Andrea Pinabell is president of Southface, an Atlanta-based organization that promotes sustainable homes, workplaces and communities through education, advocacy, research and technical assistance.
With just over to 50 people on staff – plus dozens of visitors to our campus for meetings and tours each week – it’s easy to see how our office’s trash can quickly add up. As an organization focused on sustainability, we realized that we could be doing even more to reduce waste.
With that in mind, this year Southface is taking the first step toward becoming a TRUE Zero Waste-certified office, an ambitious goal that’s certainly a marathon, not a sprint. TRUE-certified spaces meet at least seven requirements to divert all solid waste from the landfill, incineration, and the environment.
For many years, we have been utilizing designated bins for recycling, reuse, and compost. However, like most workplaces, we found room for improvement: half-empty soda bottles placed in recycling bins, crumpled printer paper in trash cans, compostable napkins tossed in a plastic garbage bag — you get the picture. Our hearts were in the right place, though our recyclables were not.
We realized that getting to zero – to divert 100% of our office waste from landfills – is a team effort, where everyone has a stake in helping us reach the goal. Some of us are avid recyclers both at home and at work, while others may be a bit overwhelmed with where to even start. No matter where a team member is on their recycling journey, we provided education that’s clear and easy to understand, showing how collective small steps can get us closer to our bigger goal.
Though TRUE Zero certification is not for everyone, every office has the ability to take advantage of low-stakes and easy changes that are more sustainable.
Here are five easy steps that your office can take today that will pay off for the future, and potentially lower your operations costs:
- Meet expectations: We host a lot of meetings and events at Southface, and roll out the reusable products for our guests. Instead of plastic cups, plates, and cutlery, our cupboards are stocked with plenty of glass tumblers, ceramic mugs and plates, and silverware. That means less stuff going to landfills, and fewer items we have to purchase over and over again. If disposables are necessary, consider using compostable items.
- Brew better: We drink our fair share of coffee throughout the day, but instead of K-cups, we get our beans in bulk and brew pots the old-fashioned way. We also put creamer and sugar in reusable containers instead of buying individual packets, and rather than single-use, plastic stirrers, we use dry pasta instead (fettuccine is a favorite), which can later be composted.
- Scratch paper: At most meetings, we each bring laptops and take notes on shareable documents that can be edited without printing. Of course, sometimes printing is necessary, and in those instances, we print on tree-free office paper made from sugarcane waste fiber.
- Refill and refresh: With a built-in water filter, our office fridge doubles as a water cooler so we can stay hydrated throughout the day — without using bottled water. From mason jars to Nalgenes, you’ll find a wide range of reusable items on nearly everyone’s desk. In fact, we make it easy for new Southfacers to get in on the act, by welcoming them with a branded travel tumbler on their first day.
Talk Trash: This summer we’re spreading awareness about workplace waste, by inviting everyone to #TalkTrash. Through this initiative, we show you how to organize an office green team, understand where your office trash goes, and much more. When you pledge to #TalkTrash, you take the first step to getting your office out of the dumps!
For more tips on making your office (and planet) a bit greener, click here and take the pledge to #TalkTrash.