Dear Eartha, I would love to help my workplace become more sustainable, but I don’t have much time and it feels overwhelming. What do you recommend?
Commercial buildings have quite a large resource footprint. According to the Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Department of Energy, businesses in the country account for 18% of total energy consumption, 17% of water consumption and 16% of greenhouse gas emissions. . Here in Summit County, energy use in commercial buildings accounts for 25% of local carbon pollution. Thus, reducing resource consumption goes a long way towards creating more sustainable and healthier communities – and it benefits everyone.
Knowing where to start can be a challenge, especially for companies without dedicated sustainability staff. That’s why I’m here! Rest assured, even minor updates can have a big impact. And there are even opportunities for businesses that rent out their spaces. For inspiration, let’s look at some simple and inexpensive options in a few different categories.
Improving the energy efficiency of your business is the easiest way to achieve considerable savings and increase the comfort of your space.
Look at your lights: are they glowing orange or are they warm to the touch? If so, they’re probably not LEDs, which means they’re driving up your energy bill. Adding motion sensors for lighting will save energy in areas that are less used during office hours, such as a storage room or bathroom. Another great way to save energy is to install programmable thermostats that allow you to adjust your space for comfort during business hours and efficiency when your business is closed.
The Southwestern United States has been experiencing a prolonged drought since 2000. Currently, all of Colorado is in drought conditions, and in Summit County we are classified as being in moderate drought conditions. With low river flows causing serious concern in the Colorado River Basin, it is important that we all consider ways to conserve water. Fortunately, water conservation is a cost-effective way to reduce your business’ environmental impact.
Leaks alone can waste up to 10,000 gallons of water every year! Minimize water use by sealing leaks and installing faucet aerators and toilet tank savers. Standard faucets use over two gallons of water every minute – think about that every time you wash your hands! Look for aerators that only use 0.5 gallons per minute. Replacing toilets with low-flow options is another opportunity. But for an easy DIY solution, add a toilet tank bank to save nearly 1 gallon per flush.
The Summit County landfill is expected to close by 2056 if we don’t start recycling and composting more. To reduce your business waste, convert single-use materials like plates and cutlery into durable goods that can be used, cleaned and reused. Establish recycling and food waste collection programs and properly label bins so people know what goes where. And make sure the bins are in convenient places. For expert advice, the High Country Conservation Center has free resources to help you get started with recycling and food waste collection.
An important way to establish a culture of sustainability starts by making it a fundamental tenet of your business. You can do this by integrating sustainability into your company’s mission, job descriptions and training materials.
Go the extra mile by empowering employees to share ideas and take responsibility for programs. Then set a good example for customers and other businesses by showing your commitment to sustainability and the actions you’re taking on your website.
After that ?
Sustainability in the workplace doesn’t have to be overwhelming or expensive, and you don’t have to do it all at once! Pick something you’re passionate about and start there. For Summit County businesses looking for additional guidance, check out the conservation center’s sustainable business program, Resource Wise. Giving you free access to local sustainability experts, this program offers sustainability and energy assessments, coaching, and incentives to make improvements to most businesses in Summit County. Ready to start? Join hundreds of other local businesses by visiting the center’s website to register for your initial assessment.
It’s true that businesses have a big impact, but they also have many opportunities to not only reduce that impact, but also create a local culture of sustainability by acting as role models for employees and customers.
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff of the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit your questions to Eartha at [email protected].