Small Changes, Big Impact: 25 Simple ways to improve sustainability in your workplace

Jessica Heijmans
August 17, 2023
min read
Table of Contents
Sometimes it can feel overwhelming to tackle sustainability in the workplace. However, every office, no matter its size or industry, has the potential to make a positive impact on the environment. And here's the best part: small changes can lead to big impacts! That's why we are dedicated to providing you with easy-to-implement tips that will make a real difference.

For now, let’s start with some simple ways to improve sustainability in the workplace. We’ve divided the tips into 6 categories: waste reduction & recycling, the paperless office, sustainable transportation options, energy & water efficiency, sustainable food habits, and employee well-being. 

[.callout-small]For more information about what sustainability is and where to start in your organization, check out our Sustainability Beginner's Guide[.callout-small]

A) Waste reduction and recycling

1. Implement a recycling program for paper, plastic, and other materials.

Set up designated recycling bins throughout the office and clearly label them to make it easy for employees to dispose of items properly. Consider partnering with a recycling company to ensure that the collected materials are processed correctly. Education is key, so make sure to educate your team on what can and cannot be recycled.

2. Include recycling instructions near trash cans and recycling bins

Let's make recycling a no-brainer for everybody! Place clear and concise recycling instructions near each trash can and recycling bin to guide employees on what items belong in each. Visual cues can be extremely helpful, so consider using symbols or easy-to-understand images to communicate recycling guidelines. You can even go the extra mile and provide a list of commonly used items or materials that can be recycled.

3. Eliminate single-use cups

It's time to say goodbye to single-use cups and embrace a more sustainable sipping solution! By providing reusable water bottles, glasses, or coffee mugs, you can reduce the need for disposable cups in your workplace.

4. Repair items when they break instead of replacing them. 

Who says broken means beyond repair? Instead of immediately replacing items when they break or get damaged, why not try repairing them or letting them be repaired? This applies to a wide range of things, including electronics, office furniture, and much more.

5. Eliminate paper towels

While you might not realize how often you rely on paper towels, the truth is that in a bustling office or workplace, the waste bin can quickly become overflown. You can cut down on waste by using reusable options like cotton towels or hand dryers in the bathroom, and dishcloths or tea towels in the kitchen at your office.

6. Get rid of individual trash cans

Have you ever considered ditching individual trash cans? Follow in the footsteps of Etsy, and you might just reduce waste and boost your recycling rate. When Etsy got rid of individual trash cans and introduced central trash stations instead, Etsy's waste dropped 18%, while its compost rate jumped 300% and its recycling rate went up 20%. 

Sure, some employees were initially annoyed about the extra steps, but they soon realized the added perks: the central waste stations sparked spontaneous chats.

B) The paperless office

Our planet's resources are not endless, as we all know. For this reason, it is crucial to reduce our paper usage as much as possible. 

7. If you must print, print double-sided and use recycled printing paper

In today's digital age, many of our tasks can be completed without ever using paper. However, there may be times when printing is necessary. If you do need to print, consider using recycled printing paper and printing double-sided.

8. Use paperless notebooks

Gone are the days when we needed to use traditional paper notebooks. With new technologies, we can now use paperless notebooks. Which are not only good for the environment but also practical. With mobile apps and software like Miro, Evernote, Google Drive, and Asana, you can effortlessly take notes, save documents, and even brainstorm ideas digitally. Still a fan of the pen-on-paper experience? Why not give reusable notebooks a try!

9. Sign documents electronically

Save yourself the hassle of printing and physically signing documents. Not only does this waste paper, but it can also be a time-consuming process for both you and your clients or employees. Instead, opt for a more efficient and eco-friendly solution by eliminating the need to print, sign, and fax or scan documents.

10. Move to paperless marketing

As the world becomes more digitally focused, marketing is following suit. With the rise of social media, online advertisements, and other digital platforms, the demand for traditional printed marketing materials is plummeting. And let’s be honest, do we really need more flyers that end up in the trash within seconds or yet another branded drinking bottle? 

C) Sustainable transportation

11. Allow employees to work remotely

Thanks to advances in technology, we now have the ability to work from anywhere. So, if it works for your business, give your employees the opportunity to work from home or a third workplace more often. It's a win-win situation because it provides flexibility while also helping to reduce pollution caused by commuting.

12. Introduce a car-free week

Introducing a car-free week in the office not only helps cut carbon emissions but also encourages healthier and more sustainable commuting habits among employees. This initiative has the power to inspire long-term behavior changes.

13. Introduce a company walking challenge 

A daily stroll is good for your physical fitness and your mental happiness. Ditching the desk for a breath of fresh air in the morning, during lunch breaks or meetings can work wonders in reducing stress, enhancing focus, and unleashing your creative side. 

Why not spice up the company routine by introducing a walking challenge, for example via a walking app? It's a fantastic way to motivate employees to prioritize their well-being and unleash their competitive spirit!

14. Promote the idea of using public transport to get to work

Sometimes, we get stuck in the same old commuting habits. Encourage your employees to consider using public transport to get to work. Taking the train, bus, or subway is a fantastic way to reduce CO2 emissions even before arriving on-site. You can even incentivize this by providing travel cards for commuting to the office and allowing employees to use them on the weekends as well.

15. Encourage biking or walking when the office is close by

If your office is located within biking or walking distance for some of your workers, it's time to lace up those sneakers or hop on a bike! Not only is biking or walking the most sustainable way to commute, but it also promotes physical activity. You can consider implementing a biking plan to further support this eco-friendly commute option.

D) Energy & water efficiency

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to save energy & water in your office. Simple changes can make a substantial difference and save you money on your electricity and water bill. Who doesn't love that?

16. Turn of electronics

Offices are a gold mine of electrical gadgets - computers, laptops, printers, photocopiers,, and the list goes on! Turn them off whenever they’re not in use and switch to hibernation mode if you go away for lunch. It's all about forming good habits, after all.

17. Decrease the brightness of your screen 

Bright computer screens consume more energy. Encourage employees to adjust the brightness settings of their computer screens to a lower, but still comfortable, level. Reducing the brightness from 100% to around 70% can save up the monitor's energy consumption.

18. Avoid cooling or heating unused spaces

Many offices have meeting rooms or unused spaces that do not require constant heating or cooling. Encourage employees to be mindful of turning off heaters or air conditioners in these areas when they are not in use.

19. Encourage water saving with tips and instructions in bathrooms

Place signs with water-saving tips and instructions in the bathrooms to raise awareness among employees. Remind them of the importance of conserving water and provide practical suggestions for doing so, for example:

  • Encourage them to use the small button on the toilet instead of the big one. It's a small change that can save up to 5 liters of water per flush!
  • Promote water-saving tips while washing hands, such as turning off the tap while lathering with soap.

These tips may seem like common sense, but a little reminder never hurts.

E) Sustainable food habits

20. Introduce Meatless Mondays

Vegetarianism isn’t for everyone, but there are a lot of green-, grain-, and bean-based dishes that fill you up and taste great. If even one team meal a week was meatless, it would make a significant difference in cutting the harmful emissions produced by the meat industry. 

21. Reduce food waste

To minimize waste, it's a great idea to order just the right amount of food for your employees. One simple method is to have them sign their names in an office schedule. Another option is to donate any leftovers from the week to local food organizations or share them with your colleagues. Encourage your employees to be mindful and only take what they can enjoy without any wastage.

F) Employee engagement and well-being

Sustainability isn't just about saving the planet, but also about keeping your employees happy and healthy.

22. Give your employees one day a year off to volunteer

Give them the freedom to choose when and how they want to use their special volunteering day, whether it's to pursue their personal interests or support their community. This will empower them to get involved in initiatives they're truly passionate about.

And why stop at just one day? Consider planning group volunteering events throughout the year to keep the spirit of giving alive and strengthen team bonds!

23. Offer flexible working options

Trust your employees to not only work from wherever they want, but also whenever. By giving them the flexibility to choose where and when they work, you're tapping into their limitless creativity and boosting their overall job satisfaction. Plus, it helps them manage their day more effectively. Want to hit the gym during lunch? Go for it. Feeling extra productive in the early morning? Perfect!

24. Make your office greener (literally)

Adding some greenery to your workspace can be more than just a pretty touch. Plants improve air quality, reduce stress levels, and boost productivity. Plus, they add a touch of life to your office decor. Here are a few tips for creating a green oasis in your workplace:

  • Select low-maintenance plants: Not everyone possesses a green thumb, and that's perfectly fine! Choose plants that require minimal care, such as succulents or snake plants. They are resilient and can thrive with little attention.
  • Give your team the chance to adopt their very own office plant. This not only promotes a sense of ownership but also helps create a healthier and livelier workspace. Besides, it's always pleasant to have some company during those extended workdays!

25. Share information and green tips with your team

Sharing green tips with your team is a great way to encourage sustainability and promote environmentally conscious practices in the workplace. You can, for example, organize a meeting every quarter to discuss this topic. Or share small practical tips during company meetings, just like we do at Appical. Make sustainability a team effort!

Just remember, making small changes in your workplace can lead to a big impact on the environment. No matter the size of your office, you have the power to drive sustainability and create a greener future. So, go forth and implement those tips we've discussed!

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