Posted on November 6, 2012

Green business ideas from the Workplace DepotIn 2012 the Workplace Depot decided to become a more environmentally aware organisation and set a good example for staff and customers. Having implemented a number of ideas we applied for and won a Green Apple Award in recognition or our environmental efforts. A number of companies have asked us what things we did to win our green business credentials, so here is an outline of most of what we did.

Reduction in paper use

The Workplace Depot produces a 500+ page workplace supplies catalogue which we distribute to all our customers and network of distributors. The number of catalogues we send out runs into many thousands but our next edition will use a smaller paper size and require less paper. As part of this strategy to reduce our dependence on catalogues, the Workplace Depot made a big investment in a new website and online videos as well as encouraging customers to order through the web. This in itself also reduces the amount of paper that needs to be sent out – customers receive an online order confirmation. We have also tried to reduce the amount of letters and invoices that need to be sent out by snail mail, using email and PDF invoices where possible.

Friends of the Earth paperAlthough it may sound like a small matter, many of the printers used at the Workplace Depot couldn’t print double-sided, so we decided to replace some of them. This wasn’t a difficult decision as they were quite old and were coming to the end of their useful lives. If there is paper that has only been used on one side they we will re-use it where possible and when both sides have been used we recycle it. As a workplace supplies company we just happened to be able to source some lovely, colour-coded recycling bins!

We also had a massive clear out of paper – many years worth in fact, and we produced a small mountain for recycling (see below). Although we held on to some paper folders and files we are not going to buy more of these in future.

For a thorough assessment of the value of recycling paper, visit the excellent briefing document on the subject from Friends of the Earth.

Reduction in energy consumption

The new printers used far less energy – one of them used around 80% less that the older one. Our server was getting quite old so we decided to replace it with an energy efficient version. If it hadn’t been for the fact that it had already several years service, then we probably wouldn’t have replaced it as the capital cost would be quite high. We also use some cloud storage for saving data and for back-up – in most cases cloud storage can be a good environmental solution for many companies. It is a generally a more efficient way to store data in one central resource running at a high capacity rather than data being kept on lots of individual company machines which might only run at 5 or 10% capacity.

Energy Saving Trust - information for green businessWe also had a look at reducing the air conditioning usage and used a very old fashioned technique for cooling the office, namely opening the windows! This is not an option in many office buildings but we found that there were very few hot days this summer when we needed to close the windows and put on the air conditioning. Our facilities manager (who pays the bills) noticed a reduction in the electricity bill compared with the previous year.

To find out more about reducing energy consumption, please visit the Energy Saving Trust website.

Green Energy

We assumed that switching to a green energy provider would be a lot of hassle and certainly cost more money . Neither of these were actually the case. A broker found us the cheapest provider of electricity from renewable resources and we estimate that this will save as much as £1,000 per year.

Recycling, Reusing and Upcycling

The Workplace Depot sends out thousands of products from the warehouse at head office, so we try and reuse paper for packaging. The shredded paper also gets used as a packaging material. All the packing on incoming goods (cardboard boxes, bubble wrap, polystyrene chips) gets used again when the goods are dispatched. There have also been several items of office furniture that rather than being thrown in a skip have been reused by staff – a well used office desk and some old shelving have now found their way into someone’s shed for example. The recyclenow website has some excellent suggestions for other ways to recycle.

There are a small but growing number of examples of items that we sell being made from recycled materials. Kerb ramps are now being made from recycled rubber as are some of the speed ramps, cable covers and outdoor heavy duty cable protectors.

Lift share information for a green businessTransport

The Workplace Depot is not a big company but we have encourage staff to use public transport where possible and to car share. We had a look on the car-share website – www.liftshare.com but unfortunately there were no car shares available to and from our location. The company is able to provide some flexibility over start and finish times – for example one member of staff catches the bus from Newark and because the bus service is so poor, he is allowed to start work half an hour later and make up the time. There is a pool car – a Toyota Prius – which is a hybrid and has some of the most impressive environmental statistics on the market.

Project summary

It is quite difficult to give precise figure on how much the green business project has cost the Workplace Depot because some of the high spend items were equipment that was to coming to the end of its usable life (eg printer, server). Also we have not gone through a full year cycle but there have already been noticeable drops in electric bills through more energy efficient PC, printers and server plus the reduction in air conditioning usage. Similarly with Paper reduction – actually the longer term reduction in printed publications (our catalogues 50% reduction and the almost 100% reduction in advertising fliers in favour of digital) has saved £1000s. The cost of ‘greening’ the Workplace Depot has not been an issue at all – and there are clearly cost savings in a number of areas. One of the biggest surprises was that the green energy supply will save us money when we had actually been expecting to sign up to something that would cost more than it currently did – this may not apply to other businesses but it is certainly worth a phone call.

Climate change and why we need more green businessesThe Workplace Depot is a good example for other companies in the sector and we have certainly encouraged many of our suppliers and customers to do similar things. For example, we have blogged and posted articles on our website about some of the green initiatives that we have undertaken and had plenty of positive client feedback. Many people seem to think that carrying out a business ‘green’ project will carry a high cost, but if you factor in replacing old equipment with new and the energy and resources savings then the costs are not terribly high. It also helps to promote the business as customers tend to be impressed that you are taking these steps and generally agree with the outcomes.

There are some interesting things that we have learned from the project the key one being staff involvement. With all the publicity on climate change most people where aware of the implications and had seen plenty of evidence in the media and especially on the BBC (see a brief history). People are prepared to make changes if they have been persuaded of the benefits – particular reduction in paper use. It was hard to prise some people away from the fax machine but once they get used to emails and sending out bulk emails they quickly ‘convert’! Also there was a bit of reluctance regarding car-sharing and using public transport but the management team were prepared to show flexibility in terms of starting and leaving times and this helped massively (not to mention the saving in petrol!)

As a green business we certainly hope to further reduce the amount of printed bulky catalogues that we send out. As well as heavily investing in our website we also plan to improve our email software package so that we can better electronically communicate with our customers. So far we have made about 400 product videos but we want to increase this to 1200 which will all be available online – hence reducing postage and printing costs.

The Government’s Green Deal

This is the Government’s initiative to help households and businesses to become more energy efficient without needing to meet any upfront costs. The programme is backed with a new finance mechanism designed around the needs of people and business – details here

We hope the information in this article has been helpful for other businesses. If you have more suggestions or would like to find out anything else about this project, please do not hesitate to contact us.