Small Steps to a Greener Office

Going green is a big trend in construction, and recently it’s been catching on within the healthcare arena as well. Companies like Ventas, Inc. (one of the largest owners of healthcare-related properties) and Kaiser Permanente have committed to sustainability by constructing buildings that meet the LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) standards of the U.S. Green Building Council. This is great news when you consider the fact that medical buildings use more than twice the energy of the average office tower.

But is it possible to practice sustainability within your own office when building a new facility isn’t in the plans? The short answer is yes! Here are some ideas for small steps you can take to “go green.”

Choose environmentally friendly building materials if it’s time for an update. Replace carpet with less toxic materials such as cork, hardwood, or linoleum. Use low-VOC (volatile organic compound) paint on the walls. And select solid wood furniture rather than those made from particleboard or plywood, which may emit formaldehyde. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, some of the negative health effects from ongoing exposure to formaldehyde include “eye, nose, and throat irritation; wheezing and coughing; fatigue; skin rash; severe allergic reactions.” And it may also cause cancer in humans and animals.

Conserve energy. Adjust the thermostat accordingly whenever the office is closed (turn it down during the colder months and up during the warmer months). When the office is open, set the air conditioner a couple of degrees higher and the furnace a couple of degrees lower. Turn off all the lights and electronics when not in use, and purchase energy-efficient light bulbs and equipment whenever possible.

Cut down on paper usage. Set the printer to double-sided printing. Reuse any sheets of paper that are printed only on one side. (But first, check to be sure that no confidential information is printed on the other side!)

Reduce waste and commit to the safe disposal of supplies. Use reusable products instead of disposable ones whenever possible. Pharmaceutical drugs and toxic products, such as cleaning supplies and items that contain mercury, can’t be tossed in the trash or washed down the drain. So you must discuss with the products’ manufacturers the proper way to dispose of these items and ask about sending any unused medications back to them.

Consider your water usage and how to green up your landscaping. It can be as simple as fixing any leaky faucets in the office, and installing water filters so your employees and patients can drink tap water instead of bottled water. Outside the building, check the timing and settings for your sprinkler system, include drought-resistant plants in the landscaping, and use less toxic fertilizers and pesticides.

Institute a recycling program. Paper, plastic, glass, and aluminum can all be recycled. Place labeled bins in the waiting room, front office, and exam rooms to collect these items. But be sure to set aside any products that require special recycling processes, such as ink cartridges, batteries, light bulbs, and electronics.

Look for areas where you can make small changes and set achievable goals for your staff. If you take on too much at once or set goals that are too lofty, you’ll only be setting yourself up for failure.

Instead, encourage your staff to make a commitment to sustainability. Then go green in whatever ways you can. Whether you work to save energy, reduce waste, or recycle, over time those tiny tweaks will add up to make a big positive impact on the health of our environment, which benefits everyone.


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