Proper recycling has become an important and universal aspect of every home. As recycling has become more and more easy and convenient, greater pushes have been made to be able to recycle more and throw away less. 

While our homes have gotten better at recycling, our businesses are improving more slowly. It is imperative that we begin to understand how businesses of every shape and size can do more to contribute to the collective efforts to be greener.

In the USA, Microsoft’s headquarters outside Seattle, Washington are a testament to a valiant, if almost horribly wrong, effort to ensure our workplaces are not overly wasteful.

They’ve implemented a lot of good policies:

Microsoft now converts its kitchen’s cooking oil to bio-diesel food. Instead of heading to waste, Microsoft sends more than 14,000 litres of used cooking oil to refineries to be converted to bio-diesel fuel on an annual basis.

The office changed its tableware, food containers, and flatware to non-petroleum based compostable products. This move has reduced over 109 tonnes of plastic that would be wasted.

Finally, they’ve effectively turned 285,000 pounds of food waste into compost. And these numbers are for food waste into compost on site. Microsoft outsourced hundreds of thousands of more pounds elsewhere to be turned to compost.

These changes are easy, effective, vital and hassle-free ways to effectively reduce an eco-footprint. Largely, Microsoft has helped define good corporate practices. And their efforts have been rewarded. Not only do consumers care knowing what businesses are making an effort to recycle, but they have also won several awards for their good work.

But what about office recycling culture? Corporate policies are a great way to begin to change office culture to one that recycles, but although you can lead a horse to water, you can’t make it drink. In order to create real lasting changes, office culture must reflect one that encourages recycling at every level.

Microsoft’s near slip-up may very well reflect that chink in the armour. Effective corporate policies are important, but it’s also essential to change behaviour and assumptions about recycling.

In 2009, Microsoft wanted to make recycling easier, and implemented new office protocol. Previously, recycling was done in three bins, one for white office paper, one for mixed paper and one for aluminium cans. Microsoft decided to invest in new recycling bins, where staff could put all recycling into one place and the plant that handled its recycling could shift and separate the various materials. The intentions were there, by simplifying recycling, it would be easier to encourage more people to do so.

Good, right? So what happened to the 40,000 odd recycling bins that previously occupied the building? They were sent as rubbish to a landfill because none of the staff knew what to do with them.

Before you smack your forehead, Microsoft’s push for good recycling practices was not entirely in vain. The push for good recycling did pay off because it influenced someone to step up. An employee, whose son works at the neighbouring recycling plant, found and stopped the bins from being thrown away, got hold of some donated space on a cargo ship, and sent the bins to various locations and school districts that could use them. Good office culture indeed.

So all’s well that ends well, with the moral being that while having a few good corporate or business practices is a good start, it’s important for owners and employees to perhaps stop and consider what chinks in their good offices practices there may be. While the scale will likely not be as large, every little bit helps.