Q I'd like to start a green committee at the very large office where I work. How do I go about doing that?
A If my applause-o-meter were working, you'd see that you received a thunderous round of clapping from the Ecoholic desk. We can all help green the world via our workplaces if we set our minds to it, but if you're serious about greening an extra-large office, you have the power to have an extra-large impact and that, my friend, is pretty exciting.
Of course, you're also dealing with oversized levels of bureaucracy, and it can be harder to make an elephant roll over and put on an organic tutu than a Jack Russell, if you know what I mean. At the same time, large offices are often higher-profile and have a lot more to lose, public-relations-wise, from being eco laggards than a six-person operation. That's the kind of thing you can leverage to your advantage.
Sounds like you're going in the right direction. Setting up a green committee is the first thing you want to do in any office over, oh, eight people. It might be easiest to piggyback onto an existing health and safety committee if you have one. (Show up at an H&S meeting and ask if anyone would like to join you on a green subcommittee.) If you think your cause will just get steamrolled, then go indie.
In an ideal world, you'll get higher-ups on board. Approach a few people in management and tell them you'd like to start a green committee. Fingers crossed, you'll get their blessing, and hopefully there'll be at least one mid-level honcho who wants to be part of the posse. But, hey, if they're blasé about the whole thing, no sweat you can go the grassroots route, too. Power to the people, yo.
Either way, your next step is to e-mail everyone in the building and invite them to attend Acme So and So's new volunteer green team's first meeting.
As to what's on the agenda, well, depends how far your company's already gone to green itself. If it's using 100 per cent post-consumer recycled paper, then hooray, you're not killing 24 trees a year for every 20 office workers. But do you have a formal policy about double-sided printing to reduce wastage even more?
If it has recycling bins at every station, maybe you want to look into putting organics bins at every other desk (as we do at NOW) or at least have them in each kitchen so you're not tossing all those food scraps. T.O.-based Cooler Solutions is coming out with an über-slick office composter/receptacle that has plants growing on top. Producing too much compost? Just send some home with employees (www.coolersolutionsinc.com).
If there's already a lights-out policy to prevent birds from slamming into your office tower at night and, of course, save a whack of energy, then look into whether other ways to save power have been investigated. You can program every computer so it goes into sleep mode after 15 minutes of idleness, and put occupancy sensors on all the lights. After all, lighting accounts for a good 30 per cent of most offices' power use. And new T5 fluorescent tube lights use up to 15 per cent less energy than the T8s that were considered the greenest bet until recently.
Another good target is your building's heating and cooling use. Just turning the thermostat up 2 degrees in the summer can cut your greenhouse gas emissions by 30 tonnes a year! Moving your office toward a dress-down, tie-and-jacket-free policy in the summer means you'll hear a lot less grumbling when the thermostat goes up.
All these moves also save your company money in the long run, so it shouldn't be too hard to convince management to take them on. But initiatives that don't necessarily involve them or any upfront investments like setting up an office carpooling system might be easier to kickstart.
If it gets even a portion of your co-workers commuting together, a good carpooling network can save a hell of a lot of fumes from being spewed into the atmosphere day and night. Talk to your I.T. people about setting up a carpooling message board/list serv on your internal server. Facebook even has a carpool organizing tool now; you could set up a private Facebook group with a discussion forum for long-term planning and postings for last-minute rides.
Ottawa's Rideshark. com has developed a very cool online corporate ride-share application that helps you organize carpooling, vanpooling, cycling/walking/transit buddles and more. Some offices are so amazingly supportive of the vanpool concept that they provide company vans to speed the whole thing along. High five to them.
Look into buying transit passes in bulk to get discounts (you can score about $10 to $12 bucks off through www.toronto.ca/ttc/vip.htm). You'll also need some bike racks and, ideally, a bike room to encourage cycling.
You might start a campaign to get your office off air travel whenever possible and push teleconferencing or video conferencing in place of travelling to meetings like a pack of nomadic suits. It'll cut travel costs, of course, but also slash the heavy emissions involved in flying and driving.
Other things you can look at? Company cleaning products put all kinds of headache- and smog-inducing volatile organic compounds into the air. Professional cleaners are even worse and often contain nerve-damagers like butyl cellosolve. Eco-Max has all kinds of planet-friendly cleaning supplies in industrial sizes (www.eco-max.ca).
While you're dreaming up goals, try to obtain a formal commitment to purchase Energy Star-certified office equipment whenever anything needs to be replaced.
Lastly, don't forget the kitchen. You might be serving fair trade coffee, but are you using styrofoam cups with plastic stir sticks and disposable creamers? Not good! Time to switch to reusable mugs, cups and cutlery and buy milk by the litre.
Whatever you do, don't try to take on all these projects at once. It's much harder to save the world if you're overloaded and freaked out.