More than 20 million Americans work from home a couple of days a week, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That means added energy use from lights and office equipment and extra paper consumption from sticky notes, calendars and to-do lists.
But it doesn’t have to. Greening the home office is easy with a few simple steps. If you’re looking to give your workspace an eco-makeover, these tips can help create an inviting, calming office that balances professional and environmental needs.
1. Phase out paper.
We can’t make bills disappear, but we can make paper bills disappear. Sign up for e-billing with credit and utility companies, and create a spreadsheet to keep track of bills. Also register for online banking to eliminate paper statements.
If you’re addicted to your e-mail or Blackberry, filing your bills through e-mail may be a good solution. Many e-mail providers offer labeling systems for important documents. Google’s Gmail offers a color-coded labeling system that makes it easy to organize monthly e-bills. If you prefer a more traditional method, pick up an eco-friendly wipe-off board to keep track of bills. Acco Brands makes a Cradle-to-Cradle-certified dry-erase board, available at office supply stores for about $20.
Finally, if old files are taking up precious space, recycle them or shred them to use as packing material. Some recycling centers do not accept shredded paper.
2. Perfect your printing.
Keep printing to a minimum. When it’s unavoidable, decrease margin sizes and use both sides of the paper. Salvage sheets with errors for scrap paper. Many suppliers carry 100 percent recycled, Forest Stewardship Council-certified paper. Wood alternatives such as hemp or organic cotton papers are also available.
The ink that goes on those pages can be cleaned up, too. Refill used cartridges instead of buying new (saving money and packaging), and print in black-and-white draft mode, which uses less ink per page. Though not widely available for home use, soy ink is more eco-friendly than conventional petroleum-based ink. Print Recovery Concepts carries SoyPrint laser printer cartridges. For more information, visit www.soyprint.net.
3. See the light.
Studies show that sunlight has a calming, clarifying effect on mood and concentration. People who work in daylight experience an increase in general well-being and productivity, according to a report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a facility of the U.S Department of Energy in Golden, Colorado. The evidence is so compelling that many European companies require all employees’ work stations be within 27 feet of a window. Set up your workstation adjacent to windows to avoid glare. To further enhance the pleasant atmosphere, keep flowers or other plants near the window.
For evening office work, have a reading lamp equipped with LEDs or CFLs near the desk. While CFLs have gotten a bad rap for producing harsh light, today’s models offer several variations on white light; choose lower temperatures (around 2,700 degrees Kelvin) for warmer light and higher (around 6,500 degrees Kelvin) for cooler light. Several desk lamps use newer LED technology.
4. Power down.
The office is home to massive energy thieves: printers, scanners, fax machines, computers and shredders. Even in standby mode, each item could draw up to 40 watts of power, according to Energy Star. Plug all office electronics into a surge protector so you can disconnect them from the power source with a flip of a switch at the end of the day.
Also, consider how you could reduce the amount of equipment you have. Do you have a separate printer, scanner, copier and fax machine? When it’s time to update, try an all-in-one print/copy/fax machine. Laptop computers use less energy and are more convenient if you travel or want to work outside. Always buy Energy Star-rated equipment.
You can also save energy just by switching some computer settings. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends programming computers to hibernate after 30 to 60 minutes of inactivity. For higher savings, set monitors to enter sleep mode after five to 20 minutes. Don’t confuse this with setting screensavers, though: Graphics-heavy screensavers waste power by preventing your computer from entering full sleep mode. If you’re going to be away from your computer for a long period of time, just shut it down.
5. Ban the books.
It can be difficult to part ways with your favorite books, but with the wealth of reliable information on the Internet, you can easily trim down your literature collection.
Start with reference materials: How often do you use those old college textbooks? Do you really need a thesaurus or can you use an online version? If you’re accustomed to dialing 411 or accessing www.switchboard.com for phone numbers, cancel your phone book subscription and recycle your old phone books.
Donate books you don’t need to the local library or coffee shop. Or, for quick cash, sell them to the local used bookstore, putting money in your pocket and resources back into your local economy. If you’re a bookworm, rediscover the library. Most are fully stocked with the newest books, and many offer hard-to-find books via interlibrary loan. You also can consider e-books.
6. Sit pretty.
One of the best investments you can make in your home office is a great desk chair. If buying new, choose ergonomic furniture, which provides better support and encourages better posture.
If a brand new office chair isn’t in the budget, furnish your office with quality secondhand goods. Reupholster your finds in eco-friendly textiles for a customized, earth-friendly feel.
■ To bind documents, try staple-less staples. They poke a neat hole into the page then fold the punched-through paper flap over pages to secure them. Currently, staple-less staplers can only fasten a few pages together. For bigger stacks, use reusable, recycled metal paper clips.
■ For filing important papers, TerraCycle has eco-binders made of 100 percent recycled paper and 90 percent recycled steel.
■ More than 10 billion plastic pens go to the landfill each year. Write right by using refillable, recycled plastic pens. The Precise V5 Rolling Ball Pen from Pilot Pen’s BeGreen line is made with nearly 90 percent recycled content and is within the same price range (about $2 per pen) as other Pilot pens.
■ If pencils are part of your routine, choose recycled or reclaimed wood. EarthWrite pencils are made with 100 percent recycled paper and contain 60 percent post-consumer recycled content.
Recycle It Right
From 2003 to 2005, discarded electronics were recycled at the rate of about 15 to 20 percent, according to the EPA. We can do better. Electronics recycling is getting easier; visit www.earth911.com for a comprehensive recycling guide to just about everything, searchable by location.
■ Discs. The CD Recycling Center makes it easy to recycle scratched CDs and DVDs and all their packaging. Just collect undesirables until you have a mail-worthy amount, then ship them to the center. Wean yourself from burning information to discs—invest in a flash drive to save space and money.
■ Cell phones. Many wireless providers will recycle your old phone for free. Check with your local electronics store or phone-service provider. Some charities take old cell phones, refurbish them and donate them to good causes.
■ Computers. The manufacturer’s recycling program is most likely the easiest way to get rid of your old machine. If your manufacturer charges a fee to recycle try www.myboneyard.com, which offers free shipping on office recyclables. Your local computer repair store also may take old machines to salvage usable parts.
■ MP3 players. When your iPod refuses to play that funky music anymore, simply send it back to Apple for proper parts recycling. To get cash for your worn music players, ship them
for free to Beyond the Pod.
■ Batteries. Whether regular or rechargeable, toss used batteries into the recycling bins at electronics superstores such as Best Buy, OfficeMax, RadioShack or Staples. Visit the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation to find a recycling center near you.
■ CFLs. Keep mercury out of the landfill by recycling your used CFL bulbs at The Home Depot for free.
■ Ink cartridges. If you’re not able to refill your ink cartridges, simply drop them off at your local office supply store or recycle them through the manufacturer.
Green Earth Office Supply
Organic cotton paper
Recycled metal paper clips