Recycling and waste reduction
Use paperless alternatives whenever possible (paystubs, invoicing, orientation materials, etc.). Share and edit documents electronically rather than printing multiple versions. Limit or eliminate mailed, printed reports and publications in favor of emailing electronic versions. Convert to electronic payroll, invoicing, and orientation materials.
Use centralized printers. (No more than 1 per 10 employees.) Eliminate as many personal printers as you can. Use centralized, multi-function printer/copiers instead. Take advantage of mailbox or PIN features to keep confidential documents secure until ready to print.
Set the default on your printers and copiers to double-sided printing. If your equipment doesn’t allow for this, then set up a collection area near the printers for extra or outdated single-sided print jobs. Use the blank side for scratch paper or save up enough to create notepads in-house or through your printing service.
Donate or recycle old electronic devices. Don’t throw away broken or outdated electronics. Set up a collection area and then check Metro’s Find A Recycler for drop-off locations.
Purchase copier/printer paper with at least 30% recycled content. You can usually find the percentage of recycled content in your paper on the end label of each ream, on the box label, and on the receipts from your office supply company.
Compost food scraps. In addition to garbage and recycling, your garbage company can add compost pickup to your service. Find tips for setting up compost and free signs. Note: Unlike residential service, businesses can sign up with any permitted commercial garbage and recycling company for pickup service. Whenever you are considering new service or a change in service, give several companies a call to compare rates.
Use reusable dishware for day-to-day office use. Eliminate paper plates, cups, and plastic utensils from your break room or kitchen. Provide washable, reusable dishware instead. Thrift stores are a great place to purchase affordable, used dishware, silverware, and mugs. Or ask employees to bring in unwanted or spare plates, utensils, and cups from home to stock the break room or kitchen.
Hire caterers with sustainable practices. Ask for reusable dishware, buffet style serving, and minimal packaging. Look for menus that have a lot of vegan and vegetarian options: Choosing no or low meat and dairy items is the best way to decrease the environmental impact of your catering order. Create a list of caterers that know your preferences and consider developing a list of do’s & don’ts for your employees to reference when working with caterers.
Use green-certified cleaning products. Cleaning products impact indoor air quality and aquatic life. When it comes to purchasing green cleaners, these three programs have well-established standards:
If you’re interested in making your own cleaning products, check out this Green Cleaning Guide from Metro.
Janitorial staff use green-certified cleaning products. If your workplace uses a janitorial service, confirm that they are using green-certified products. Another option is to supply your own products and ask your janitorial service to use only those when they clean your office.
Safely store and properly recycle fluorescent light tubes and compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs). Fluorescent lightbulbs have mercury in them, so it’s important to dispose of them safely. They should NOT go into your mixed recycling or your garbage. Mercury is a heavy metal that harms the brain, liver and kidneys and can cause developmental disorders in children. Sending burned-out fluorescent bulbs to the landfill instead of a hazardous waste facility can lead to contaminated air, water and soil, and accumulate in the food chain.
- Careless cleanup of a mercury spill can also put you at risk. Learn how to safely handle mercury. If your facilities manager or lighting contractor doesn’t take care of your burned-out bulbs, check Metro’s Find A Recyclerfor locations where you can either drop them off or see the list of companies that can pick them up.
- Some LED bulbs can contain quite a bit of nickel, which could make them worth recycling. Also, colored LEDs can contain lead and arsenic. You can throw white LED bulbs away, but for other colors, useMetro’s Find A Recycler to determine where you can drop them off for recycling or safe handling. As with any bulb, they should NOT be put in your mixed recycling.
Safely store and properly recycle potentially hazardous products such as paints, solvents, and cleaners. Hazardous wastes include wastes your business or organization may generate every day: spent solvents, toner ink sludge, and heavy metals. Hazardous wastes pose real threats to real people, including cancer, nerve damage, and polluted drinking water.
Metro’s Recycling Information staff can provide details about recycling and disposal options and answer many other questions about hazardous wastes. Call them at 503-234-3000 or visit Metro’s Find A Recycler. Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) provides assistance in determining what is and is not regulated as hazardous waste in Oregon, as well as whether businesses qualify as Conditionally Exempt Generators (CEGs).
Use high-efficiency electric hand dryers instead of paper towels in restrooms. High speed electric hand dryers are the best environmental option for hand drying, above paper towels and standard speed hand dryers. Stuck with paper towels for now? You can still influence change. Encourage your coworkers to watch this 5-minute TED Talk about using one paper towel instead of two (or three, or more).
Drink and serve tap water; don’t use water delivery service or single-serve plastic bottles. You’re already paying for high-quality water to come through your tap each month. Don’t pay for bottled water on top of that by having it trucked in or offering it in single-serve bottles. If there’s any concern about water quality (due to aging pipes, for instance), request a water testing kit from the City to test for lead, copper and iron.
If you decide you want to filter your water, there are a number of local companies that can provide directly plumbed and filtered water dispensers that will enable you to eliminate bottle transportation and waste. There are also an increasing number of affordable filters, for above or below the sink, that you can install.
Install a kitchen faucet aerator with a flow rate of 1.5 gallons per minute or less. Look at the aerator on your current faucet. You should see a number stamped into the outside rim right where the water comes out. (It will be very tiny print!) That number tells you the gallons per minute (gpm) that the water is flowing through the tap. If your aerator says 2.0 gpm or higher, contact the Portland Water Bureau to request free replacement aerators that fit many types of kitchen faucets and can reduce the amount of water you use to 1.5 gallons per minute.
Install restroom faucet aerators with a flow rate of 0.5 gallons per minute. Find the gallons per minute (gpm) number stamped into the outer edge of one of your restroom aerators. If it’s 1.0 gpm or greater, contact the Portland Water Bureau to request a free aerator that will reduce the flow by half or more.
Sign up as to be Green Street Steward and adopted a bioswale in your neighborhood. Bioswales are rain gardens that collect stormwater runoff from streets. When placed by the City along street curbs, they are often referred to as Green Streets. They help keep stormwater and pollutants out of our streams and rivers, provide attractive streetscapes, and improve the health of watersheds. Learn more about Green Street Stewards and sign up.
Use native and drought tolerant landscaping. Landscape with plants that are drought tolerant, native to the Northwest, and are hardy in urban environments.
When replacing toilets, look for WaterSense-approved or 1.28 gallons per flush or less. A WaterSense label is printed on toilets that are independently certified to meet criteria for both performance and efficiency. Replacing an old, inefficient toilet with a WaterSense toilet can reduce water use by 20 to 60 percent. If you’re remodeling soon or simply need to replace an older toilet, check with Portland’s Water Bureau to see if they are offering rebates for toilets or other water-efficient fixtures. Commercial accounts can get up to twenty rebates.
When replacing urinals, look for WaterSense-approved or 0.5 gallons per flush or less. Consider replacing older, inefficient urinals with new, more efficient models. Rebates for may be available through Portland’s Water Bureau.
Make it easy for staff to walk, bike, take transit, or use carshare, carpool, or electric vehicles for work-related trips instead of driving alone. Here are some resources that can help:
- Trimet Transit Trip Planner
- Get There Oregon
- Get advice from the City’s sustainable commute experts
Conduct an annual commute survey as part of promoting low-carbon commuting. Knowing how employees currently commute helps you identify incentives to offer or changes you could make to accommodate bikers, walkers, and transit riders. Create your own survey, find one through a web search, or use the state of Oregon’s survey. Also, check out Oregon’s Guidance on Conducting Employee Commute Surveys.
Offer reimbursement, raffles, or other incentives to employees that bike, walk, or carpool to work.Best Workplaces for Commuters has helpful resources with details on tax benefits for commuters, carpool incentive programs, and more. You might start with their Commuter Benefit Briefs.
For bicycle commuters specifically, the federal government currently offers a tax benefit of up to $20/month. Your accounting and/or HR folks can learn more about the federal tax benefit in the IRS publication 15-b, Employer's Tax Guide to Fringe Benefits; see “Transportation (Commuting) Benefits.”
If you’re looking for smaller first steps to take, consider a gift-card raffle or pizza party (or both) every now and then. A common parameter is to include folks who use alternative transportation for at least 80% of their trips, but you can set any threshold you want. Celebrating staff that leave their cars at home can be rewarding for those making the effort and motivating for others that may simply need a nudge to give it a try.
Provide emergency ride vouchers or taxi reimbursements to employees who commute by foot, bike, transit, or carpool. Sometimes employees are reluctant to take alternative transportation to work because they worry they might need to suddenly leave work for unexpected personal needs (pick up a sick kid from school, accompany a relative to the doctor, etc.). Knowing their workplace has an emergency ride program in place helps alleviate those concerns. Solutions include offering cab reimbursement, bus tickets, and/or rides by coworkers. If your organization participates in one of Trimet’s employee pass programs or subsidizes at least $10/month per employee for alternative transportation, TriMet will supply your organization with cab vouchers. Feedback we’ve gotten from businesses indicates that employees are grateful the policy is in place, and that it rarely gets used.
Display sustainable travel options on your website for visitors. Add this information to your website’s “contact” page. Make sure you’ve listed nearby bus lines, MAX or streetcar stops, electric vehicle charging, and/or bikeways and bike parking near your workplace. Also include these details in emails or event announcements telling people how to get to your business.
Provide a bicycle tire repair kit, air pump, and a spare lock for employees and visitors to borrow. Bikers occasionally forget their bike lock and need a loaner. Have a spare lock or a secure space for them to leave their bike. An air pump and a tire repair kit can be helpful, too. Set up a small sign at your front desk so visitors and staff know it’s available.
Participate in a commute challenge every year. Every year in May, the Street Trust organizes the Bike More Challenge. Anyone at your office can register—either as individuals or as part of an office team. In early October you can join Oregon Get There Challenge. Don’t want to wait? Your office can create its own competition anytime. Compete against last year’s commute rate or compete across departments or office locations. Set out to improve last year’s alternative commute rate or compete across departments or locations. Consider challenging a neighboring business or friendly competitor to see which office commutes the most miles by bike, has the most new riders, rides the most days, etc.
Provide bike parking for visitors. The City of Portland can even provide and install up to two free sidewalk “staple” bike racks, assuming your location meets a few requirements. If you consistently see more than 10 bikes parked in front of your business, you might want to also check with the City about getting a bike corral installed. Bike parking corrals are created by installing multiple bike parking racks in a street parking space at or near your business.
Provide sheltered, secure bike parking for employees. Because employee bike parking is long-term, it should be sheltered from rain and it should be secure – in a locked room, enclosed by a fence, or within view of employees, a building attendant, or security guards.
Offer a transit pass program to all employees. If you have more than 30 employees, consider enrolling in a TriMet Employer Pass Program. If you have just a handful of employees, consider purchasing a transit pass card (or a few) that can be shared among employees for work-related trips.
Set computers, computer monitors, printers, and copiers to automatically go to sleep after 15 minutes of inactivity. Use sleep and/or hibernate commands to make this an automatic office practice. If you’re initiating this action for the first time, see if your IT staff or one or two employees can go around and set this up for everyone at the same time.
Dim or turn off lighting when adequate sunlight is available. If you can’t install automatic or manual dimmers, try to establish workplace habits for turning off lights when they aren’t needed.
Have regular maintenance checks conducted on HVAC and other energy-intensive equipment. Find out if someone is scheduled to check your heating and cooling equipment each season or however often the equipment manual recommends.
When replacing windows, choose double-pane or better. Switching from single-pane to double- or even triple-pane windows will reduce your need for heating and cooling. You’ll reduce UV ray impact and street noise, too.
Weather-seal doors. If you see even a small amount of daylight around the edge of your doors, you’re likely losing energy. Install and replace doorway insulation and door sweeps so that your heating and cooling stays inside.
Use programmable thermostats to automatically reduce heating and air conditioning during closed hours. Occasionally check the settings on your programmable thermostats to make sure they are still set for appropriate on/off times. Check them after power outages, and in spring and fall when daylight savings time changes take effect. If you have a few office rebels overriding the settings on a regular basis, you might be able to minimize this behavior by setting the timer so that heat/air comes on 30 minutes before the first employee arrives. That way, the temperature is comfortable when people start their workday. To offset this extra energy, you should also program the thermostat to revert to your off-peak temperature 30 minutes to an hour before the last person leaves for the day. Most workplaces stay comfortable for that last bit of time before the office closes.
Use occupancy sensors or timers for lighting in storage rooms, offices, restrooms, and other common rooms. Occupancy or motion sensors can be very effective, especially in rooms that are used sporadically. Estimates of savings after installing sensors range from 35-75%, depending on room size, type of lighting, and the use of the space.
For linear lighting, use LED bulbs or T8 or T5 fluorescents with electronic ballasts. When it’s time to replace or upgrade your lighting, check out LED options. The prices continue to fall and the options (bright and warm, dimming, colors, etc.) continue to expand. Track and spot lighting use LED bulbs or CFLs (compact fluorescent lightbulbs). LEDs have improved in both quality and variety, and the price per bulb continues to decline. As with all lighting projects, check Energy Trust of Oregon incentives to see if you can bring your costs down even further.
Replace old emergency EXIT lights with LED versions. Some older buildings still have EXIT lights that use inefficient lighting. Replace them with new EXIT lights using LED bulbs and you’ll save energy 24-hours a day.
Schedule janitorial services during business hours. If your cleaning service works after hours, see if they can switch to cleaning during office hours. This prevents your lights and HVAC from being on for additional hours. It also gives staff an opportunity to get to know the people providing this service and vice-versa.
Set water heaters to 120 degrees. Most water heaters work by holding water at a specific temperature 24 hours a day. Reducing the temperature setting to 120° will save you energy 24 hours a day. If it’s not clear what your water heater is set to, you can run hot tap water over a candy thermometer to get a fairly accurate reading.
Schedule an energy audit through your electric utility or the Energy Trust of Oregon. Your options for improving energy efficiency will depend on whether you lease or own your building, how you use your space, and the age of the building, etc. Lighting and HVAC are obvious places to look at, but each workplace can have additional, unique opportunities.
Upgrade garage or parking lot lighting. If you haven’t updated the lighting in your parking lot or garage in the past 5 years or so, you should see if there are more efficient options available.
Management should support employees making sustainability improvements. Just one sustainability champion can make all the difference in your workplace, but the more employees you have, the more important it is to establish a sustainability group, or 'green team', that includes representatives from different areas of your organization.
Educate employees annually (at a minimum) about sustainability best practices. Everyone can benefit from a refresher about do’s and don’ts now and then. Use a newsletter, a lunch and learn, or make reminders at all-staff meetings. Get in the habit of doing this at least annually. You could also consider a Recycling 101 training every year or so. (Contact us for ideas.)
Communicate sustainability practices to customers. Don’t forget to share your accomplishments with customers and clients. Your organization’s commitment to sustainability can set you apart from your competitors. Share your successes through industry newsletters, social media, advertising, and marketing. This has the added benefit of acknowledging staff effort and achievement. It will help keep the momentum going, and you may encourage other organizations to make their own changes.
Educate new employees about sustainability best practices—including waste reduction, recycling, and commuting options. Don’t forget to provide details and direction for new hires about recycling, alternative commuting options, best practices for efficient printing, etc. Include a sustainability and transportation section in your orientation materials. If you have a small number of employees and take an informal approach to orientation, still consider creating a factsheet with answers to FAQs along with a list of sustainability practices that your office wants new hires to keep in mind.
Create a sustainability plan and/or purchasing policy to guide decision-making. Your plan can be as simple as a list of actions, assignments, and dates, or it can be as complex as a multi-page document that describes your sustainability mission, goals, measurements, and next steps. A plan helps maintain sustainability efforts by keeping everyone informed and prevents lapses due to employee turnover. If you have fewer than 20 employees, you might simply start by establishing a purchasing policy that promotes purchasing recycled content products when possible. You can build from there. Or focus on equipment and energy by directing your organization to purchase only Energy Star-qualified equipment going forward.
Encourage employee feedback, comments, and suggestions related to sustainability actions at work. Employees often see opportunities or have recommendations for greening the office, but they aren’t always sure how to share them. Encourage and capture as many ideas from as many employees as you can. Create an old-school comment box; encourage staff to share ideas with a point person or green team member; or set up a bulletin board so that everyone can post ideas, questions, articles and/or inspiration.
Create a policy to contract with women- and minority-owned businesses. Create and publicize your organization’s commitment to contracting with minority and women-owned businesses (MWBE). Not only can you use this lens when hiring for formal contract work, but you can also apply it to your own internal contracts with janitorial services, caterers, office remodelers, and others. Business Oregon has a search feature to help you identify businesses that have registered and been certified by the State of Oregon.
Provide employees paid time to volunteer in the community. This can take many forms, from individuals choosing and participating in their own volunteer experience, to teams, divisions or your entire staff working on a project together. Not sure where to start? Check out HandsOn Greater Portland’s guide.
Provide paid time for employees to serve in a community leadership role (business association, government advisory committee, etc.).
Donate in-kind services or products to community organizations. Or sponsor local events, clubs, children’s sports teams or activities.
Set up a workplace charitable giving campaign, and match employee donations if possible. This can be a grassroots fundraising effort or a formal program that incorporates automatic payroll deductions and possibly matching funds.
Create a social responsibility mission statement to guide work and share it with the public. Looking for ideas? Conduct a web search on the phrase “social sustainability mission statement.” You’ll find a lot of examples. After you’ve read through several you’ll have a feel for how to draft a statement that reflects the particular values of your own office. Once your business has settled on a statement, share it with employees, and customers.
The content on this page was last updated in 2020. Please let us know if you discover outdated information or broken website links.