Green glass office under a tree

Going green at the office

How the workplace can play a role in sustainability

4 minute read
Green glass office under a tree

Developing policy to create a more eco-friendly office might seem like a cosmic challenge, but it’s actually as simple as remembering to turn your computer off.

Armed with more than 25 years of experience in consulting and impact assessment for the private sector and government, Ecologia Managing Director Shaun Grein is well researched on how the workplace can play a role in sustainability.

His advocacy is aligned with Canberra’s push to develop a thriving sustainable building sector in Australia, with more than 12 million square metres of Green Star certified or registered building space currently spanning the country.

While the environmental positives of an environmentally friendly office are obvious, businesses that go green can also relish in capital cost savings, lower operating expenses, greater tenant attraction and increased property values.

Greener offices often boast stronger rental yields and have a competitive advantage in the market.

Plus, increased staff productivity, are healthier places to work and offer enhanced public opportunities.

Due to the wide-ranging benefits, there are more than 350 Green Star buildings in Australia, which impress with good water conservation metrics, energy efficiency, recycling, pollution prevention and reduced levels of natural consumption.

Mr Grein said his personal aim was to work with only eco-friendly clients and suppliers, which fit into dozens of adopted strategies to mitigate the footprint of his own business efforts.

“In instances where we identify associates, sub-consultants, suppliers and occasionally clients who aren’t aligned with our goals and values, we try to influence or encourage them to change their practices or, failing that, choose to work with more aligned business associates,” he said.

According to the Queensland Government’s business department, Mr Grein’s philosophy was not unpopular, with many people looking to directly support eco-friendly businesses that have publicised their green efforts.

A range of strategies for every budget

While being diligent about supply chains was labelled a useful measure, Mr Grein said other practical and more self-evident changes included trying to rely more on natural rather than artificial lighting and using low-energy bulbs, which are roughly 75 per cent more efficient than standard incandescent options.

“Other strategies include use of energy-efficient laptops rather than desktop PCs, setting efficient monitors to hibernation mode or turning them off when not in use, buying reusable printer cartridges and opting to print less or print on both sides of paper,” Mr Grein said.

“Offices should recycle batteries in devices like cameras, reuse paper, ensure appliances like air-conditioner units are turned off at the end of the day and provide a stocked and well-resourced kitchen so staff can prepare their own lunches and reuse mugs and cutlery, rather than purchasing disposables.”

Mr Grein also recommended any indoor plants be fed coffee grounds, that bathrooms use cloth towels instead of paper towels and disposable stationery be replaced with refillable pens and pencils from recycled materials.

For offices with a higher budget, Mr Grein suggested installing solar panels, citing Ecologia’s own recent installation designed to reduce energy bills.

Similarly, for fatter wallets, he advocated for the purchase of the more energy-efficient split-system units to replace ducted air-conditioning systems.

What we can do when working from home

Acknowledging that many businesses were now pursuing work-from-home arrangements, Mr Grein said there were small steps employees could take to minimise their environmental impact in the home.

“A good thing about Zoom and Microsoft Teams meetings during COVID-19 is they have resulted in fewer CO2 emissions associated with travelling,” he said.

In order to keep up these positive changes, Mr Grein recommended copying some of the more cost-effective sustainable practices used in official offices.

“Make use of natural light wherever possible and have at least one large live plant in your office,” he said.

“It will create a comfortable level of humidity, particularly in dry climates.”

Federal planning

Leadership adapting offices and remote working setups to be greener will fit into an overarching Australian Government 2030 Emissions Reduction plan.

The Commonwealth has set a target to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels over the next decade.

The target, crafted after 498 community submissions during the consultation period, was chosen to provide longer-term certainty to domestic businesses and align the nation with climate-driven efforts of other countries.

Already Australia has succeeded its first commitment to the Kyoto Protocol and has managed a two per cent drop in greenhouse gas emissions despite population growth and 50 per cent economy growth between 2000 and 2013.

Emissions per capita have sunk 19 per cent since 2000 and 22 per cent since 2005, while emissions per unit of gross domestic product have plunged 33 per cent since 2000 and 28 per cent since 2005.