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How to make an existing building greener

You don’t need to build a new office building to become green. In fact, building a new building is quite counterintuitive to the basic premises and mantra of being green: “Reuse, Reduce, Recycle.”

For building owners the following list includes suggestions that require a time investment and perhaps a modest upfront cost but will help your company become more environmental friendly and, in some cases, put money back in your pocket. You can start with the simple things at the top of the list and work your way down. No matter how simple the task, however, it quickly can fall apart if you don’t engage every member of the office staff, from the top all the way down, and make them part of the environmental plan.

By sponsoring “green” activities outside the office and encouraging employees to develop their own green ideas, you also can build teamwork and communication that will translate into other aspects of your business.

Recycling is perhaps one of the simplest ways you can contribute to a cleaner environment. In order for this program to be successful, however, it must be convenient for all employees. Issue desk-side paper-recycling bins as well as centralized recycle containers. Make sure that items that can be recycled actually are recycled – office paper and cardboard, plastic, glass and many other items are recyclable in addition to batteries and computer equipment. Items that are wet — such as paper towels in the restroom or your lunch waste — are not recyclable and should be thrown away.

According to Tracy Skenandore of Republic Services, “We can provide a free waste stream audit of your business and provide educational handouts and signage for employees or tenants that will help with implementing a recycling program. In most business cases, recycling can be a cost-effective and affordable option.”

Printer Ink cartridges are expensive but you can save money by recycling your old printer ink and toner cartridges and not contribute to landfill waste. Local office supply stores offer discount credits when you turn in your used printer cartridges for recycling, and if the cartridge can be refilled they will do it for nearly half the price of a new one.

Go Paperless. Recycling is great, but in reality the mass of paper and waste that many companies accumulate on a daily basis is unnecessary. Make a stand and use your company as an example of how green business can be done. Take advantage of the small opportunities to go green – use email rather than the Post Office and save files electronically rather than printing them. If you must print, then print double-sided.

Office cleaning operations have a huge impact on the environment. In the United States, 6 billion pounds of cleaning chemicals are consumed annually along with 4½ billion pounds of paper, 35 billion plastic trash can liners and millions of pounds of discarded janitorial supplies and equipment. Consider using green chemicals that contain fewer toxins and lower volatile organic compounds, as well as cleaning techniques that save money and waste for janitorial products. The next time you are buying cleaning products or equipment, consider how long the product can be used and the type of container it comes in, and consider using recyclable microfiber cloths instead of paper towels. In addition, by using entryway mats you can keep 80 to 90 percent of dirt out of the building, increase the lifespan of flooring and save on cleaning costs.

Indoor air quality can affect employee productivity and your energy bill. Have maintenance personnel keep a log and regularly check air vents to clear them of debris such as papers and dust buildup at the same time they replace the air filters to ensure good indoor air quality. According to ENERGY STAR, it takes as much as 25 percent more energy to pump air into spaces if vents are blocked. Whether you have adopted a green cleaning system or not, you also will want to restrict the use of air purifiers, chemical air fresheners and candles, as they add chemical pollutants and ozone into the air. Some offices also ask employees to minimize the personal use of colognes and perfumes as they might be irritating to some individuals

Conserving electricity is another way to lighten your environmental footprint as well as save money. “Lighting,” according to Jennifer Turchin, of Coda Architecture, “accounts for over 40 percent of a typical office building’s electricity use in our Southern Nevada climate zone, and addressing lighting efficiency can have a huge impact on energy efficiency and a business’ bottom line. LED lighting typically can save 30 percent or better compared to fluorescent lighting and lasts years longer — saving additional money on maintenance costs.” In addition to changing bulbs, easy-to-install motion sensors are available at your local hardware store. These sensors automatically turn lights on when you enter a room and then off when a room is not in use.

“In addition,” said Turchin, “a typical desktop computer with monitor uses 200 watts per day and, while this might not seem like a lot, if computers are left on overnight, even in sleep mode which uses half the power, this could add approximately $30 per computer to your power bill annually. If you have lots of computers, this can really add up and is just one example of a plug load that can be reduced through education of your employees.”

“Solar heat gain is a huge issue in our solar heavy climate,” said Turchin. “One of the best ways to deal with this in buildings is with a white or light colored roof. This will ensure that solar heat is reflected away from the building instead of being absorbed into it. White roofs can reduce summer energy use anywhere from 10 to 40 percent, depending on the surface you are replacing.”

Energy loss through office windows can account for 10 to 20 percent of a building’s heating and cooling costs. Check the caulking around windows to make sure there is a good seal and consider window treatments such as shades with good R-Value and solar heat gain coefficient factors that can reduce your heating and cooling costs.

Craig Ruark is a Las Vegas writer and author of the book “Marketing Your Green Side: A Practical Guide to Greening and Marketing Your Business.” Reach him at craig.ruark@gmail.com.

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