Skip to Main Content View Text-Only

Sustainability at Work

Providing free tools and expertise to achieve your goals

Phone: 503-823-7037


Paper 101: Pushing the envelope on Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Tips to reduce, reuse and recycle paper.


This should be your first focus because it will save you the most money. 

  • Set defaults on your printers and computers for two-sided printing. Folks that absolutely must print single-sided can learn to override the default when necessary.
  • Learn about your printer’s features like “mailbox” and “ID” printing. They will help minimize forgotten and/or repeated print jobs. Check your manual or call your copier rep/technician if you need help with this.

Encourage thinking beyond printing/copying:

  • Switch to electronic invoicing, accounting and receipts. 
  • Consider direct deposit paychecks. (Give employees the option to print their own stub if they want one.) 
  • Set-up an electronic archive process.   


People often forget this step before they recycle their paper.

  • Collect and reuse paper: Keep a marked tray or small box on the counter, near the printer, to collect unwanted single-sided print jobs. People can dip into the stash for scratch paper, or if you build up enough, you can create notepads. 
  • Give it to the kids: If your office prints large, single-side maps, architectural drawings, advertising, etc., donate the single-sided drafts to a local school. Kids will use the blank side for drawing and the printed side for arts and crafts. (They’ll also enjoy getting a peak into the adult world by “studying” the printed side of the paper.) Call Metro for donation locations: 503-234-3000.
  • Reuse packaging material as much as possible. You can also create a custom rubber stamp to let customers know that you’ve used a recycled box or envelope to send their purchase. Such as, “Please excuse my looks, I’m re-used.”
  • Donate packaging: Check with your business neighbors to see if they can reuse the materials. Some shipping stores will accept clean packing materials.You may save them money as well.  


Even with your best reduction efforts, you’re likely to have some paper “waste.” Make sure it’s getting recycled and not going to the landfill.

Make it convenient Position recycling containers throughout your office, especially wherever there’s a trashcan. Don’t forget the break room, conference rooms and reception areas.  

Yes, you can recycle that! Let everyone know that they can put all sorts of paper in recycling:

  • There’s no need to remove staples, paperclips, or plastic coil binders if you’re busy. 
  • Envelopes with clear plastic windows can go in as is, as can tissue boxes with plastic on top.
  • Magazines and catalogs are okay, too. 

Just avoid including large amounts of super-slick or heavily-coated paper.

Paper 101: We need to talk about the 4,000 elephants in the room.

Businesses in the Portland metro region are throwing out the equivalent of 4,000 elephants worth of paper each year.

Did you know? Businesses in the Portland metro region are still throwing out 30,432 tons of paper each year.

That’s the equivalent of 4,000 elephants worth of paper going to the landfill!

4 elephants x 1,000 = tons of paper going to the landfill

Portland businesses continue to make great strides in reducing their paper use and making recycling easy for their staff – but there’s still more that can be done.

3 Steps to reduce paper waste:

1. Identify where your workplace uses paper:

      • Printers & copiers.
      • Paychecks.
      • Invoices – that you send and receive from others.
      • Other… don’t forget paper or packaging that others send to you.

2. Ask these questions for print projects, in this order of priority:

  • Can we reduce the amount of paper used?
  • Is the paper only printed on one side? Can we reuse it?
  • Is all waste paper getting recycled?

3. Maintain, improve and push the envelope:

  • Acknowledge and reinforce what’s working well.
  • Improve existing efforts that need attention.
  • Start new efforts [hint: try a pilot– people will be more likely to give it a go].

You know what they say... “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”*

* No elephants were harmed in the making of this blog. The Sustainability at Work program loves elephants and does not condone eating them. 

PeopleTowels at Research into Action

Learn how Research Into Action has nearly eliminated paper towel waste.

man with towel Research Into Action’s Green Team wanted to get rid of paper towels. They looked into electric hand dryers and found their building doesn’t have the right wiring for them, and they were worried about the noise in their small office. Since they already used cloth napkins in the kitchen, they wanted to see if they could try cloth towels in the bathroom as well.

The firm of about 25 staff has always been sustainability minded and their President and Owner, Jane Peters, is very supportive of their Green Team. Almost one year into the program, reusable towels are habit and paper towel use has almost been eliminated.

How they started

PeopleTowel drying on a cabinetMaria Everhart, green team member and champion of sustainability, got inspired by personal hand towels after her husband heard about how in Japan people have been expected to carry around reusable, personal hand towels for decades.

She and another colleague found PeopleTowels, an American company that makes personal quick-dry hand towels out of 100% organic Fair Trade Cotton and with eco-safe dyes. PeopleTowels seemed like a great solution, but the green team still had to overcome another challenge: how to hang the towels to dry in the bathroom without drilling holes in the wall.

Maria then discovered Jelly Bean Hooks (available for purchase on amazon), suction cup utility hooks that are BPA, PVC and Phthalate-Free. You can even recycle them at special facilities in Portland, (look online or call 503-234-3000 to find your nearest location).

What they bought

  • 51 PeopleTowels, enough towels for two weeks.
  • 30 Jelly Bean Hooks.

How it works

  • close up of drying towel on hookEach employee grabs a clean towel on Monday to use for the week.
  • Members of the green team take turns washing the towels (and the cloth napkins used in the lunchroom) at home on the weekend.
  • There are two towels for each staff member just in case someone forgets to wash them one weekend or if guests would like to use one when visiting.

Staff do different things with the towels, allowing each person to find their comfort zone.

  • Some write their name on one towel and use the same towel every week.
  • Some keep the week’s towel at their desk.
  • Others leave their towel in the bathroom on hooks. The hooks are labeled to help staff keep track of their towel.

The results

  • Paper towel use has gone from one large trash bag of paper towels a week to close to zero paper towels.
  • After two years, they will have recouped the money invested in the reusable towels through reduced paper towel costs – and then the money that would have gone to paper towels can be used for other things.

Read more about sustainability at Research Into Action.

Green Team holding towels

Members of Research into Action Green Team pose with PeopleTowels. From left to right, Maria Everhart, Benjamin Messer, Meghan Bean, Doré Mangan and Jordan Folks. Check out Maria’s family website about their passive house!

Environmental savings

The environmental savings of reusable towels add up. In the first year, Research Into Action will:

  • Save over 6 trees.
  • Reduce landfill waste by 575 lbs.
  • Conserve 6,250 gallons of water.
  • Cut carbon emission by 850 lbs.

If 1 in 4 adults in the US switched to PeopleTowels for a year, it would:


Want a PeopleTowel for yourself? Find them for sale in Portland at Seven Planet, Powell’s Books, and certified silver Mirador Community Store. Or buy from the PeopleTowel’s website and save on bulk purchases.

5 Reasons to stop idling after 10 seconds

Do you commute by car or drive for work? Reduce your impact: stop idling.

3.8 million gallons of fuel is wasted by idling in the U.S. every day

Did you know that if you’re stopped for more than 10 seconds, it’s better to turn off your car rather than idle?

Stop idling and take comfort in the fact that you're minimizing your impact on human health and the planet. Learn more here. 

2 minutes of idling is equal to 1 mile of driving

  1. It saves gas: If you idle for 5 minutes dropping your kids off in the morning, 3 minutes at the drive-through and 4 minutes listening to the end of a news story in your driveway, you've burned enough gas to drive 24 miles.

  2. It saves money: Americans spend a whopping $13 million every day on unnecessary idling. (That's 3.8 million gallons of fuel, wasted!) 

  3. It saves the planet: For every 10 minutes of idling you cut from your life, you'll save one pound of carbon dioxide - a harmful greenhouse gas - from being released into the atmosphere.

  4. It makes us healthier: Idling is linked to increases in asthma, allergies, heart and lung disease and cancer. Kids are especially vulnerable because they inhale more air per pound of body weight. Lots of idling happens near schools.

  5. It's good for your engine: Idling can damage engine components. According to the California Energy Commission, "Fuel is only partially combusted when idling because an engine does not operate at its peak temperature. This leads to the build-up of fuel residues on cylinder walls that can damage engine components and increase fuel consumption." 

Even on cold mornings, the days of idling in the driveway to warm up your car are over - today's cars warm up more efficiently when they're driving than sitting in a driveway.

since the electric ignition became universal in the mid 80s, restarting your vehicle does not result in significant fuel loss

What can you do?

  • Take a pledge to stop idling.
  • Print posters to share with your coworkers.
  • Turn it off when stopping for more than 10 seconds.

the truth about idling poster thumbnail

Adapted from Sustainable America.

4 ways to get coworkers excited about Earth Day

Try these tips during April, or any time of the year.

green team1. Give ‘em the stats

Did you know recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to run your TV for three hours? Or that recycling creates four jobs for every one job created in waste management and disposal industries? 

True or False? Ten seconds of idling your car wastes more gas than restarting. (True.) Americans throw out 25% of the food they buy each year. (True.)

Which uses more water to produce? A pound beef or a pound of chicken? Beer or coffee? Find out.

We love a good infographic! Check out these graphics about electronics, idling, unplugging, and food waste.

electronics   idling   unplug   food waste

Information is key. Find more informative recycling stats and then share what you've learned with your coworkers. 

2. Don’t just tell them, show them

Videos are a great way to educate and engage. Email them to staff, show them at the start of a meeting, or organize a brown bag.

How to use a paper towel

Only 5 minutes! You use paper towels to dry your hands every day, but chances are, you're doing it wrong. In this enlightening and funny short talk, Joe Smith reveals the trick to perfect paper towel technique. (Filmed at TEDxConcordiaUPortland.)

The Story of Stuff

Where does our stuff come from, and where does it go after it we toss it in the trash? This engaging 20-minute video has been watch over 40 million times in the five years since it came out! Already seen it? Check out their other videos about electronics and cosmetics.

3. Get crafty

Make your own green cleaners

Sienna Skinner from Lensbaby, one of our gold certified businesses, shared her recipe for a counter and window cleaner:

  • ½ cup vinegar
  • 3½ cups water
  • 1 tsp liquid soap

“Put in a spray bottle and you're set! One of the things I love about this stuff is that you can use it with your regular kitchen sponge and not wonder what you're putting in the sponge you wash your dishes with. It's just vinegar!” – Sienna Skinner

Find more green cleaner recipes here.

Grow an avocado tree from a pitAvocado pit

It’s easier than you think! Check out this how-to poster. Make a big batch of guacamole, bring supplies, and encourage people to take home their soon-to-be plants, or keep them at work so co-workers can watch the evolution. (One of our coworkers tried this a few years ago, and her “desk plant” grew into a 4 foot tall avocado tree!)

4. And for the green team…

How do you motivate people to reduce their energy? Watch this engaging, eight minute TED Talk, and find out. Then talk about how these ideas could be applied at your own workplace.

What type of changemaker are you?

It takes all types of skills to make changes within your workplace. Take this quiz to see if you’re a Networker, Communicator, or Builder. Then talk with other members of your green team to see what they are, and how you can capitalize on each other’s strengths.