Green Office Products and Practices

Outside of the kitchen and dining room, restaurants still have many opportunities to green their business. The office is one of the easiest places to reduce energy consumption and implement sustainable practices.

Energy and Equipment

Most offices have a least one computer, a printer, maybe a fax machine, copier and a whole room full of other electrical equipment that may or may not get turned off at night. Even though most electrical equipment has some sort of "standby mode," they still are using energy, called phantom power use. Recent reports calculate that 40% of electronics energy use is in its stand-by mode. Think the about your paper shredder that is in a permanent stand-by mode to shred a couple documents a day at most. Luckily, tackling this problem is a one-time fix.

Turn them off at night
This is easy and does not take more than getting into the habit of flipping a switch before locking up the office. To make it easy, plug all the electric equipment into an accessible power strip so everything can be turned off with the flip of one switch. This prevents the equipment from draining energy in their stand-by mode.

A couple companies offer power strips that cut the power to peripherals plugged into specific plugs in the strip when the computer is turned off or via an occupancy sensor so you do not have to put the power strip in a readily accessible place. Just shut down the computer or simply walk out of the room and all the energy suckers turn off. Others devices use a USB connection and software to control power to peripherals, or just a simple on/off switch to cut power to the peripherals with a remote or more affordably without.

Energy Management Settings

All new computers have some sort of energy management settings that puts the computer and its peripherals to sleep after a designated amount of time. These computers usually ship with moderate default energy saving settings. Most users should reduce these settings to save additional energy. On Windows based computers, Energy Management settings are in the Control Panel. This link provides instructions for changing energy management settings for both Windows and Macintosh.

Recommended setting:

Screen Saver: None. Screen savers do not reduce energy consumption
Monitor: 10 minutes
Hard Disk: 20 minutes
System Sleep: 20 minutes
Hibernate: 45 minutes, The "Enable Hibernate" box must be checked under the hibernate tab.

On Macintosh computers, find the "Energy Saver" settings in the System Preferences. Use the same settings as Windows computers. Check the "put hard disk to sleep" box.

For large, multi-computer networks, Energy Star has a list of energy management software that allow computer administrators to set energy management settings for the entire network. They also list several open source options available.

The Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) manages a web site titled the Standby Power Data Center that lists recommended standby levels, tips to identify appliances that use standby power and standby power usage of individual products. This is another great resource to use when purchasing new electronics.

POS Systems

While point-of-sales systems are very convenient for ordering, bookkeeping and accountability, they tend to waste a lot of paper. A couple simple changes in the system settings and purchasing can save a lot of money.

Some establishments use the traditional carbon copy style paper for their front of house receipt printers. This is useful when you are printing credit card receipts, but wasteful every other instance the POS prints a receipt. In contrast to using carbon copies which cost two or three times that of single ply paper, a business that uses single ply paper and sets their POS system to print two receipts for credit cards will save hundreds of dollars in paper costs. Other settings in POS systems can also save paper and dollars like not printing chits for 'voided' items or receipts for finalized checks. A customized 'Send, Don't Print' button for items that will be made by the server ringing in the item is especially handy for bartenders. For example, a bartender rings in a beer that they have already poured or will immediately pour. By using the "Send Don't Print" button in these instances, the unneeded order chits do not print and cause confusion between bartenders.

Check printing settings can also conserve paper. If you receipts print a lot of white space at the top or bottom of the receipt, try reducing the numbers of lines under the receipt or printing settings. The half-inch of paper saved on each receipt adds up to significant savings.

For significant paper savings, the NCR corporation manufactures a thermal double-sided POS printer. Several large grocery stores and started using this technology with great results.

The jury is still out, however, on the environmental footprint of thermal printers. They do not use ink ribbons, but do use more expensive thermal paper that has a higher chemical content, including BPA, in the paper than traditional bond paper.

Check under the Disposables section of this web site for more information on green options for POS paper.

Green Printing

There are a number of ways to reduce waste and costs by greening your printing practices. Most involve little to no investment, just a commitment from you and the staff. If you need a little motivation, think of it in terms of the printer ink racket. A toner cartridge with a 10,000 print capacity holds about 19.5 ounces of toner. Divide its cost by the amount of toner and you have very expensive black dust. A few changes of habit can keep the black dust in the printer and the green paper in your pocket.

Print Preview - Every Single Time
Have you ever made a spreadsheet that somehow would up being 200 pages with a single line down one side of all those pages? I'm sure you have if you've ever used Excel and what a annoying problem it is, but until they fix things like that in their programming, we have to Print Preview, every single time. Use the page range option to print only what you need.

Print Double Sided or Two Pages Per Sheet or Both

Like energy saving settings, printers can be set to automatically reduce paper consumption. If your printer has double-sided printing options, program the settings to print double-sided by default.

Printers can also be set to print two or even four pages to a side. The two-page option is very readable and combined with duplex printing saves a lot of paper.

If the office printer does not print double-sided, take the extra time to print one side of the page then flip it over to print on the other. This is accomplished with multiple page documents by choosing "print odd page," then selecting "print even pages" and checking the "print backwards" box under the "Options" button when printing the other sides. This will print the even pages from the highest page down to the lowest so you do not have to put the pages in order when printing the second sides. In all, a printer with double-sided capability do not cost much more than standard and pay for themselves almost immediately.

Page Setup - Reduce the Margins

Microsoft Word sets its default page margins at 1.25 inches on the sides, which is a quite large margin. Most documents can have margins set at 1 inch or smaller, which can help squeeze a few more lines onto a page and possibly reduce the number of pages in the document.

Here is how to change the default settings for documents in MS Word.

Print in Draft Mode

Draft mode or fast mode printing options use significantly less toner than default settings and in most cases output a print that is completely acceptable for even final drafts. Some printers will let you set the density of ink as well.

Print Software
A couple companies sell software that are basically glorified print previews that allows deletion of selected pages, removal of images, multiple pages per sheet, print to PDF, etc. These are particularly good for printing web pages that tend to have a lot of junk on them. has compiled a list of green printing software.

Large Capacity Printer Cartridges

Many printers, laser in particular, offer large capacity toner cartridges that can print more pages per cartridge. Like anything else that comes in bulk, large capacity cartridges offer a lower per page printing cost and reduce the amount of packaging used.

Recycled Ink Cartridges
After the printer cartridge is empty, recycle it at a local ink cartridge recycling company that refills the empty cartridges at a significantly reduced cost. The recycled cartridges maintain high quality and contain more ink/toner than in store bought cartridges. Box Office supply stores usually take back empty cartridges for recycling, but do not refill the empty containers. The refill companies are the best option if they are available in your area.

Recycled Content Paper

The full cycle of recycling includes buying products with recycled content. Paper with recycled content is one of the easiest products to find in the market. Use recycled content paper in your office, and request your local print shop to use recycled paper when printing your business cards, menus or other media.

When purchasing recycled content paper, buy paper with at least 30% post-consumer recycled content. Most office supply stores offer some recycled content paper. High percentage recycled content can be obtained at some retail store or online.

Scrap Paper

Make a habit of saving old faxes, misprinted pages or any other single-sided sheet of paper to reuse as scratch paper. Keep a stack of it near or in the printer for scratch paper, printing first drafts, memos or server note pads. Get creative and find ways to reuse your old menus and scrap paper.

Nopa, a top-notch restaurant in San Francisco that truly walks the green walk, uses their old menus to keep oven hot bowls from slipping around on the serving plates. It looks cool, serves a functional purpose and puts reuse to work. Nopa is one of my favorite restaurants in SF by the way.

High-End Printers

If your restaurant prints its own menus, consider buying a high-end printer. Both office supply stores and printer supply companies that offer maintenance programs along with the printers sell a wide variety of these printers. The main advantages of these printers are equipment quality (large volume printers can last at least ten years), double-sided printing capabilities, cheaper per print cost and software inclusion. Many high capacity printers reduce paper waste with software that can send incoming faxes to your email and fax outgoing messages via the computer file.

Printing Companies

Along with the rest of the world, printers are getting into the green revolution and printing with soy based inks, recycled and tree free papers or at least offer these options. A good green printer will also work with you in the design, layout and green printing options of your material. Some colors for instance tend to contain heavy metals. Bright yellows are an example of this. You may want to adjust the colors of your print or reduce the amount of colors to save on ink and money.

Some other ideas:

Recyclability: Avoid foils, laminates, metallic seals and other non-recyclable coatings
Print Options: Digital printing is a less expensive and less resource intensive printing option compared to offset printing.
Design: Get creative with designs. Make use of all the paper by designing print material to fit the offset paper size. Design glue-less materials or use email, the web or another non-paper resource to get the word out.

I have posted a few national green printers here: one, two, three

Mondock Paper Mills maintain a wonderful resource called the Sustainable Design Field Guide that covers every step in the print design process from paper and ink selection to layout and finish. The guide, in its third edition, contains a wealth of knowledge of the printing industry.

Fax Machines

You can ditch the need for a fax function on the printer by using online fax companies like UTBox that offers fax to email and email to fax services. Also, many high capacity printers reduce paper waste with software that can send incoming faxes to your email and fax outgoing messages via the computer file.



Offices are full of electronic equipment that can use a considerable amount of energy. Energy Star certifies computers, printers, copiers, fax machines and other office equipment that use less energy than standard equipment. These are high quality products produced by all the major electronic manufacturers and should be purchased any time new electronic equipment is needed in the office.

If your computer is on its last leg, consider upgrading your old computer, or purchasing a refurbished or used computer. Many non-profit organizations, like Free Geek and NextStep Recycling and for-profit companies around the country take in older computers for refurbishing and resale. These systems are usually sufficient for a restaurant operation that is running simple word processing and Internet software. If screens are available, choose an LCD over a CRT because they use half the energy of the old CRT models.

If you want a new computer, look for an EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool) verified computer. EPEAT verified computers comply with environmental based standards such as lack of toxic chemicals, recycled or recyclable content, packaging, Energy Star compliance and the manufacturer's take-back programs.

The Europeans recently implemented an anti-toxics program called RoHS that restricts the use of six toxic substances including lead, mercury and cadmium. There are currently several components available that are RoHS compliant, but nothing in terms of an entire computer system. The directive went into effect in 2006 and many companies are not yet compliant, but the market will probably start blazing with compliant equipment as soon as the first company unveils their system.

Also, consider purchasing a laptop computer, which consumes significantly less energy than a desktop PC. Regardless of the system you buy, choose a computer capable of an upgrade in a few years. A $20 stick of extra RAM or an external hard drive is a lot better option than another $1200 and a pile of electronics in the recycling heap in three years.

If purchasing new, be sure to donate or recycle your old computer and CRT monitor. If it is still in usable condition, call local charities or check the links under the Electronic Recycling section below for organizations that accept usable computers for distribution to other charitable organizations. If it does not work or is old enough to be in a museum, recycle it. CRT monitors contain an average about seven pounds of lead in them - not something you want leaching out of the landfill and into your drinking water... See below for more information on recycling electronics.


Post-consumer recycled paper should be a standard in a green office. (See the Additional Resources below to find retailers selling recycled content paper). Virtually all paper products from printer paper to post-it notes are available with post-consumer recycled content and are comparable in cost to virgin paper. provides a guide on how to read labels on recycled content papers.

If your office wants to go the extra mile, consider purchasing tree free papers. These papers are made from a variety of materials including hemp, kenaf, agricultural residues and recycled cotton. Tree-free papers offer the same quality and variety of stock as wood based paper with the added benefit of using a highly renewable or recycled material. Tree free papers are quite expensive, so they are usually best for special promotional material where you can print "paper made from recycled blue jeans" or something like that...

The Environmental Defense Fund has created a useful paper calculator that compares the environmental impacts of different papers across their full lifecycle.

Other Office Supplies

There are a number of office products available made with recycled plastic or are recyclable themselves. The California Integrated Waste Management Board maintains a recycled product database, as does the American Plastics Council and the EPA.

The Recycled Products Cooperative runs an online store with recycled goods.

Also, remember that some of your old broken supplies can be fixed or recycled. Not everything is throwaway these days. Buy high quality products made so that a screw or spring can be replaced when needed. Metal staplers, three-hole punches and any other broken supply made from at least 75% metal can be recycled just like a tin can. Plastic versions usually cannot be recycled and tend to break easily.


The average office worker produces a surprisingly large amount of trash every year, about a half pound of just paper waste per day. This does not include discarded equipment, leaky pens, coffee cups or any of the items that wind up in the immortal trash. To combat this, foodservice offices should begin a recycling program, regardless of whether the kitchen serves organic produce or not.

The biggest hurdle in creating a successful recycling program is breaking workers old, bad habits. End their bad habits by not giving them the opportunity to have bad habits.

Here are a few tips for creating a successful program:

Label all the recycling bins and trash cans with their desired contents.

Move the trashcans
Most offices have a garbage can at every desk. There may only be one desk in your office but by moving the trash can to a less convenient place, only the things that really need to be in there wind up in there. Do not make them so inaccessible that trash winds up in the recycling bins.

Make the recycling bins convenient
To contrast the inaccessible trashcans, put the recycling bins in convenient locations. Move the trashcan away from the copier and replace it with a labeled recycling bin.

Non-curbside Recyclables
Keep a separate box for other recyclables like ink cartridges, batteries and broken electronic equipment then recycle them at the appropriate locations. See below for locations.

Several of the links in the Additional Resources below contain more information on creating a recycling program in an office.

Electronic Recycling

Electronic waste is increasing becoming a huge environmental problem. Every year the world discards over 88 billion pounds of electronics, with only a tiny percentage being properly recycled. Much of the recycled e-waste winds up in third world countries where little to no environmental regulations control the dismantling of the electronics. In these countries, namely China and India, the useful copper and accessible metals are removed from the e-waste and the rest is burned, releasing mercury, lead, cadmium, dioxins and other harmful chemicals into local water ways and the atmosphere which eventually finds its way around the world. Despite the irresponsible dumping of e-waste, there are responsible, sustainable options.

The first, as with any sustainable practice is reuse. Schools and many non-profit organizations collect old computers and cell phones to use or distribute to needy individuals. These are great places to donate your old equipment, but they usually do not want electronics that are over four years old. If the equipment is broke or too old, the next option is recycling.

The Basel Action Network (BAN), an organization that promotes sustainable solutions to the world's toxic waste crisis, has developed criteria for disposal of e-waste and a list of e-waste recyclers who have signed BAN's pledge to follow their guidelines. These guidelines state that the e-waste will not be exported to developing nations or recycled with the use of prison labor.

Many of the BAN listed recyclers are dismantlers that scrap and recycle a variety of electronic equipment collected by themselves and from other organizations or municipalities collecting e-waste to send to the dismantlers. Some of these additional collectors can be found in the links below or by calling your local hazardous waste management department. Many manufactures take back their old products either free of charge or for a small fee, and some offers rebates with the purchase of new equipment.

Most e-waste recyclers accept CDs, CD cases, floppy disks, ink cartridges, cables, anything else related to computers and most electronic equipment including cell phones, telephones, printers, modems, radios, VCRs and just about anything that uses electricity. The following links will help you find local recycling options that fit your needs. lists e-waste recyclers by state. provides a list of computer companies and their recycling programs. lists places to recycle electronic equipment based on your zip code. lists both new green electronics and local places to recycle electronics.

Note: Except for the Basel Action Network listed recyclers, the recycling records of the organizations listed in these links are not certified. Make sure to ask questions before you donate your old electronic equipment.

The most important thing in recycling electrical equipment is to make sure the company or organization collecting the equipment is sending it to a reputable recycler that is not exporting the waste overseas. Even many cities have been guilty of irresponsibly recycling of their e-waste. Ask the recycler where the equipment is being recycled. If they don't know, more than likely it will wind up in a developing country and possibly back at your doorstep in the form of mercury laden air particulates.

Televisions burning at e-dump in Nigeria
Burning television at the dump outside of Alaba market, Lagos, Nigeria.
� Basel Action Network

Other Recyclables

Rechargeable batteries are actually one of the most toxic substances in your house and it is essential that they get recycled. Many businesses including Home Depot, Office Depot and RadioShack will take back old batteries for proper recycling. The Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (RBRC) provides a list of 30,000 businesses participating in their free battery and cell phone recycling program.

Styrofoam, that nasty, nasty polystyrene product that manufactures still insist on using is one of the harder materials to find places to recycle. Some e-waste recyclers will accept Styrofoam for a small fee, while others stay away from it altogether. Packing and shipping companies like Mailboxes Etc. take Styrofoam peanuts, but not block foam. The "everything is looking rosy" Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers has a list of Styrofoam recyclers. The Plastic Loose Fill Council also has a somewhat incomplete list of businesses that will collect Styrofoam peanuts.

Solar Web Hosting

If you hope customers will frequent your business because of your environmental record, then you should do likewise and buy your domain hosting service from a company that also practices sustainability. Many domain hosting companies and a few Internet service providers have emerged that rely completely on renewable power. They often cost the same as all other services and usually provide better service, just like your company.

To find green web hosting, either google "green web hosting" or "solar domain hosting" or some combo of the two. Treehugger and ClickFire both compiled partial lists of green-powered companies.

Green ISPs are a little more evasive and not always green-powered, so local non-profit ISPs might be a good option. The Europeans, who always seem to be one green step ahead, have a number of green ISPs offering solar powered hosting. In the US, we have a couple options. donates 50% of profits to environmental groups, but unfortunately only offers dial-up service. Red Jellyfish offers DSL service, buys 10,000 sq/ft of rainforest per year per member via the Rainforest Action Network and is wind powered.

Junk Mail

I have never seen more junk mail than in the mailbox of a restaurant. For some reason, restaurants tend to be major targets for all sorts of junk mail. Getting a business off mailing lists can be a time consuming task, but well worth it when the mail starts arriving with just wanted, or more than likely unwanted bills.

The first and often repeated step in reducing junk mail is dealing directly with the companies mailing the offers. All credit card offers and most junk mail have an 800 number in their promotional material. Call the company and ask to be removed from their mailing list. It usually takes 6-8 weeks to stop receiving offers from companies because they normally have the next mailer already printed. This may seem like an endless fight, but if you save multiple pieces of mail and take a half hour on a slow day to make multiple calls it is not that painful. (Pressing 0 on calls to credit card companies sometimes gets to an operator without going through all the menus)

In addition, any time you donate money, order something on-line, by mail or fill out a warranty card write in large letters, "Please do not sell my name or address." If ordering by telephone, ask that your name be removed from their mailing list.

The Direct Marketing Association offers an on-line mailing list removal service that will remove your name from their and their member's mailing lists. This is a new service that they pair with a new propaganda campaign in opposition to a national Do Not Mail movement. They sell junk mail as a green alternative to shopping malls and essential revenue for the US economy. My response is that cancer also contributes billions to the economy, but no one wants cancer to stick around... The DMA also has a postal mail option, for which they charge a $1 fee. Registration with the DMA does not affect business-to-business mail. Business names and addresses are not placed on the file, and companies that send mail of a business-to-business nature do not use the consumer file. However, mail sent to an individual at a business address is removed from the list.

ForestEthics, a non-profit organization, has started a Do Not Mail campaign to create a registry similar to the Do Not Call Registry. Visit their site for more tips on avoiding junk mail, and don't forget to sign the petition.

A great resource called Catalog Choice offers a free service that removes your name from catalog mailing lists. This is a great time-saving alternative to calling the companies directly. ProQuo is another free on-line mailing list removal service, while others services like Mail Stopper, 41Pounds and StoptheJunkMail all provide a more comprehensive service for a fee.

Canadian citizens can use the free Canadian Marketing Association online form to have their address removed from CMA's mailing lists.

Stop receiving phone books and yellow pages by signing up at

Finally, the Consumer Credit Reporting Industry has created a free "Opt Out" service to remove an individual's name from credit card offers. The on-line form only removes a name for five years. The mail-in form permanently removes a person's name.

Additional Green Office Resources

A non-profit organization that provides information, professional expertise and consulting services on environmental paper purchasing. The site has a great list of certified and non-certified recycled content paper office supplies and merchants that sell the products.

Consumer Reports: Greener Choices
This is an awesome site with information on cleaning and maintenance of electronics and cell phones, a "fix or nix" section, a "how to" on erasing personal info, ideas for recycling and tips on buying new equipment.

Green Seal
If you get really excited about paper and what to learn more about the manufacturing process, types of paper, paper labels, tips on paper reduction, certified paper types this document if for you.

Paper Industry Association Council (PIAC) - Paper Recycling Info
An informative web site with a work place recycling guide.

Computer Manufacturer's Take Back Programs
Lists the ins and outs of the computer company's electronics recycling programs.

Canon's Recycling Program

EPA's Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Program
EPP is a federal program that encourages and assists departments in the purchasing of environmentally preferable products and services.

EPA's eCycling Comprehensive e-waste information provided by the EPA.

Paper Glossary & Dictionary
Glossary and dictionary about words, terms, abbreviations and translations of paper terms

Software program that controls energy usage by regulating the computer's fan speed.

Sustainable Procurement of Wood and Paper-based Products
Guide to assist sustainability officers and business procurement managers, especially major purchasers of wood and paper-based products, in their purchasing decisions.

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