Great Business Ideas: Create a Smarter, Safer Workplace

Great Ideas for your Small Business: Create a Smarter, Safer Workplace

Being aware of ways to create a smarter, safer workplace can improve health and morale, and enhance your bottom line. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that, every year, indoor air pollution costs U.S. businesses about $1 billion in medical bills and $60 billion in lost productivity.

For ideas on a smarter workplace, I turned to Maryland- based researcher/writer Amy Townsend, author of The Smart Office: Turning Your Company on Its Head (Gila Press; 1999). She is director of Sustainable Development International Corp., in Olney, Maryland, which works with governments and organizations on sustainable development strategies. Her comprehensive book has hundreds of ideas and resources for business owners interested in cleaning up their act.

Here are some great ideas you can implement without spending a lot of time or money:

  1. Design/landscaping. If you are building a new office, make sure your architect orients the building to take advantage of natural light to reduce lighting bills. Try, too, to design a building that cuts down on unnecessary heating or cooling expenditures. Try to landscape with native plants that require less water and suit your climate. Try to avoid the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers to protect the local water supply.
  2. Building materials. If you are building or retrofitting your office, avoid building materials that create indoor pollution. Avoid pressed wood products that are glued together or treated with formaldehyde or other toxins. Be sure your building is well insulated with recycled, nontoxic materials. Look for materials with a high R-value; the higher the number, the better the insulating properties. For example, use double- pane windows with a high R-value to avoid air leakage.
  3. Lighting. Take advantage of sunlight whenever possible. Turn off the lights when they aren’t being used and replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent ones. Try to use local, “task” lights rather than general overhead lighting. Install light sensors that turn lights on when you enter a room and dimmers to allow lighting flexibility. Contact your local utility company for help in creating better lighting at work. Be sure to ask about rebates and other financial incentives available to business owners. The EPA also has a “GreenLights” program that provides ways to improve your lighting efficiency. Keep computers out of direct sunlight to avoid glare and tilt monitors away from the window. Buy blinds with silver on one side to reflect sunlight. Whenever possible, install glass along the tops of office partitions to allow light to filter through the office.
  4. Equipment. Be sure to purchase “Energy Star-rated” copiers, computers, and other equipment that “power down” when you aren’t using them. Use laptop computers rather than desktop models to allow more flexibility. Try to use both sides of copier paper for documents. Buy a plain paper fax, because thermal paper is expensive and can’t be recycled. To save money, time, and paper, use e-mail whenever possible. If you are buying a refrigerator for your office, check out the Energy Efficiency Rating (EER) and operating costs. Purchase a model that doesn’t rely on chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) to operate, because these chemicals deplete the ozone layer.
  5. Office supplies. Whenever possible, buy nontoxic high- lighters, correction fluid, and dry-wipe markers. Buy recycled paper folders, notebooks, pencils, and pens. Consider using 100 percent recycled paper for everything from your printing to restroom needs. Reuse office paper for scratch paper and eliminate fax cover sheets whenever possible. Recycle all the paper you can: white paper, newsprint, and cardboard. Townsend says it takes one-third less gross energy to make one sheet of recycled paper compared to virgin paper.
  6. Recycling programs. Paper is not the only office supply that can be easily recycled. Recycle everything you can. One company’s waste is another company’s treasure. You can recycle carpets, CD-ROMs, computer batteries, computers, printer cartridges, construction-site waste, floppy disks, glass, light- bulbs, holiday cards, light ballasts, and packing materials. The Association of Foam Packaging Recyclers operates more than forty-five recycling centers around the United States. Check the phone book for the center closest to your office.
  7. Telecommuting/transportation. Encourage your workers to carpool, bike, or use public transportation. Try telecommuting at least one day a week to save time and fuel.
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