Telling the truth about SME life today

Learn how to work ethically

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email

It’s now easier than ever to source eco-friendly equipment and services for your business – everything from teabags to an internet connection – and by reducing your expenses on these items, you’ll be freeing up more funds that you can plough back into the business or other causes you support.

To identify areas for potential improvement in your workplace, you’ll first need to review current practice and procurement.

Begin by focusing on the following key areas: • office supplies and equipment • utilities – particularly electricity and water• waste and recycling

At this early stage, concentrate on the main purchases which you make on a regular basis. Under the utilities heading, you will need to examine not only the provider of the service, but also how you use that service, as the aim will be to find ways to minimise consumption.

Under the above headings, make a list of current business practice. Involve everyone in the business to get their perspective and experience, and list everything you can think of. Don’t dismiss anything as too small a change to make at this stage or ‘not worth it’– at least look into it first! For example, under the ‘office supplies and equipment’ heading, you might write:

Paper: It’s approved by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) but not recycled.Printers: Always left on at night.Drinking cups: We go through hundreds of plastic cups a week, and have no way to recycle them at the moment.

As you and your colleagues start to work through this review, ask yourselves some key questions about what you do and how you do it, and then suggest action points. For example:

How can we reduce electricity consumption” Action point: make sure that staff turn off equipment at the end of the day. The last person out of the office should check that printers, monitors and lights have not been left on.

How can we get the maximum use out of products” Action point: make sure that paper is printed on both sides before we recycle it.

How can we increase the longevity of products we purchase Action point: we should buy recycled batteries.

How can we reuse some of the waste we create Action point: we could shred paper that is about to be recycled and use it for packaging. Or make notepads from sheets that have only been used on one side.

Businesses in the UK use around 5 million tonnes of printing paper every year, with the average office worker using one tree of paper per year. If you keep the mantra of ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ in your head, you’ll find it easy to think of ways to cut down the amount of office supplies you buy. Here are just a few ideas based on the above:

Print and paper

Contrary to the dream of the ‘paperless office’, paper usage is continuing to grow in UK companies. The easiest way to work out whether your business is unnecessarily printing documents is, of course, to look in the nearest waste paper bin! When you need to print a document, look at the settings for ‘margins’ and ‘page setup’ on your computer so that you can get as much text on the page as possible and reduce the number of pages you’ll need to print. If everyone in the company does this, you’ll soon begin to see a big difference.

If you need to distribute information to your team, you could e-mail to them or, better still, put it on your intranet site. If that option isn’t available, simply put one copy of the info on a prominent noticeboard in your office or factory, and then ask people to look out for it.

GreenPrint software is an easy way to eliminate those wasteful pages which are printed out automatically at the end of a document, often containing just an advert or legal information. By analysing all of the pages sent to the printer, it can remove any unnecessary pages before they are printed.

The government-funded programme Envirowise will carry out a free environmental audit for you through one of their FastTrack visits, provided you fulfil their criteria, and will also offer advice on all aspects of recycling and energy-saving.

If every office worker in the UK used one less staple every day it would save 120 tonnes of steel a year! Change to reusable fasteners such paperclips or bulldog clips or use staple-less staplers (these hold up to five sheets of paper together by punching holes or tiny strips through them).Computers

The average computer is replaced every two or three years as a result of advances in technology. As almost 2 tonnes of raw material are required to produce a desktop and monitor, extending the life of a computer by upgrading memory and storage space is essential for an ethical office.

When purchasing equipment such as computers and printers for your workplace, check the best price available and the ethical rating of the manufacturer at, a guide to ethical shopping from the makers of The Good Shopping Guide. Look for computers, keyboards and printers that bear the TCO label (TCO Development certifies products that meet both environmental standards and ergonomic design criteria).

To find your nearest computer recycler, click here.

Consider signing up to an ethical Internet service provider (ISP), such as Green ISP where your money will be used to support charitable and environmental projects.

*This extract is taken from Working Ethically, one of the Business on a Shoestring books, published by A&C Black



Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email

Related Stories

More From


If you enjoyed this article,
why not join our newsletter?

We promise only quality content, tailored to suit what our readers like to see!