Regardless of your enthusiasm for sustainability, if you are a small business owner in rented offices, you rarely have any say in how your building is designed or re-fitted to help reduce carbon emissions. However, there are ways to achieve environmental savings in your day-to-day operations that reduce energy costs - and increase the well-being of your team. Letting customers know about your initiatives on waste is great for your reputation too.

Here are some small habits to put in place now, and ideas to build into your future plans, that will add up to big savings:


1. Equipment health-check

Use office machines with energy-star ratings, stand-by functions and for graphics, select those that will print on pre-used paper without fuss. When upgrading equipment, ask suppliers to ‘audit’ your operations for the best environmental outcome. Centralising multi-functional devices – printers that also scan, fax, collate, bind and more – saves on machinery duplication, office space and power consumption. Meanwhile, switch off monitors, computers and other machines when they are not being used, especially overnight and at weekends.


2. Desktop savings

Flat-screen monitors use one-third of the energy of traditional monitors and laptops use even less. “Screen savers” don’t reduce electricity use. Instead, enable “power down” settings or switch screens off manually if you are planning on being away from your desk for a long time. Ask suppliers about power consumption levels and circulate the details to make your team aware too.


3. Check on your suppliers

Your supply chain conceals many hidden environmental impacts. Assessing suppliers’ practices is as important as turning the spotlight on your own. Try to make sure all purchases are necessary in the first place. Are quantities of your regular orders being wasted? You should also seek out suppliers who use minimal, recycled packaging materials. Find out their policies on packaging, manufacturing and transport. What responsibility do they take for special disposal requirements, such as e-waste? Make your environmental objectives clear and screen new suppliers for sustainable practices or accreditation.


4. Reduce, re-use, then recycle paper

The paperless office never happened after all, but much can be done to ease paper waste. Set printer and copier defaults to double-sided printing if possible or, at least, encourage this option. Provide one paper collection tray for around every six staff, which is designated for re-use in photocopiers (by designated tray), notes and in-house drafts. Use the ‘properties’ function to print long documents at two pages per sheet to cut paper consumption by 50%. Cut and paste only relevant extracts from reports or memos when circulating information. Set aside a place for reusable envelopes and encourage people to use them.


5. More ways to reduce paper

Maintain efficient databases for your promotional materials by regularly updating lists and deleting duplicates. Offer electronic documents where possible and request the same in annual reports, catalogues and newsletters from suppliers. Encourage your staff to remove themselves from unwanted mailing lists. Share newspapers and publications and keep useful industry periodicals centrally filed for reference.


6. Lighting

Lessees are particularly restricted in taking initiatives with basic office needs like lighting and room temperature, but you may be able to take some actions. Turns lights off when not in use or install movement-sensors in bathrooms and meeting rooms and daylight-sensor lighting elsewhere. Energy-efficient bulbs cost more but reduce ‘hum’, flicker and carbon emissions. They also last far longer, saving inconvenience and money in the long term. Where possible, place workstations near natural light to reduce the need for task lighting and keep your team feeling happier.


7. Control your climate

Depending on your building, managing the office air conditioning is likely to be outside your control. However, you should at least insist on regular servicing of the heating, ventilation and cooling systems for maximum efficiency, better staff health and lower running costs. If you can control temperature settings, a very small decrease in winter and an increase in summer will pay off enormously in energy savings without a discernable difference in comfort.


8. Housekeeping

Waste, power and water savings are easily made in your busy office kitchen. Separate container and food waste if local rubbish collections allow for it. Run the dishwasher only on the ‘economy’ setting. Vending machines should be able to dispense into mugs and not just plastic cups. Lower the hot water temperature setting and use flow-restrictors to save water.


9. Report results

Communicating your sustainability goals and their progress is great public relations and may give you a competitive edge in your industry or region.