by Linda Lannon

Many businesses today are looking at ways to increase environmental responsibility. Often, these efforts are focused on product manufacturing or third party certifications.  What’s not always examined is the waste created in the business of doing business.

Employers are in a unique position to make a significant impact in the volume of waste created by their employees.  It’s not a new concept. Certain business waste reduction efforts have been quite successful (paper for example).  Employer established paper recycling programs, and paperless offices have netted significant bottom line savings and natural resources. But what about less visible sources of waste?

Consider paper towels.  The average person uses approximately 3,000 paper towels outside the home every year.  Since Americans spend 8-10 hours at work, five days a week, most paper towel usage occurs in the workplace. Paper towels can comprise 20% or more of a business’s unrecyclable waste stream, creating avoidable annual costs of hundreds of thousands of dollars in paper towel supplies, janitorial expenses, waste removal and landfill fees. It’s easy to see how waste management is, in fact, asset management, and in running an efficient, sustainable business, every asset matters.

People Towels are made from organic cotton and come in handy for many purposes...not the least of which is saving money for businesses.

A reusable option like PeopleTowels, designed for portability, can ultimately save not only a significant amount of natural resources, but also improve a business’s bottom line, through simple waste avoidance.  The average company of 1,000 employees consumes about 2.4 million paper towels annually. This translates to an environmental cost of roughly 276 trees and 23,000 lbs. of landfill waste. Now layer on the expense of paper towels, janitorial services, and landfill disposal fees. It simply doesn’t add up.

Is it feasible for a business to tackle the issue of paper towels waste with their employees?  We say yes.  It’s become second nature to reach for a reusable coffee mug at the office or to recycle paper.  Look to the Japanese, one of the most efficient and sustainable business cultures, for inspiration.  For decades the Japanese have been carrying and using reusable towels in public restrooms. If Japanese employees can accept responsibility for managing their personal waste footprint, and function quite well without paper towels in their public restrooms, why can’t we?

Business leaders have a unique opportunity to promote behavior change by creating a culture of “shared responsibility.”  The work place is not just a place we go to work, but an extension of our daily lives and our larger connection to the world.  It is because of this shared experience that businesses have an opportunity chance to guide and educate their employees on environmental issues such as waste reduction. Plus reducing paper towel usage with a reusable alternative is a triple bottom line play: good for people, the planet and profits.

Linda Lannon is the co-founder of People Towels, and along with colleague Mary Wallace, was inspired by the lack of paper towel waste in Japan, where people simply carry their own reusable cloth napkin.

Photo courtesy of Corey Jacobs on Flickr Creative Commons.

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