Small things can make a big difference. Consider your humble cup of coffee, the world's second-most valuable legal commodity after oil, with environmental and social impacts to match. Stir up some positive change by asking your barista and/or office manager to switch to organic and Fair Trade-labelled brands. Then do your bit to reduce the energy and waste involved in producing, transporting and disposing of more than 1.9 million tons of paper and plastic cups and plates thrown away each year: use your own mug. You need to wash it, sure, but life cycle analysis shows that over its life of about 3,000 uses a mug is associated with 30 times less solid waste and 60 times less air pollution than the equivalent drinks in disposable paper or foam cups.
2. Pens and pencils
Make a better impression in your written work by using long-life refillable pens made from recycled plastic, paper or timber, or from fully biodegradable bioplastic (derived from corn starch). Also look for pencils manufactured from sustainably harvested timber or wood substitutes such as recycled paper, old plastic cups, wood offcuts and reclaimed denim.
3. Food for thought
Buying your lunch is arguably more water- and energy-efficient than making it yourself – particularly if it involves heating – but a home-packed lunch is undoubtedly cheaper and produces less solid waste than take-out food. Rather than buying plastic containers, reuse takeout containers before throwing them into the recycling bin. Reuse bread wrappers and other plastic packaging rather than buying plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Keep reusable spoons, forks and chopsticks in your drawer so you don't need the disposable kind.
4. Plant life
Indoor plants can play a crucial role in your local work environment. A plant on your desk is not only nice to look at but also acts as a natural air filter, absorbing airborne pollutants and computer radiation while replenishing oxygen levels. It's also an air cooler, through the evaporative process known as transpiration. Indoor plants help protect you from the germs of your colleagues, with research showing they significantly reduce the incidence of fatigue, coughs, sore throats and other cold-related illnesses. Plus they have a measurable effect in reducing stress levels, so it doesn't hurt to have one close by for when you get stuck on hold while on the phone.
5. Shut down
The idea that leaving a machine on is more efficient than turning it off has become something of an urban, and deeply uneconomic, myth. Left on all day, every day, as happens in some offices, a computer will over a year use nearly 1,000 kilowatts of electricity, resulting in more than a ton of carbon emissions and an unnecessarily high electricity bill. By switching off your computer before you go home you'll cut its electricity use to less than 250 kilowatts, with comparable carbon and cost savings. Think about turning it off even when you're going to a meeting or lunch. Do the same with other office equipment.
Find out where to get eco-friendly school and office supplies.
Excerpted from True Green at Work by Kim McKay and Jenny Bonnin with Tim Wallace Copyright © 2008 by True Green (Global) Pty Ltd. Excerpted by permission of National Geographic, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.