Resource Efficiency

Resource efficiency is both sustainable and cost-effective; efficient use of office resources means less waste is generated and less money is spent on purchasing supplies. Waste reduction is an easy place to start for a company looking to be more sustainable in its operations. There are many ways in which resources can be used more effectively. Simple actions such as the ones listed in this section can make a big impact on the office waste stream. There are also opportunities to conserve water, another valuable resource.

The Alliance created a matrix to help you assess the cost effectiveness of each of the following strategies by comparing the level of operational investment to potential environmental impact. 

Periodic Action  Property Manager Involvement
Habitual Action  Lower-Impact
Policy-Driven  Higher-Impact


Implement Office Recycling Program

Start out by researching exactly what can and cannot be recycled in your community. Place clearly labeled recycling bins in central locations and post a list of recyclable materials above each bin. Encourage employees to make use of the bins.

The NRDC has a guide to conducting a waste audit to better understand current recycling habits and to periodically track progress toward recycling 100% of recyclable materials.

Implement Reuse Program

Employees often discard envelopes, folders, single-sided copies and other materials before the end of their useful life. Organizations can establish a policy to promote or require the reuse of these materials. Set up a “reuse supply store” within the office to store used office furniture and office supplies. Staff can use this location during office hours to reduce the cost of supplies. If items are still useable, but not wanted by the company, there are charities that can identify other organizations that can use them.

Make Double-Sided Copies and Printed Documents

When it comes to paper, the ultimate goal should be to print only what you need. When printing or copying is necessary, use both sides of the paper. To make this easier for your staff, have the IT department set the default on all computers and copiers to print double-sided.

Convert Office Administration and Communications to an Electronic Format

Convert as many routine office administration memos and other communications to electronic format as possible. Use email rather than paper memos or flyers for announcements and reminders. Develop an electronic reference library using a server, internal wiki, or a shared document service such as Microsoft SharePoint, Central Desktop, Evernote or Dropbox, and teach employees how to use Evernote or software such as Microsoft OneNote to build their own personal electronic reference library. Teach employees to use Google Docs (free) or tracked changes in Microsoft Word to collaborate more efficiently without printing out hard copies to mark up. These services are inexpensive and enable increased productivity, not just resource efficiency.

Prepare Online Forms

Creating online forms for routine data collection tasks saves paper and time and reduces the possibility of data entry errors. There are numerous free or low-cost online services to create online forms such as Emergency Contact Information forms, inventories, complaints, event registration, employment applications, etc. Try,, or Use Evite for event invitations and RSVPs (there is a gallery of invitations for professional events here). If you regularly have customers or other non- employees that need to fill out forms, set aside a computer station or consider purchasing a netbook or iPad tablet for them to use to fill out the online forms.

Provide Electronic Fax Capabilities

Set up electronic fax capabilities so that all incoming faxes are sent directly to email in PDF format and outgoing faxes can be sent directly from the computer. Some companies that provide this service include eFax, MyFax.

Set Up Copiers/Scanners to Email Copies to Employees

Many printer/copier/scanner combos can scan in a document and send it as a PDF to the employee’s email address. Encourage emails to make use of this function and to keep electronic copies of expense reports and other documents rather than making paper copies.

Reduce Incoming Mail

Junk mail can be reduced by notifying senders their materials are unwanted. Organizations can request that bills and monthly statements be delivered electronically. See the Bay Area Recycling Outreach Coalition’s guide to stopping unwanted junk mail, complete with addresses and phone numbers of the biggest junk mailers.

Opt for Electronic Subscriptions

Many publishers today provide electronic versions of their materials as an alternative to printed subscriptions. Organizations should opt for electronic subscriptions whenever possible.

Reduce Direct Mail Marketing

Rather than relying on direct mail marketing, learn about e-marketing, search engine optimization, online advertising, and social media as greener marketing alternatives. E-marketing not only reduces paper waste, but reduces shipping costs (and fuel use) and allows more sophisticated targeting to your customers.

Require Vendors to Submit Proposals in a Double-Sided Format without Extraneous Materials

If your company regularly receives proposals from vendors, require that those proposals be submitted in double-sided format or in an electronic format. Let companies know that you’re committed to operating your business in a sustainable manner and you want to work with other companies that share that commitment.

Coordinate Meetings and Events According to Green Meeting Standards

Discourage the use of handouts at meeting and events by using electronic versions of documents and projection equipment. Provide reusable utensils, coffee cups, and water glasses rather than disposables. NRDC has a guide to greening your event.

Eliminate Disposals

Eliminate all disposable products from the office kitchen: paper plates, plastic utensils, single-use water and coffee cups, etc. Purchase reusable dishes, flatware, mugs, and glasses; the savings from not having to buy all those paper and plastic products can help justify the cost of a dishwasher. Encourage employees to bring their meals in reusable containers rather than disposable ones. 

Provide Water Filters

Bottled water is expensive (up to 100,000 times more expensive per gallon than tap water!), wastes energy in its production and transport, generates unnecessary waste, and has been demonstrated to be no safer than tap water. Rather than providing employees and guests with bottled water, purchase or lease water coolers with built-in filters or use on-tap filters. Purchase an attractive pitcher and water glasses for the conference room; it’s sustainable and classy.

Eliminate Individual Office Trash Cans and Plastic Liners

Some organizations have eliminated individual office trash cans, and instead provide centralized ones. This often results in employees generating less waste. It also reduces the cost for janitorial staff to remove trash. Some organizations that keep individual trash cans eliminate the plastic liners and encourage staff to carry messy waste to a centralized location.

Install Worm Bins

Organic waste such as apple cores and banana peels can be reduced to compost by worms. Some organizations have worm bins in lunch rooms and kitchens to compost wet food and lunch waste. Alternatively, if there is an avid gardener within the office, offer to let them take the food compost home to their own compost bin.

Install Low Water Landscaping and Office Plants

Ask your landscaper or office plant person to select plants that are suited to local climate and require little water. Plants will need to be watered less frequently, which saves water, energy, and effort. 

Install Aerators on Faucets

These inexpensive devices are widely available at any home improvement store, easy to install, and save water and energy. Faucet aerators may be available at a discounted rate through your electric or water utility. Faucets with aerators use approximately 75% less water than non-aerated faucets, and the faucet aerators reduce splashes around the sink. If your office has showers, installing low- flow showerheads will also reduce water and energy consumption.

Learn more about how to determine if you need faucet aerators or low-flow showerheads here.

Use this calculator to determine the water and energy savings from faucet aerators and low-flow showerheads.

Install Dual-Flush Toilets and No-Flush Urinals

Dual-flush toilets allow the user to use more or less water to flush the toilet depending on the need. Significant water savings can be achieved by using the low setting when adequate. Existing toilets can be converted to dual-flush with converter kits. No-flush or high efficiency urinals can also achieve significant water savings. See more on toilets and urinals here.

Purchase Used Cubicles, Desks, and Other Equipment

When possible, purchase used office furniture, cubicles, and electronics. Try Nationwide Furniture Liquidators, the local newspaper classifieds, or Craigslist. Many companies give up their furniture long before the end of its useful life.

Recycle Batteries and Electronics Responsibly

Batteries and other electronics contain toxic materials that must be handled carefully. Most communities have recycling centers that can accept these hard-to-recycle products. Organizations can establish a centralized collection area for batteries and other electronics that can periodically be brought to a recycling center. Visit your city’s website to locate your local recycling center. If you have unwanted computers that are still usable or fixable, there are many charities and organizations that accept used computers and refurbish them for a good cause.


U.S. EPA's WasteWise ReTRAC (Recycling Tracking System)

How to Set Up Recycling at Your Business

The Alliance for Water Efficiency's Resource Library for Offices