Greening Our Workplace

Thomas O'Neill III, Peoria County Board

In 2010, the Peoria County Board set about developing and implementing an internal sustainability plan as a goal for the organization. As a result, a sustainability committee was formed under the leadership of our Recycling and Resource Conservation Department that includes employees from various county departments as well as community representatives from local environmental groups. To date, specific elements, goals and objectives have been identified to help us integrate additional sustainable practices, stewardship and resource conservation into our operations and services. Elements of the plan include facilities, operations, land use, purchasing, human resources and solid waste.

While the county's sustainability plan is being customized to address conservation initiatives and needs within our own organization, certain aspects of the plan are universal in their benefits, such as reducing energy consumption, encouraging sustainable workplace habits and eliminating waste. To effectively achieve these objectives, re-evaluating current procedures—and implementing new ones—may help set the foundation for a more sustainable work environment for any organization.

Reducing energy consumption requires moderation of electrical usage. Examples include investing in electronics with high Energy Star ratings. These frugal machines are able to switch to power-save or sleep modes sooner than their less efficient counterparts. Computers may be programmed to automatically shut down in the evening or after extended periods of inactivity. Installing motion detectors in oft-unoccupied rooms like conference rooms, closets or bathrooms will eliminate unnecessary lighting, and using Energy Star bulbs will consume one-third less energy over unrated bulbs. And certainly, updating an HVAC system would realize the highest return on investment with the greatest energy savings over the long term. If this is not possible, however, replacement of filters and programmable thermostats will also help maximize energy savings.

Encouraging employees to implement sustainable habits at the office and eliminating waste are objectives that go hand in hand. Reduce, reuse and recycle is a practice that can be readily adopted in work environments by reminding employees to reduce paper waste by increasing electronic correspondence, replacing paper or Styrofoam cups with reusable coffee mugs or water bottles, and recycling everything from cardboard to plastic. A great way to encourage sustainable habits is to offer single-stream recycling that enables employees to recycle paper, cardboard, plastic and metal in one convenient location. Increasing the amount of recycled materials decreases the amount of waste being produced, leading to fewer landfills, a healthier environment and a sustainable future.

Greening the workplace can begin as a "top-down" approach with the employer investing in more efficient HVAC, lighting and electronic systems, or it can build from the ground up, with engaged employees who are dedicated to eliminating waste. Ultimately, a combination of the two—employer buy-in and employee participation—will achieve the greatest energy savings, resulting in a cleaner, more sustainable environment for all. iBi  

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