Greening the office

Envirowise programme manager Adrian Cole explains why office-based businesses should be making resource efficiency a priority

A staggering 25 million tonnes of waste are produced by office-based businesses in the UK every year.

While a third of this is recycled, half still ends up in landfill sites. This is a significant waste of natural resources that poses long-term risks to the environment.

In addition, the cost of office waste can actually represent as much as 4% of a company's turnover.

On top of this monetary loss, as green credentials move increasingly higher up the corporate and consumer agenda, a lack of environmental awareness can actually result in a company losing out on business.

This is particularly true for the commercial sector, where public image can be paramount.

Businesses may be surprised by just how varied office waste can be. Paper and water waste are obvious examples, however it is important to note that items such as discarded fluorescent tubes and computer monitors are now classified as hazardous waste.

New legislation resulting in tighter controls on the disposal of hazardous items has recently come into force and there is more in the pipeline.

Contrary to the expected trend towards the 'paperless office' paper consumption continues to rise annually by around 20%.

The average office worker uses up to 100 sheets of paper every day, and in a typical office, half of total waste is normally paper-based.

Paper is, therefore, a major purchasing and disposal cost to the average office, yet it is a cost that can be brought down easily through reduction, reuse and recycling.

Water is another finite resource that is too often squandered in offices. A business that implements simple and effective water conservation procedures can cut its annual water consumption by up to 30% while enjoying substantial cost savings.

But the largest controllable outgoing in an office is energy consumption. Experience shows that simple good practice measures can easily reduce office energy bills by up to 50%.

Envirowise recently launched its Green Officiency Challenge to encourage office-based businesses to use paper, water and energy more efficiently and save money.

The government-funded organisation offers free support and training to help businesses identify, manage and reduce office waste.

Already this year Envirowise have shown hundreds of such companies how to identify significant savings.

Envirowise recommends waste, water and energy reduction through a process of benchmarking, targeting, and performance monitoring. As part of the Green Officiency campaign, Envirowise provides free support to businesses via a number of avenues.

  • The online savings calculator (www.maximiseprofit.org.uk) gives businesses the opportunity to reveal the kind of savings they can expect to make by becoming resource efficient.

  • A specifically designed office CD-ROM toolkit takes a step-by-step approach towards waste reduction.

  • A FastTrack visit by a specialist adviser provides offices with confidential on-site guidance and help with identifying savings opportunities

  • Tailored support is also available through the Environment and Energy Helpline, which is an excellent first port of call for businesses looking to improve resource efficiency but who perhaps do not know where to start.

  • The Envirowise website is full of useful information for businesses in all sectors, and also holds a large database of publications and guides which can be downloaded for free.

  • Dedicated workshops provide hands on advice and guidance.

    The Leicester-based British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association turned to the Envirowise Online Savings Calculator resource in the first instance in order to calculate just how much they could benefit from addressing the use of the office's resources.

    The company is now keen to make these potential savings a reality by taking advantage of an Envirowise FastTrack visit. Company spokesperson Tony Mitchell said: "The online savings calculator highlighted the real financial and environmental savings that could be made by putting in place a few no cost or low cost measures.

    "We're now looking forward to a visit from Envirowise to help us realise further savings."

    IT support provider Selection Services plc, based in Kent, has already undertaken a FastTrack visit and is now poised to take further action.

    Harvey Downer, financial director, said: "Our initial objective was for Selection Services plc to implement a meaningful environmental policy.

    "Having visited the website and posted an email enquiry, Envirowise called us direct to discuss our situation further. It soon became clear they could offer us practical, cost saving advice. "

    As the company had an imminent office refurbishment scheduled, Envirowise arranged for a FastTrack visit to take place just two days later.

    Mr Downer continued: "The adviser was both technically and commercially knowledgeable and we were given immediate feedback and advice whilst still on-site.

    "Within days we also received a written report demonstrating how we could save up to £24k year-on-year simply by implementing a series of straight forward recommendations. They also provided us with some cost-neutral suggestions too.

    "Based on the outstanding service we received I would recommend that every company which is keen to save money through simple waste minimisation procedures takes advantage of a free FastTrack visit."

    Research by Envirowise shows that while 94% of small businesses consider the reduction of waste important, only 39% are actually seeking to minimise their waste output.

    But through the implementation of a range of simple low or no cost measures businesses can expect to see an immediate impact.

    The following quick and simple measures are great ways offices can get started:

  • Paper - make sure everything is photocopied and printed double-sided with multiple pages per sheet

  • Water - fit push-button taps and low flush toilets

  • Heating - by turning down the thermostat by one degree (usual comfort = 19oC), a typical heating bill could be cut by up to 10%

  • Light - replace tungsten bulbs with energy-efficient, compact fluorescent lamps and slim line tubes (immediate savings of 50% and they last ten times longer)

    The Green Officiency challenge runs until March 2006 so there is still time for offices to sign up. To find out more businesses can call the Environment and Energy Helpline on 0800 585 794 or visit the commercial sector pages at www.envirowise.gov.uk

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