When you work in an office building — even if you’re just a member of the cubicle farm — someone else is usually in charge of handling environmental details. You may be asked to switch off your computer before you leave for the evening or to throw paper into a separate trash receptacle, but that’s likely to be the extent of your responsibilities. But when you’re in your home office, the decision to have a greener office is up to you rather than some manager in the sky.
Plenty of us choose to ignore those little opportunities to make our home offices greener, even if we work entirely from home. There are other incentives, however: a green office is often cheaper to run. I’ve listed out a few tips for several areas of greening your office — most of which I’ve tried out. The exceptions are in the ‘Extreme Green’ category. Don’t limit yourself to my suggestions, though. There are many options for greening your office: you just have to find the right ones for you.
My local electric company basically doubled their rates in the last year, and I use plenty of power in my home office. When I started investigating options to make my electricity bill a bit cheaper, just about everything I ran across was an option to make my office more environmentally friendly. Most options, of course, didn’t bring down the bill by a huge amount, but they did stack up to a respectable savings.
- Use compact fluorescent light bulbs. Bonus: these bulbs last significantly longer than incandescent bulbs, making them cheaper over time.
- Turn down the heater during the day. I’m a big fan of wearing a sweater, rather than running the heater full blast. I also keep the office chilly enough that I’m encouraged to get up and move around regularly — which can help with a few health issues.
- Dump the CRT monitor. If you’ve been looking for an excuse to buy a flat panel monitor, here it is: LCDs use less power and are better for the environment.
- Limit peripherals. I’ve got the whole range: scanner, fax machine, two printers. But I’ve divvied them up between a few power strips, and if I don’t need them at the moment, I turn off the entire power strip.
Even though I limit the amount of paperwork I print out, I still wind up with an incredible amount of trash all the time. It goes far beyond paper, of course, but that seems to be the largest source of trash.
- Shred paper. I shred everything, from old business documents to random junk mail — the more stuff you shred, the safer your important information will be. I don’t recycle a significant portion of my shredded papers: I use them as packing material whenever I need to mail something out.
- Use reusable cups. Most people tend to have a drink of some sort sitting next to their computer. Rather than buying individual servings of juice or soda, though, consider a larger bottle and a cup. I go for the kind with a lid, but then again, I’m known for accidentally knocking over my drinks.
- Digitize your paperwork. I’ve worked with people who print off every email they receive. They read their email on paper and then, usually, wind up throwing it away. I try to avoid printing off anything that I don’t absolutely need in print (contracts and such being things worth printing off).
Even for those of us who work entirely at home, there are plenty of times that we must leave our home offices: errands, meetings, etc. There are plenty of opportunities to make our travel both greener and easier.
- Stay out of the commute. For many of us, the greatest perk of working at home is staying out of the commuter traffic. But we lose that opportunity any time we schedule a meeting first thing in the morning or at the end of the day.
- Batch errands together. I try to run all my errands in one go — I save time, gas and the environment all at once.
- Explore alternate means of transport. Bikes, feet, public transport, car pools, pogo sticks: there are plenty of options for getting out of your office, and odds are you might have a little more leeway on time, as well.
If you’re serious about operating a green home office — and by extension, a home — there are some hardcore options to make your entire building more environmentally friendly. If you’re living in an apartment or rental, I would recommend thoroughly discussing these ideas with your landlord before implementing any of them. I am not necessary advocating going this far — I know I’m not hardcore enough to handle these sorts of options, at least at this point — but there are further options out there.
- Go solar. One of the easiest ways to use less power from your local electric company in an existing building is to put solar panels up. It can be an expensive investment, though.
- Implement water saving technology. Greywater recycling, low-flow toilets and other options can sometimes be added to existing buildings, but are much easier to add if you’re building from scratch.
- Buy a hybrid vehicle, or make your own. Everyone knows about the Prius and other hybrid cars, but there seems to be fewer people interested in converting their diesel vehicles to run on biodiesel or other fuels, perhaps because it takes a significant amount of work.