the best way to protect the global ecosystem and human health when it comes to electronics recycling.

Environmental Benefits

Batteries and electronic waste (e-waste) constitute one of the most polluting portions of an office waste stream. Batteries and e-waste – such as computer monitors, printers, and cell phones – contain toxic heavy metals such as lead, mercury, and cadmium. When thrown into the trash, they end up in landfills or incinerators, and these toxic heavy metals can be emitted as air pollutants or drain into soils and waters, polluting lakes and streams and making them unfit for drinking, swimming, fishing, and wildlife. The key to responsible e-waste recycling is knowing where your stuff will end up. Watch out for any recycler who ships discarded electronics to developing countries for processing. Avoiding sending our garbage overseas saves on greenhouse gas emissions and helps protect workers and the environment in developing countries. According to the Basel Action Network, upwards of 80 percent of the world’s e-waste is transported to Asia, and most of it winds up in China. Workers who disassemble consumer electronics by hand are exposed to toxic substances, which also contaminate groundwater.

Additional Resources