Considering Sustainability as We Return to Work
For those of us returning to our offices, the workplace we step back into will look different from the one we left.
Desks will be farther apart. Hand sanitizer dispensers will be as ubiquitous as light switches. And floor signage and tape lines will physically define boundaries within even the most open of office plans.
It will be different in another way that may not be so apparent: It won’t be as green as it was before the pandemic. Nearly all of the changes we’ll encounter are being made to keep us safe, which is obviously important. At the same time, what’s helping keep us healthy could have the opposite effect on the environment.
For instance, coffee shops are no longer accepting reusable containers and restaurants are relying on disposable menus, plates, and plastic utensils. Even if you opt for takeout or delivery, your meal will likely be packed in a Styrofoam container that makes its way to you in a plastic bag. The result is a lot more waste.
One word: Plastics
All of that waste is being dramatically compounded by a growing reliance on single-use plastic for so many other items, such as bottled water, bags, and packaging. Trying to stem that rising tide with recycling is also becoming more difficult as material-recovery facilities (MRFs) have slowed or halted their operation while they struggle with keeping workers safely apart along recyclable sorting conveyor belts.
We can still make a difference.
Here’s the good news: As we all head back to work, we can bring sustainability with us. Here are a few simple things each of us can do to flatten the Plastic Curve.
Wear a mask. Wash a mask. Consider wearing a mask made of washable fabric in the office. It’s one way to protect your co-workers. Plus, you can launder it after two to three uses, instead of disposing of it.
Commute cleaner. Employers are incentivizing their employees to drive to work rather than use public transportation. However, a healthy compromise could involve employers also providing incentives for walking or biking to work, both of which limit social contact and greenhouse gasses.
Use, clean, repeat. Consider bringing your lunch and snacks with you in a reusable container. It can be safely cleaned with soap and hot water, ideally in your dishwasher. There are also reusable solutions for food, cleaning, and personal care items to help cut down on plastic use at home. TerraCycle’s Loop program delivers products in durable containers that you ship back for cleaning and reuse once the product is gone.
A number of companies are releasing touchless water dispensers, which will provide a safe way to use a reusable cup or beverage tumbler at work and avoid cracking open and disposing of a bottle or can.
Starting July 13, existing and new Bevi machines will enable you to use your smartphone to dispense beverages so you never have to touch the machine. We think that’s a great way to stay hydrated, stay safe, and contribute to sustainability at work.
We know a lot of businesses and people were committed to creating sustainability at work before the pandemic came along. We believe that how you stay healthy and how you head back to work are your choices to make. And while things will certainly look and feel different when we walk back through the door, many of those differences can create new opportunities for sustainability. We’re committed to finding them, and sharing them with all of you.
If you’d like to learn more about sustainability, we’ve put together a number of good reads on the subject.