Firms must see the light and go green

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 June, 2010, 12:00am

While offices may seem far away from the frontlines of environmental protection, the people who work in them are being urged to do more to ease the pressure on the earth's natural resources.

Measures include recycling paper, cutting down on water waste and buying products that are not harmful to the environment.

More companies are under pressure from customers, shareholders and staff to carry out environmental audits of their operations.

According to international office search company Instant Offices, businesses are becoming aware of the benefits of going green, but there is often more that can be done.

After an environmental audit by an independent agency, the company implemented a range of measures that helped the environment and improve its bottom line by saving on costs such as energy and photocopying paper.

It found that neon-strip lighting saves a quarter of the energy that normal incandescent bulbs use. 'Compact bulbs that are often talked about for the home are small versions of these neon strips. Make as much use of natural light as possible and ensure that lights are switched off when not in use, regardless of the time period, especially in meeting rooms, toilets, server rooms and areas where people spend little time - corridors, for example,' says the firm's spokesman.

In Hong Kong, building service engineers have developed lighting systems with sensors that dim when nobody is in the area, thus saving energy.

Instant Offices has also advised staff to switch off computer monitors when having breaks, particularly during meetings and lunch, and for the computers to be turned off overnight. 'Hurting the hardware by powering up machines is an urban myth,' the company says. 'Laptops consume less power as they are designed for battery use.'

When it comes to printing out documents that can be readily viewed on computer screens, the company argues that, 'the objective for many companies should not be to minimise the quantity of pages printed, but to never print at all. Buy vegetable inks for non-laser printers and buy paper from renewable forests or recycled paper'.

'In general, try not to buy anything new - every single item has a carbon footprint - and it's better to use a product to the end of its life cycle rather than replace it halfway through with a more efficient model. If you must buy something, try to buy second hand: the carbon footprint has already been made. Reuse before recycling, as even recycling has a carbon footprint.' More should be done to investigate what recycling initiatives can be undertaken and what more can be done through external companies that recycle paper and other items. 'Try reusing scrap paper for note taking and take local bins away from desks to force people to the centre of the office to recycle.'

Paper towels made from renewable forests or, better still, recycled paper are preferable as they are far better than air dryers, which consume more energy and are prone to breaking down.

Fair-trade coffee, tea and sugar are also getting more popular with Instant Office staff. Such commodities may have to travel a long way, but they are often organic and come from independent farmers who cannot afford pesticides and fertilisers. Staff are also encouraged to use their own glasses or cups for beverages instead of throwaway containers.

More Hong Kong firms are joining initiatives such as Earth Hour, during which lights are switched off or dimmed to raise awareness of resources being used up with excessive lighting.