Monitoring material streams in the office

©, image #84462517, source:


Waste Materials
Administration Cross-cutting
Investment cost:
Low cost
Cost savings:
Varies considerably depending on the activities addressed; for example, greener (thoughtful) printing practices alone can cut up to 50 % of the paper cost
Low cost
Size of company:
Micro (less than 10)

Measuring and monitoring resource use is a key skill that all organisations should master, regardless of size or sector. It should be one of the first steps your organisation takes to improve its environmental performance. By regularly measuring and monitoring raw material use, you will start to identify patterns of wasteful behaviour and opportunities to cut back, improve environmental performance and save money.

The performance data can be presented to management to gain their support for future resource efficiency schemes. It also provides clear evidence to show staff how their behaviour directly impacts on the organisation’s resource use and environmental impact. It is a great way to encourage them to adopt and maintain resource-efficient behaviours.

A good measuring and monitoring programme also allows you to compare your organisation’s performance against industry standards or exemplar sites, which is a great way to assess your environmental performance and competitiveness. As awareness of environmental issues grows, forward-thinking organisations are choosing to become more resource efficient to gain market advantage. Good environmental performance is increasingly valued and often required by customers.

First you need to do an audit to determine:

  • The types of material your organisation uses
  • Where these materials are used and where waste occurs in day-to-day activities
  • Why these materials are being used and why waste occurs
  • The volume of materials used, waste produced and costs involved

The results of this audit will help you understand what is driving material use and may also highlight some immediate cost-saving opportunities. Establish key-performance indicators to use for monitoring performance (e.g. paper use/staff member/year) and consider actions to help prevent this waste, for example:

  • paper policy outlining actions to use paper more efficiently (see fact sheet Improving paper consumption in the office) and introduce a redistribution scheme to reduce the amount of new stationery and office equipment being ordered needlessly.
  • Weight up the benefits of leasing/hiring versus purchasing, for example, computers, printers and phones, and eliminate the need to buy, maintain and, ultimately, dispose of equipment, while minimising environmental impacts.
  • Buy durable products, such as metal cutlery, glasses and ceramic mugs for drinks consumed in the workplace.
  • Install energy efficient hand dryers to eliminate the purchase (and disposal) of paper towels.
  • Install mains-fed water dispensers to eliminate bottled water from the office.

These are just a few examples of how better monitoring of material streams can lead to resource savings in an organisation. There are many more good practices provided in the ERIK library and related measures to improve your overall environmental performance.

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