How Green is Your Office? Sustainability Tips for Nonprofit Leaders

Sustainability goes hand-in-hand with the mission of any organization aiming to make the world a better place. Indeed, many nonprofits have taken a leadership role in promoting green practices within their operations. If you feel your organization has lagged a bit, don’t fret. Green practices are often simple and relatively inexpensive to adopt.

Consume less energy

When your organization purchases office equipment, choose systems with the Energy Star label. This is a program run by the federal Environmental Protection Agency to designate the most energy-efficient appliances, office equipment and other systems.

Even simpler, have your organization install compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs), which consume 66 percent less energy and last 13 times longer than standard incandescent bulbs. LED lighting is even more energy-efficient and long-lasting, but it may be too expensive for organizations with tight budgets.

Adopt better ways to travel

Your organization can help employees to help save the planet — not to mention avoiding traffic woes — by taking mass transit.

One way to do that is via Transitcheck, a service that first began in large metropolitan areas such as New York and Washington but is now available in cities nationwide. It uses the same principle as a flexible spending account: employees pay commuting costs with pretax dollars, which saves money and creates an incentive for people to use mass transit.

Go a step further and install a bike rack outside your office building to encourage employees to use a form of commuting that’s both environmentally friendly and healthy. Business travel can also be done in a greener fashion. The proliferation of teleconferencing tools has dramatically reduced the need for many face-to-face business meetings. When you must travel, you can purchase carbon offsets through a variety of organizations designed for this purpose. Adding charging stations in your parking lot will encourage workers to invest in electric vehicles.

Share spaces

A recent study by a professor at the University of Michigan found nonprofit groups to be leading the way in the design, construction and/or retrofitting of environmentally friendly buildings. Even more promising, such groups are collaborating on these design projects, enabling multiple nonprofits to share the benefits of one cost-effective office design and even to share resources such as information technology networks. A significant number of such projects make use of buildings designated as historic.

“After years of relatively few known new co-locations, we have seen a surge since the mid-1990s reflected in our sample,” noted Diane Kaplan Vinokur, a professor of social work at the university and the head of the Under One Roof Project, a research initiative on the development processes, management systems, shared services and impacts of multi-tenant nonprofit centers.

Construct green facilities

The U.S. Green Building Council is charged with the voluntary Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. LEED certification entails the implementation of certain green-building practices, many of which are well within the budgetary reach of nonprofit organizations. For instance, it costs little to add three-stream recycling (separating paper, metal and plastic for reuse) during the construction of a new building.

Other popular green-building practices:

  • Occupancy sensors working in tandem with overhead lighting.
  • Windows that open and close.
  • Paint, carpets, adhesives and sealants with low levels of volatile organic compounds.
  • Furnishings, flooring and ceilings made with recycled materials.

Perhaps the most cost-intensive investment would be the installation of a high-efficiency heating, ventilating and air-conditioning system. Such a system, however, will probably yield a significant energy cost savings over time.

Get smart about waste

The EPA runs a free service called WasteWise to help managers get a better handle on just how much the operations waste. Even better, WasteWise will produce a report outlining ways your organization can reduce your office’s environmental waste. Then, WasteWise will help you track how well you’re doing at waste reduction.


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