10 steps to a low-carbon workplace

By Kim McKay 16 June 2009
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Improve the environmental performance of your work life, starting now.

1 Get better suited
Adopt a policy that permits more climate-appropriate work-wear. Most business attire – particularly long-sleeved shirts, ties and jackets – is ill-suited to the climate in much of Australia for most of the year, so air conditioners are driven hard to maintain comfortable conditions. Start with casual Friday, then move onto the other days so your office thermostat can be set to a higher temperature. Every degree you save will cut up to 20 per cent of your air-conditioning costs.

2 Use your mug
Ask your barista and/or office manager to switch to organic, Fairtrade-labelled brands. Then use your own mug to reduce the energy and waste involved in producing and disposing of 400 million takeaway cups in Australia each year. Over its life of about 3000 uses, a mug will produce 30 times less solid waste and 60 times less air pollution than disposable cardboard or polystyrene cups.

3 Sleep more
Activate the sleep mode on your computer to reduce its electricity consumption to less than 5 per cent of full power. Your computer probably sits idle for at least an hour each day. Set preferences to put the screen and hard drive to sleep after 10 minutes of inactivity. Detailed guides on how to enable energy-saving features are available from the Energy Star website www.energystar.gov.au.

4 Shut down
The idea that leaving a machine on is more efficient than turning it off has become something of an urban, and deeply uneconomic, myth. Left on all day, every day, a computer will use over a year  nearly 1000 kilowatts of electricity, resulting in more than a tonne of carbon emissions and an electricity bill of $125. By switching off your computer before you go home you will cut its electricity use to less than 250 kilowatts. Think about turning it off even when you are going to a meeting or lunch. Do the same with other office equipment.

5 Compute this
On a weight-for-weight basis, computers are more damaging to produce than cars.Choose models whose lives can be extended through upgrades and repair, and check the maker’s end-of-life take-back policies. To make a standard desktop computer and monitor requires 1.8 tonnes of materials, including at least 240 kg of fossil fuels. [http://svtc.igc.org]

6 Hard green core
Put environmental performance at the centre of your working culture through your company values, business objectives, performance measures and management structure. If they’re not a core part of your company culture, environmental goals will probably end up tacked on to decisions after the financial and technical experts have had their day. Leading corporations are addressing this by appointing a chief environmental officer to the executive suite, with authority equal to the chief financial, operations or information officers. Any business can profit from an eco-monitor who shows staff that sustainability is core business strategy.

7 Telecommute
Working from home eliminates both the costs of commuter travel along with workplace energy use, which is often many times more than needed at home. Governments in other countries promote telecommuting to combat air-pollution, with research indicating just a 4 per cent change in traffic volume can be the difference between free-flowing traffic and gridlock. Telecommuting isn’t for every workplace or every person, but you can probably use it more than you do. The challenge is to move away from a culture of attendance to one based on performance, assessing staff on the work they do rather than the time they are seen to be spending on it.

8 Salary packaging
Many companies offer salary packages that include a car – with the bigger the salary package the bigger the car – and encourage employees to drive. If you subsidise staff to drive, why not provide equivalent financial incentives to walk, use public transport or ride a bike?

9 Virtual meetings
Virtual meetings – teleconferencing, web-conferencing or video-conferencing – can be just as effective as meeting face-to-face and cost a fraction of the time, money and energy. The technology is no longer exotic or expensive; in fact it can be free. [www.e-strategyguide.gov.au]

10 Support the locals
Make it part of your buying policy to favour local trade. Importing goods from distant places where labour costs are cheaper and environmental regulations are less rigorous has its attractions. But the hidden price is the cost of the carbon emissions generated through transport.

Source: Australian Geographic Apr – Jun 2008