The Future of the Office is the Green Office

Sustainability Explored
11 min readSep 23, 2019

Why the sooner you change the better for you (and everyone around)

Photo by Georgie Cobbs on Unsplash

For the past 30 years, business has changed dramatically because of digital innovation.

Digital transformation allowed for more remote work, less commuting time, lower costs, and greater autonomy, as 2015 study by Stanford University shows.

As of 2019, the number of companies with remote workforce is getting bigger — 66% of companies allow remote work and 16% are fully remote.

Although many practices, products, and services have evolved, and a few sectors (such as media, for example) have been fundamentally altered, very few enterprises have had their core businesses disrupted.

Despite more and more workers are shifting towards remote work, offices are still the main workplaces globally.

Therefore, the physical business environment, namely the offices and buildings, where people tend to spend at least 8 hours a day, are important players in the sustainability field, and solid contributors to the changing environmental and climate conditions, and as such have to considered respectfully.

Today’s article is on how to shape an office into a green office, and why this is beneficial for everyone involved.

A home office also can be a green office. Photo by Slava Keyzman on Unsplash

What’s the concept?

The basic principle of the Green Office is to promote continuous improvements towards reducing the environmental impacts of the office work. Green Office aims for concrete results to improve the environmental performance of the organization.

The purpose of the Green Office is to:

• Reduce the consumption of natural resources;

• Mitigate climate change;

• Facilitate activities that promote sustainable lifestyles.

Why & when emerged?

The Finnish office of the World Wildlife Fund, known as WWF, has pioneered the concept of the Green Office and has started to offer it as a ready-made solution for offices in Finland, and then worldwide.

WWF Green Office is a practical environmental management system (EMS) for offices, which was launched in 2002. The EMS consists of several parts:

1) a meaningful way to reduce expenses,

2) a tool to support environmental management work,

3) an education program that inspires employees to adopt environmentally friendly habits and to take more sustainability-driven decisions,

4) a tool for internal and external environmental communication.

How does the Green Office program work in the companies?

With the help of a Green Office program, workplaces are able to reduce their burden on the environment via reducing energy consumption, setting up recycling programs, and committing to sustainable travel, achieve savings via reducing the operational costs and reduce their impact on climate change via saving CO2 emissions. Additionally, the Green Office inspires employees to get involved and adopt environmentally-friendly habits. Employee engagement around an honorable cause increases job satisfaction and wellbeing.

The aim of the program is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and offices’ ecological footprint. Green Office is suited to offices — both large and small — in private companies, the public sector, and other organizations. The target group includes office facilities that wish to improve their environmental management.

Apart from practical environmental management, the WWF Green Office program also offers offices certification system with a special focus on CO2 emissions. The structure of the program is similar to formal environmental systems or quality systems but is specifically aimed at offices and thus primarily targets behavior change. The system requires yearly reporting to a database and an audit by WWF every three years.

Green Office gathers leading sustainable organizations in an international network where experiences and best practices are shared.

Is Green Office only for organizations?

The companies and organizations are not the only ones willing to establish a Green Office system. Some universities followed the trend too.

The first University Green Office was established at Maastricht University in 2010. Since then, the model has been replicated by over 30 universities across Europe, and even won the UNESCO-Japan Prize on Education for Sustainable Development.

Picture source: https://www.opportunitiesforafricans.com

It is particularly popular in the Netherlands, where 10 of the 14 universities have established a Green Office. The model is actively being spread by the social business rootAbility and freely available under a Creative Commons license.

Felix Spira, the co-founder and executive director of RootAbility, explains it best in the video here:

What we focus on is to make sure that the students that are going to university, so the future leaders, the teachers, the ones that are going to run corporations, the ones who want to be engineers and product developers, that they, as part of study, have a critical touch point with Sustainability, — Felix Spira

How does the Green Office program work in the Universities?

According to Mr. Spira,

“The innovation is focused on three things.

First, that we bring together a team of five to eight students, who get paid at least one day a week for their work, together with someone, a staff member from the institution, who has at least three days a week to work together with the students. So, they form the core of the Sustainability Hub, and there are lots of opportunities for students and staff to volunteer, to work together with them.

The second thing is that this is not a voluntary initiative, but it has a mandate from higher management. They have resources, they have office space, they are getting trained. That’s the top-down support that comes in order to enable that bottom-up engagement.

The third thing is that those Sustainability Hubs are connection points for external actors that want to work together with the university and sustainability issues.” (quotation source)

How to implement the Green Office? Practical steps.

I summed up some tips for a successful Green Office set-up at your organization, that will help to start.

Photo by Juan Marin on Unsplash
  1. Energy and emissions

Make the most of natural light on a bright day. Install sensors to automatically turn off lights when not needed, and energy-efficient LED light fittings can also achieve great savings. Make sure office appliances are switched off when you leave the office. Lighting can account for up to 30% of the electricity consumed in offices.

2. Travel

Reducing air travel emissions is a challenge for Green Offices, even though reducing air travel also reduces costs.

When flying, it is a good idea to choose direct flights and efficient aircraft. When possible, take the train. In Europe, trains are a convenient alternative. In addition, combining work and holiday trips can also save on traveling.

3. Paper

The amount of greenhouse gas emissions caused by paper consumption is small compared to emissions from electricity consumption or air travel. On the other hand, it has a rather large ecological footprint, especially should be considered given the amounts the paper is present in the offices.

For the sake of nature and biodiversity, it is important to consider the source of the wood fiber used to manufacture the paper. FSC-labelling guarantees that the fibre comes from sustainably managed forests, such paper is made from one hundred percent recycled fibres.

Instead of personal printers, installing a few multifunctional printers to share around the office saves paper. Also, personal printing boxes and secure printing decreases waste prints.

4. Water

Humanity’s water footprint has exceeded sustainable levels in several areas around the world, which makes it crucial to reduce both direct and indirect water usage. Many products contain very little to no water at all but may have required large amounts of embodied water in the course of its production. An avocado’s water footprint is 320 liters, for example, a banana’s is 160 liters.

Turn off the tap and purchase water-saving equipment, such as motion detectors. Be sure to run full loads when using dishwashers, and select energy-saving programs. You can also reduce water consumption by favoring domestic, seasonal and organic food products.

5. Waste

Waste, ideally, should be sorted and sent to proper recycling. Some countries still slack on recycling programs, and waste ends up in landfills. Unfortunately, this is the worst possible practice that adds tremendously to the greenhouse gas emissions and should be banned better sooner than later.

Minimizing unsorted waste and recycling at the office is one of the most straightforward ways to conserve natural resources, reduce offices’ ecological footprint, and save on waste costs.

Picture source: Anna Chashchyna

If you’d like more tips on how to set up a Green Office, I particularly like a Guide made by the Australian Environment Protection Authority (EPA), you can access it here. Enjoy!

What are the potential gains, advantages & benefits?

Paying less for the utilities is a solid gain in itself, but what is even more important is a reduction in CO2 emissions, a greenhouse gas responsible for the climate crisis.

Changing daily workplace habits can not only create a healthier, wealthier and more emotionally-friendly environment but literally as well positively contribute to stopping the climate crisis.

One of the great examples is the Finnish Green Offices that have saved over 12,400 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions between 2007 and 2012. This amount corresponds to over 2,413 round-trip flights from Helsinki to Bangkok. Imagine how that could be multiplied across the globe!

Image by Anna Chashchyna

Examples of green offices globally

There we’re reaching my favorite part — success stories of different companies. So much to learn from them, grab your opportunity!

Nokia headquarters office in Espoo, Finland. One notable figure is that they have moved from disposable paper cups in the office café to re-usable mugs. If employees want to take away a paper cup, they are obliged to pay a small fee. However, most prefer to choose a mug, which has already saved up to half a million paper cups!

Picture source: pinterest.com

Another highly successful initiative started through the Green Office at Nokia was the installation of rooftop garden boxes.

McDonald’s in Finland: One notable action the McDonald’s office has implemented is the use of bus cards for travel to meetings. The office is located near several public transportation stops. Employees need to travel on a daily basis to several restaurants around the Helsinki metropolitan area. Instead of using cars or taxis, they can take one of the several travel cards to get to where they need to go for meetings using public transportation.

Photo by Joshua Austin on Unsplash

Instead of several people flying to international meetings, it is strongly advised that only one person making the trip. Offices are connected with several fixed lines for conference calls. The use of remote connections, with state-of-the-art cameras and screens installed in several meeting rooms, is widely used.

Lighting and printers have been automated to turn off when everyone leaves the office, and reminders placed neatly around to remind employees to turn off the lights when leaving a room and only run full loads of the dishwasher. Only FSC certified paper is used for printing, and defaults are set to double-sided. Recycling bins are clearly visible in the office space, making it an everyday habit for employees. The cleaning staff has been trained on proper recycling of waste, and microfiber cloths are used, cutting down on the use of cleaning products. In the kitchen, fair trade certified coffee and tea, and organic milk and sugar are used.

University of Jyväskylä. Solar panels on the roof of the Agora Centre and a wind turbine installation on the roof of the Chemistry building have provided demonstration and research opportunities in renewable energy production.

Image source: https://www.jyu.fi

Microsoft office in Espoo, Finland. The focus has been on employees and enabling flexibility. Through remote working and diversity of working modes, the Microsoft Finland office promotes Läsnätyö, that is, flexible work no matter where you are.

  • 73% worked outside the office one to three days per week.
  • Satisfied with the working environment equals 100%
  • Participated in decision making equals 93%
  • The Microsoft office works as a laboratory of its own technology that enables a more sustainable way of working, especially in the information sector.
  • It is a showcase modern working environment, and approximately 50,000 people have come to visit the premises.
Former Nokia headquarters, now — Microsoft office, also known as Tieto Keilalahti Campus. Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tieto_Keilalahti_Campus

Other benefits have come from directly integrating Green Office to ways of working.

For example, printing has been greatly reduced as nobody has his or her own permanent seat to store extra paper. Even the expense reports are going paperless. Technology has also been a great enabler to reduce unnecessary business travel. Each meeting is automatically booked online to enable efficient use of resources. Light sensors are in all meeting rooms and bathrooms. All of this translates to energy savings. Transparency is promoted through sharing work calendars, documents, and social media tools. Beyond technology, sustainability is included in all aspects of employee wellbeing. For example, bikes are available for employees to use for local meetings.

The Unilever Pakistan Head Office. Through its structured program of measuring and monitoring, the office has reduced energy usage and paper consumption.

To reduce energy usage, the central airconditioning system was optimized, which reduced idle time cooling. In addition, more than 85% of employees shifted to using laptops, which are more energy-efficient compared to desktop computers.

Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

Halogen lamps were replaced with energy-saving bulbs, and an awareness campaign focused on reminders to switch off lights when leaving a room. Through these Green Office measures, the Head Office consumed 24% less energy in 2012 compared to 2011.

Deloitte premises in Amsterdam, ‘The Edge’ building, deserves a very special kind of attention. This green office building has been called the smartest building in the world as it not only manages the office environment, it also manages desk allocation for all the employees on a day to day basis.

More about “The Edge” in the article, you will be amazed — I promise! I just added myself a new line to the professional bucket list.

I hope now you are inspired to set up your own Green Office and continue your exciting journey towards sustainability. Below are some interesting tools to test the efficiency of the Green Office.

Hit me with questions and comments if you’d like to learn more. Stay tuned to explore sustainability together!

Anna Chashchyna

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Sustainability Explored

Exploring sustainability, corporate responsibility, leadership and culture