At work

About this guide

There are many things you can do while at work to save money, save energy and reduce waste. This guide focuses on practical actions in an office environment, but some of the tips will apply whatever your workplace.

Taking on board these practical everyday changes can add up to make a real difference—especially if they catch on with your co-workers. Our tips include simple steps individuals can take right now, and some that require a little more planning. None of the actions will require significant up-front costs and most will save money.

There are also lots of opportunities to get your workplace involved in practical actions around the office. Some of the benefits include reducing business costs by doing things more efficiently and effectively to save time and money and avoid waste.

To maximise your impact, where possible:

  • involve your team or co-workers to generate ideas and solutions
  • take some time to develop a plan and build in ways to measure your impact
  • consider doing some research into the savings and benefits from any proposed changes you come up with
  • share your findings and progress with your whole organisation, including management

Whether it comes from the boss or elsewhere, all changes are likely to be more effective when you can see the advantages and everyone has a say.

6 things individuals can do from their desk

No matter what your role in your organisation, you can still contribute to saving money and resources. Here are six things you can do now without consulting anyone (and if your co-workers join in, you'll be making an even bigger impact).

Switch to reusable coffee cups

The takeaway 'paper' cup is often not recyclable as most paper cups have a thin plastic lining that prevents them from being recycled—sending more waste to landfill. Then there is the energy used to manufacture, package and transport an item that will be thrown away after just one use. If you drink one coffee a day, that could add up to more than 200 cups a year.

Choosing to bring in a reusable coffee cup can make a real contribution to reducing a growing problem.

Bring a reusable water bottle

There are many advantages to using a reusable water bottle.

You could save thousands of dollars a year by avoiding the costs of bottled water, which at over $2 a litre is more expensive than petrol. Just top up your reusable bottle with free tap water.

You reduce landfill. Although plastic bottles are recyclable, they continue to end up in landfill or littering waterways and oceans. By using a reusable bottle you'll help reduce the impact of bottled water by avoiding the impacts of extracting the water, and producing, treating, filling, shipping and disposing of bottles.

If you do buy bottled water, remember to recycle the bottles after use or you could even reuse them as bird feeders, a drip watering system for your garden or to grow your own seedlings.

Bring your lunch to work

Australians are spending billions of dollars each year on food that they buy but don't eat. Think about bringing your lunch to work—it could save money and reduce waste.

Take away food can result in paper or plastic waste, and is likely to be more expensive than bringing your lunch with you.

Bringing your lunch is also a great way to use up leftovers and minimise food waste at home. In New South Wales, the average family throws out more than $1000 in wasted food every year. As well as costing money, this food ends up in our landfill where it produces methane—a harmful greenhouse gas, 21 times stronger than carbon dioxide (CO2).

Make it a litter-free lunch. Pack portions of what you're going eat into your own reusable containers rather than buying individually wrapped snacks and items that add waste and dollars to your lunch bill.

Keep reusable spoons, forks and chopsticks in your drawer so that you don't need the disposable kind. Or ask your workplace to supply some in common areas for everyone to use. If you do buy your lunch, consider taking time to eat in at your local cafe or restaurant where you can enjoy a break from the office and avoid unnecessary packaging.

Use the off switch

Lots of equipment is drawing power even while you're not using it.

Turn off your mobile phone charger at the power point once it's finished charging your phone. It's still using energy if left on—even when your phone is not plugged in. Another option is to recharge during car trips. Most cars have a connection point but you'll need the correct adapter.

Switch off the light at work if there's enough daylight to work effectively. Switch lights off when you go out for more than 10 minutes (if there's no one else in your area) and when you go home too.

You can put signs near light switches to act as a reminder and encourage others to do the same—this can be helpful for busy people.

Maximise computer efficiency

Switch off your computer and screen when you leave work for the day. Otherwise you'll still be burning energy despite not burning the midnight oil.

If you're on a networked computer you may need to check with your IT area that computers aren't backed up or upgraded at night. Ask about installing software that automatically powers down computers when they're not in use.

Turn your screen off when away from your desk for more than 15 minutes—screen savers don't save energy. You could consider encouraging others in your team to do the same.

Print smarter and go paperless where possible

Make it a habit to think before you print: could this be read or stored online instead? When you do need to print something, set your printer to print on both sides, use the black and white print option where possible and try using the blank side of old documents for faxes, drafts or scrap paper.

Keep a box next to your desk to place paper for recycling and empty it into the larger office recycling bins (if you have them) once it's full.

Use colour printing only when essential. It will save you costly ink and toner cartridges.

If you receive unwanted catalogues, newsletters, magazines or junk mail, submit a request to be removed from the mailing list (or ask for the online version) in preference to recycling them.

Travel at work

How you get to and from work is another area where you can make a personal contribution—it's a great way to reduce your daily travel costs and impact. There are even ways you can save your organisation money by using technology to reduce the need to travel to meetings during work hours.

Getting to work

Reducing the number of car trips you make will reduce your fuel and running costs and the wear and tear on your car. Heavy traffic on our roads increases traffic congestion, as well air and noise pollution.

You can use your car less by walking, riding, using public transport or car pooling and car sharing to get to work. This can cut your transport costs and reduce or even remove the need for your car or the second car and help you get some exercise into your day.

Try using public transport one day a week as a start and build this up over time. Use the time to read, relax and do some work while saving on parking and vehicle costs. If you live within cycling distance, you could try riding one day a week in good weather and increase the number of rides over time.

Working from home

Why not see if you can work from home sometimes?

Teleworking can result in increased productivity, reduced office expenses and improved staff retention. With its flexible work hours and arrangements, teleworking can be a very attractive option for parents, carers, people with a disability or employees simply seeking to improve their work-life balance.

If you can't telework, you may be able to organise more flexible working hours to help you to avoid peak hour travel. Flexible work hours can help you avoid traffic jams, reduce air quality issues and save time.

Travel for meetings

If you need to travel locally for work, consider taking public transport or carpool with your colleagues. With a little planning, public transport can be as quick as driving once you consider the time needed to find a parking space (and it can be the fastest and cheapest way of getting from many airports to the CBD in peak hour).

If you'd like to go further you could even consider setting up a bike fleet for cycling to and from meetings. Electric-assist bikes are a good option too, as they reduce the likelihood of getting hot and sweaty.

Travelling between cities for meetings or conferences has a significant costs and impacts. If your destination is only a couple of hours away, public transport can be a viable alternative to air travel, saving money along with air and noise pollution.

Although face-to-face meetings are important, virtual meetings (teleconferencing, web-conferencing or video-conferencing) can be just as effective and a more sustainable option. The technology to enable virtual meetings is no longer exotic or expensive; in fact it can be free. If you have an internet connection the tools can be just a few clicks away. There is advice online on how to make the most of digital business tools.

Office savings teams

If your workplace doesn't have a ‘sustainability team’, you could think about getting a team together to look at efficiency issues and help your organisation work towards improving its environmental performance.

The team can look at developing and implementing action plans as well as engaging staff by explaining and encouraging energy, waste and water saving activities. They might also encourage senior management to be involved = this can really make a difference.

Here are some ideas to help you get started:

  • Place stickers near light switches and office machines reminding people to turn them off when not in use.
  • Place posters in kitchen areas to highlight what can and can't be recycled.
  • Send out regular tips to staff via email and run competitions between individuals and teams.
  • Conduct a group energy, water or waste assessment.
  • Look at travel-smart options for getting to and from work and between meetings.
  • Hold information sessions and invite guest speakers or show documentaries on environmental topics.
  • Set up a system where people can share their ideas, issues and solutions (for example, an email address or shared folder with a file hosting service).

Improve energy efficiency in the office

Most offices are in use for around 50 to 60 hours each week—anything left on outside of these hours is wasting energy and money. Using office machines as efficiently as possible can cut costs and greenhouse gas emissions and may even extend the life of the machine. It can also improve the efficiency of your air conditioning as office machines generate heat when operational.

If your office has a fax machine, adjust the settings so that faxes go directly to computers rather than churning out paper. You may also be able to adjust it so you can send faxes from your computer—saving time and paper.

Over long breaks like Christmas, make sure all equipment, computers and appliances are turned off at the power point. Clear out and turn off fridges but don't forget to leave the doors ajar to prevent mould building up inside. If your workplace has vending machines containing non-perishables turn them off too.

If you have a say in which office machines your organisation uses, look for energy-efficient features like power saving modes. The ENERGY STAR® mark can help you identify energy-efficient products. Check the machine manufacturer's website for information on energy saving features in their products and switch these on.

If you're buying new machines or your lease is up for review, use this as an opportunity to choose energy saving equipment or rethink what you need.

Reduce waste at work

Help reduce the impact of your business activity on the environment by dealing thoughtfully with the waste you produce at work.

Promote recycling at work by setting up or requesting recycling bins for organic (kitchen) waste, glass, paper, plastics, e‑waste including batteries and phones.

Recycle toner and ink cartridges and buy re-manufactured ones. They're generally less expensive and better for the environment. Encourage your workplace to buy recycled paper products.

Order from the large range of recycled and eco-friendlier stationery—like envelopes, ring binders, notebooks and more. Go for reusable clips instead of staples.

Re-use and recycle e-waste by giving old technology to someone who needs it, or to schools and charitable organisations. For items that no longer work, you can look for take-back schemes from electronic manufacturers or local recycling schemes.

Where possible buy less and order any supplies in bulk to reduce packaging waste.

Avoid plastic shopping bags by keeping a stash of re-usable ones in office drawers and common areas.

Swap or recycle items you're no longer using at home at work. Create a spot for a 'freebies table' in a common area and list items to swap or sell on your electronic or regular noticeboard.

If you're really serious about managing waste, work with management to encourage them to work with your waste service provider to establish the best recycling system. You could also look at creating purchasing guidelines to promote the use of more efficient and sustainable products that use less energy and packaging.

Check if your office has recycling bins for printer cartridges, batteries, cardboard, paper, organic or mixed (for plastic, cans, glass etc) waste. If not, you might need to help your workplace improve its recycling routine.

Check with your local council or Planet Ark's Business Recycling website to find out what can be recycled in your area.

Measuring your impact

Understanding your workplace's energy and water use and the waste you generate will help your organisation develop a plan to improve its energy efficiency and save money.

Depending on the size of your workplace, you could do a basic sustainability assessment as part of a savings team. Or encourage your workplace to engage a consultant who can help identify savings opportunities and develop a plan to make it all happen. Some state and territory governments subsidise assessments to support sustainability practices in local businesses.

You can track and understand your energy bills so you can monitor any changes and measure any progress and adjust your action plan accordingly

Resources and assistance

Efficiency and savings

Select your step Energy Cut

ACT Business Energy and Water Program ACT Government

NSW Sustainable businesses NSW Government

NSW Tools and calculators NSW Government

NT ecoBiz NT Northern Territory Government

Qld ecoBiz Chamber of Commerce & Industry Queensland

SA Energy efficiency information and programs for business Government of South Australia

Tas Resource efficiency EPA Tasmania

Vic Business State Government of Victoria

WA Energy efficiency and advice Synergy

Energy

GreenPower Overview

NSW For businesses IPART

Qld Energy saving programs Queensland Government

SA Energy efficiency information and programs for businesses Government of South Australia

Tas Improving your energy efficiency Tasmanian Government

Travel

Online communication services Australian Government

Teleworking Australian Government

How to set up a successful bike fleet: a toolkit TravelSmart Australia

GreenVehicleGuide Australian Government

Waste

Buy FSC Certified Products Forest Stewardship Council Australia

Business Recycling Planet Ark

RecyclingNearYou Planet Ark

E-waste recycling TechCollect

SA Minimise waste at your event or venue Zero Waste SA

SA At work Zero Waste SA

Tas Business and industry waste EPA Tasmania