Sustainable (Green) Organizations

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Earlier this year, a floating piece of ice the size of Connecticut began to fracture along the continent of Antarctica. Scientists blame global warming as the cause. While the impact of our day-to-day influence on the warming of the earth is debated, there’s no question choices we make are wasteful or hurtful to the Earth. How can your organization actively support the environment and at the same time reap financial savings for your efforts? Let’s take a look.


Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs – It’s estimated lighting accounts for more than a quarter of an office’s energy consumption. Switching to efficient fluorescent light bulbs may reduce energy consumption by as much as 75% and last 10 times longer.

Occupancy Sensors – Imagine a single individual office where lights are left on for just two hours a day when not needed; for an average worker, that’s $2,500 worth of waste per year. Occupancy sensors are a cost effective way to make sure lights are only on when somebody is working in the space.
Office Equipment

Computer Choices – Office computers are a large draw on the energy grid. Setting your computer’s power settings to go to sleep when inactive and powering it off when you go home can greatly reduce consumption. Did you know laptops are more efficient? With the reduction in laptop prices, it may be worth the investment and your staff may appreciate the mobility benefit.

Paper Savings – The City of Los Angeles estimates paper use at 1.5 pounds of paper per person per day. There are several ways to reduce paper usage. Whenever possible, stick to electronic formats for reading, filing, and editing documents. If you must print, use recycled paper, print with smaller margins, and reduce spacing. You can also print double sided or reuse single sided printed documents by printing on the backside.

Temperature Control

Heat/Air Conditioning – Temperature regulation is a frequent place for waste. By using a programmable thermostat, you can ensure the temperature is comfortable during work hours, but use less energy when uninhabited.  Consider adjusting the temp a few degrees cooler in winter and warmer in summer. As long as workers are comfortable, a few degrees can mean big savings.

Shade – One simple way to control temperatures is by creating shade. Consider awnings over windows or planting trees that shade the office. Blocking the sun can keep inside temperatures cooler. Solar shades and tinted windows can also help.


Drinking Water – In our pursuit of healthy drinking, we are actually creating waste every time we crack open a bottle of water. Replace the disposable water bottles with a water cooler. Instead of paper cups, provide reusable cups or sports bottles. See Brita's Filter For Good efforts.

Facet Water – Most small offices have 50-gallon water heaters made for large homes. A smaller capacity water heater is sufficient for most offices; even better go for a tankless water heater. Lastly, reduce water waste from facets by installing water flow aerators and timed fixtures that automatically shut off (think the airport).

Toilets – Toilets and urinals account for a lot of wasted water. Newer toilets reduce consumption; some even allow the user to decide the flush based on what is being evacuated.


The Commute – The average American commutes 25 minutes. In many cities, employees are biking to work to reduce their environmental footprint and get exercise at the same time. Employers are assisting with bike racks and shower facilities. Other workers are car pooling or taking public transit to reduce their carbon footprint.

Hyrbids & Alternative Fuel – The city of Austin is working hard to transition every possible vehicle in its fleet to plug-in or hybrid vehicles. The new energy efficient cars reduce pollution, operate cheaper, and there’s even a plan to have the plug-ins return energy to the power grid during the business day. Another emerging trend is an increased use of bio-diesel to fueled vehicles.

Telecommute – With rising fuel costs, the pollution associated with the commute, and the power, water, and paper consumption that occurs at work, what would happen if employees didn’t come in? Some communities have implemented programs encouraging working from home to reduce their carbon footprint and the costs associated with the employee commute. Telecommuting can be a win-win for both the employee and the employer.

Carbon Neutral

So you’ve made all the adjustments, increased the energy efficiency of the office, and reduced waste. No matter how hard you try, there remains a carbon footprint you have no control over (i.e. airline flights). What do you do? One option is to invest in carbon offsets that allow your organization to invest in clean energy and other projects that result in equal reductions in carbon emissions. Fly to a conference; invest in wind power – carbon neutral.

Educate & Inform

Educate – The first step in making a difference is understanding the challenges we all face and learning how individuals and organizations can make a substantive difference. Organizational learning through groups like Ecosphere Net aid in facilitating a shift in perspective and appreciating how single actions can make a real impact.

Talk with Customers – Many organizations are sharing with the world and their clients the steps they are taking to be more sustainable. Annual reports, website information, and deliberate conversations with clients and customers about individual and corporate values related to corporate responsibility and the environment are becoming more common. Starting the dialogue opens the doors for new opportunities.

Organizations create a significant carbon footprint, but have many opportunities to make a measurable environmental difference while saving money in return. Your organization can make sustainability part of its values and cultural practices. The choice is up to you.

Office of Sustainable Development (n.d.). Green office guide: A guide to greening your bottom line through a resource-efficient office environment. Portland, OR: City of Portland.

Re-purposed from an article originally published in Best Practices in Emergency Services