Offices are not always the most environmentally friendly of places. Even those companies with serious green credentials have a hefty carbon footprint as a result of the huge amount of energy necessary to run the average office. From lighting and air conditioning to computers and photocopiers, most of the equipment essential to the modern office seems to run on electricity, meaning that the business sector puts a huge strain on the national grid, as well as costing companies large sums of money in fuel bills.
The move towards a virtual office would see employees working remotely; reducing the industry’s massive energy consumption. Indeed, a number of internationally successful businesses have already seized on the financial and ecological benefits of the virtual office, and are looking to develop their businesses by increasing the size of their workforce and output, without taking on more office space.
The average office generates an enormous amount of paper. With so many hard copies of lengthy reports and budget plans as well as the constant stream of post-its and memos, you might think that the business sector is almost single-handedly responsible for deforestation! While this is something of an exaggeration, it’s true that the physical office is not very economical with paper. Although most workplaces are now strongly encouraging employees to recycle paper from printing and photocopying, it would surely be better for the environment if less was used in the first place. Many companies are already working to reduce the amount of paper generated by their employees and by their clients; e-mail signatures reminding of the environmental implications of printing are common, and are designed to make recipients think twice before wasting paper and ink on unnecessary printing. This is certainly a positive step, but the office of the future could see printing almost completely eliminated. After all, with tablets and e-readers, it’s no longer necessary to print out documents as these can be read can be read on screen, wherever employees are in the world.
Many employees commute to and from work every day, often enduring long journeys in cars or trains. While using public transport helps to improve the office worker’s green credentials, the virtual office would do away with the need to make the journey to work every day, seriously improving the average commuter’s carbon footprint.
However, it’s not only day-to-day commuting which makes working in the business sector so bad for the environment. Many business employees regularly make international trips for meetings and conferences. With telephone and video-conferencing increasingly replacing face-to-face meetings, those working in the business sector are now travelling less. Making the modern office a purely virtual concept would almost eliminate the need for international travel, with very positive implications for the environment.
The European Environment Agency has recently put together a hand out for businesses, advising management teams and employees on good practices for reducing the negative environmental impact of the office. While the EEA’s document offers sound guidance on reducing energy consumption and paper wastage, advising employees to opt for double-sided printing and to turn off lights and electrical appliances when not needed, surely backing remote working would be the best way to make the business sector more environmentally friendly in the future.
This article was written exclusively for Reduce Footprints by Alexa Garthwaite, Business Development Manager at Executive Offices London.