Dear Umbra,

The Powers That Be at my job have decided to start a Green Initiative. The project got put on the desk of the office manager, who doesn’t know where to start. I signed up to be a part of the committee, and I was wondering if you had any advice about how to go about something like this. I have some good experience, but it’s with school and church groups. I’m wondering what may be unique to work environments that I’m not thinking of already. It’s very exciting! I’m sure there are programs out there, and I thought you’d be just the person to ask.

Kelli S.
Bethesda, Md.

Dearest Kelli,

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All hail the Powers That Be. If the Powers weren’t in favor, it would be harder to proceed. With Their blessing, your committee can choose between two main approaches to greening the office. The first is to put on Global Warming glasses, and the other is to make a list and check it twice.

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Bring work down to earth.

One way to evaluate the environmental status of an office is to view all actions through the lens of Global Warming, The Problem That Be. With GW glasses, business is quantified, reduction goals are set, benchmarks are reached, and success is celebrated all in terms of greenhouse-gas emissions. As the committee chooses between sourcing recycled paper and funding employee bus passes, for example, the glasses only show them the emissions resulting from each choice. A good tool for the GW approach is a carbon footprint calculator designed for offices. Lo and behold, the EPA has such a calculator, in the form of an Excel spreadsheet. It is based on well-respected work from the World Resources Institute.

The second method, in which one makes a list of areas to improve and then gets better at some or all of them, is all over the internet. This method is closely related to the first and may have similar outcomes. My favorite document is Portland’s Green Office Guide. Their improvement categories are office equipment, paper products, heating and cooling, water, and car-related items. Office equipment includes computers, refrigerators, and everything in between. Together with the self-explanatory paper products, office equipment should be responsibly sourced and responsibly discarded. Heating and cooling improvements could take place at the thermostat, in crawlspaces, and at the store, among other places. The water system includes hot water, sink, and toilet — as well as landscape use. Car and transport impacts include commuting as well as business-related mileage, and don’t forget the heat island parking lot.

There are lots more resources out there for you, including suggestions from Clean Air Cool Planet and the Sierra Club. Perhaps the best way to start is to make a list of the topics I mention plus others you gather, take them to your committee, ask for input, and together prioritize the first steps (in consultation with The Powers, of course).

As to how to choose which method best suits your workplace, I defer to your experience with school and church groups, and your own office politics. I hope these resources are helpful and wish you the best with the project. Write in and let us know how it goes if you have the time.