Achieving a green office is getting easier. With all sorts of organizations specifying greener products, there are increasing environmental options. Both large and smaller companies offer goods made from sustainably harvested woods and recycled, bio-based, or nontoxic materials, and made with glues, paints, foams, and other ingredients that don’t give off noxious odors.
The Green Seal http://greenseal.org/ has several recommendations on nontoxic office supplies. Green Seal recommends purchasing office supplies made of recycled and non-toxic materials to reduce environmental impacts in materials and in manufacturing. Non-toxic materials also protect office workers. Your office can do its share by buying reusable and refillable products, seeking out remanufacturable products, aiming for high recycled content, purchasing products without toxic solvents, avoiding paper products bleached with chlorine.
Highlighters, markers, and correction fluid are products commonly found in every office. Exposure to the hazardous substances that some of these products contain can occur from ingestion, inhalation, or absorption through the skin. Aromatic solvent-based markers are the most hazardous. Many use aromatic solvents, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that have a characteristic solvent odor that can cause toxicity to the nervous system as a result of overexposure. Green Seal recommends avoiding any exposure to toxic materials if suitable substitutes are available. Alcohols are also volatile solvents, but they are generally not as toxic as aromatic solvents. Use water-based markers instead of solvent-based whenever you can. Most permanent markers are solvent-based; however, some new “low-odor” products are on the market. For most purposes, non-toxic, water-based markers can be substituted for permanent or waterproof ink. An extra benefit of water-based markers is that they are much easier than solvent-based markers to clean up from walls, woodwork, skin, or clothing.
Concerns associated with paper manufacture include the use of chlorine based bleaches and the resultant toxins to air, water, and soil. Extensive research has shown that exposure to the bleach chemicals can result in biochemical and biological effects in animals and humans. The use of paper-based products that are chlorine free and contain a high percentage of post consumer recycled fiber reduces many of the burdens typically associated with paper production. Paper is marked “chlorine free” when derivatives of chlorine such as chlorine dioxide are used for bleaching instead of elemental chlorine. But the best products are those where chlorine use is avoided altogether by using alternatives such as oxygen, hydrogen peroxide, or ozone or by not bleaching at all.
There are other ways to reduce toxins in the office such as buying natural furniture. This furniture is usually made from bamboo and FSC http://www.fsc.org/ or Rainforest Alliance http://www.rainforest-alliance.org/ certified woods. They typically use cotton to plush up, so there are no VOCs from plastic foam. There are also numerous items made from recycled goods avavilable such as recycled aluminum and plastic.