How to create a zero-waste office

Reducing waste can help create a more resilient and innovative business model

Creating a zero-waste office is an ambitious yet increasingly attainable goal for businesses committed to sustainability.

This addresses the need for companies to become more environmentally conscious, but also creates lots of operational efficiencies and cost savings in the long term.

To help businesses adopt a circular-economy mindset, here is a five-step strategy to help become a zero-waste office.

Read more: How can businesses become more sustainable?

Step 1: Start with a waste audit

The first part of any zero-waste office plan is creating a comprehensive waste audit to pinpoint where and how waste is generated in your office. This might reveal a high volume of single-use paper waste, for example. In this case, one solution could be switching to mostly digital documents.

Then look at other office elements that might create waste in the future. Ensuring materials such as electronics and furniture are either refurbished and reused or responsibly recycled is important. Search for take-back programmes for products at the end of their life cycle.

Step 2: Implement sustainable procurement policies

Choosing suppliers with minimal environmental impact is another key element to become a zero-waste office. Start by choosing suppliers who actively participate in environmental sustainability programmes.

Read more: We must make business more sustainable

Carefully select products and services that have the least environmental impact throughout their lifecycle: from production and delivery to use and eventual disposal. It's about making purchasing decisions that reduce waste and encourage the use of renewable resources.

Step 3: Foster a culture of sustainability

A zero-waste office thrives on the collective effort of its workforce. Cultivating a culture where employees are trained on green practices and conscious of their environmental impact is essential.

One way to achieve this is by designating sustainability advocates who will train people, lead recycling initiatives and constantly come up with new ideas to reduce the office’s carbon footprint. Planting a tree for every new employee or introducing a composting option for food waste are just a few ideas some companies have implemented.

Step 4: Leverage technology for efficiency

In the digital age, technology offers myriad ways to reduce waste. From cloud-based document management systems to energy management sensors, the right technological tools can lead to significant reductions in both waste and energy consumption.

Assess your current use of technology and identify areas for improvement. Opt for smart thermostats and lighting systems that adjust based on occupancy and reduce unnecessary energy use. Even small changes, like setting computers to sleep mode after a period of inactivity, can contribute to energy savings.

Step 5: Measure, report, and improve

Sustainability is a continuous journey that benefits from regular evaluation and adaptation. Set benchmarks and track the progress. This will enable you to identify the areas that need further attention but also to celebrate the successes and how far you’ve come.

Read more: How HR can drive sustainability

Establish clear, achievable goals for waste reduction and develop metrics for tracking these objectives. This could include monthly waste audits to measure the amount of rubbish diverted from landfills through recycling and composting programmes. Regularly report these findings to all stakeholders to maintain transparency, celebrate milestones, and motivate ongoing participation. Use this data to refine strategies and set new targets, ensuring the office continues to move towards its zero-waste goal.

Achieving a zero-waste office is a complex and multi-layered endeavour, but the effort is definitely worth it. It requires a shift in the team and company’s mindset and strategic planning, but most importantly collective action.

By applying the practices described above, depending on the office and the team, businesses can significantly reduce their environmental footprint and even achieve zero-waste accreditation. This journey contributes to a healthier planet but also promotes a more resilient and innovative business model.

By Graham Matthews, sustainability writer at Business Waste