It’s undeniable that COVID-19 has changed everything, and this includes work–more people are working remotely than ever before. As time goes on, it’s becoming apparent that remote work is here to stay for many employees, meaning it’s time to settle in to your home office for the long haul.
With the traditional office potentially becoming a thing of the past, many of the environmental sustainability projects that large businesses built to help minimize their impact may also become obsolete, but the impact won’t go away–it will just be shifted to home offices and become the individual’s responsibility.
Employers don’t have to pay to light, heat, air condition, and power their employees’ homes, nor do they need to buy the supplies, handle the garbage, and institute recycling programs: All of those office elements are problems for workers in a work-from-home world.
That doesn’t mean green office initiatives have to go away, though: It’s time to start thinking about how to make your home office green. Whether you’re concerned about increased energy bills or the impact you’re having on the environment, there are lots of things you can do to make your home office green. Here are five eco-friendly tips for home office workers. Also, check out my picks for the 10 eco-friendly home office essentials.
SEE: 250+ tips for telecommuting and managing remote workers (TechRepublic Premium)
Light your workspace right
There are two ways you can go about being green in your home office lighting: Choosing a space with maximum natural light (or maximizing natural light), or choosing the greenest form of artificial light.
Your natural light options are going to be limited: You may not have a house in the best geographic location for natural light, or be able to rearrange rooms to get your office in the most natural light-friendly part of the home. If you don’t have a lot of options, you can still do certain things to enhance the natural light of a room, and the tips span a range of budgetary options, from painting a room white to putting in larger and more energy-efficient windows.
In terms of room placement, the best location for a home office (in the northern hemisphere) is the south side of the house, which gets the most sun exposure throughout the day. That advice is opposite for those living in the southern hemisphere: Put your home office on the north side of the house.
If rearranging your home to maximize natural light isn’t practical, you can still light your home in an environmentally friendly fashion with LED light bulbs. Incandescents and compact fluorescents can’t hold a candle to the efficiency, overall cost, and environmental sustainability of LED bulbs. Sure, they cost more up-front but you’ll save lots of money over the long haul on both your energy bill and replacement costs, with the average LED light lasting 25,000 hours, the average incandescent lasting 12,000 hours, and the average CFL lasting only 8,000 hours.
Ditch your printer
There’s no two ways about it: Owning a printer, whether it’s an inkjet or a toner-using laser printer, ends up having quite the impact on the environment. The most environmentally friendly option is to ditch your printer completely if you can.
Laser vs. inkjet basically comes down to a question of volume: Toner-based laserjets are great for high-volume print needs, as they print faster and supplies last longer, which results in less energy expenditure and reduced waste. Inkjets are far cheaper, and while supplies don’t last nearly as long, if they’re only used very occasionally they’re the more sustainable (and affordable) choice.
The problem is the waste created by toner and ink cartridges, most of which aren’t recycled. If you need to have a printer and you want to be green, it’s essential to not only recycle your used cartridges, but also to buy remanufactured cartridges. Remanufacturing is what happens when used cartridges are returned: They’re refilled and resold for a far cheaper price than OEM cartridges, making them not only a better financial choice, but a better environmental one as well.
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Manage your energy usage
There are a lot of things in a home office that use energy: Computers, lights, Internet of Things (IoT) devices, printers, shredders, and more are all sucking up power, even when not actively in use.
Your energy bill and environmental impact can climb quickly with an office full of technology, so be sure you’re doing the following:
- Enable energy-saving features on computers, monitors, printers, and other devices that have them;
- make sure energy-using devices are ENERGY STAR compliant;
- turn off devices when they aren’t in use;
- use a desk lamp with a low-wattage LED battery instead of relying on overhead lighting;
- manage heating and cooling in your home office by installing a smart thermostat, keeping the door shut when the office isn’t in use, and closing vents when the room is unoccupied;
- ditch the desktop—laptops consume far less energy; and
- eliminate unnecessary devices, like a home office mini-fridge, space heaters, window AC units, and superfluous lights.
Buy sustainable secondhand office furniture
If you’re outfitting a home office, it can be tempting to run to your nearest Target, Walmart, or other superstore to get cheap assemble-at-home furniture, but there are a lot of environmental reasons not to.
“Fast furniture,” like fast fashion, is causing a lot of environmental damage due to products being thrown away more often, having a larger carbon footprint due to overseas production and shipping, and being made of hazardous materials.
The most sustainable products are ones that have already been made, and in many cases you can find those products without having to search too hard: Hit up Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, antique malls, flea markets, and other sources of used products to get something of higher quality for potentially less money and far less environmental impact.
Eliminate all the waste you can
It’s easy to forget about all the little bits of waste generated in a regular office: Sticky notes, paper towels, disposable coffee cups, and more all get tossed without a second thought.
At home it’s easy to keep certain habits up, like using paper towels to clean up spilled coffee, or covering your desk in sticky notes to ensure you remember all the important things you have to do.
Since your home is now your office, you’re spending more time in it, and therefore generating more waste. Eliminate every bit you can by doing things like:
- Using washable rags instead of paper towels;
- putting up a white board in your office and ditching sticky notes;
- buying recycled printer paper;
- printing double sided;
- going digital instead of printing as often as possible;
- using a mesh basket in favor of disposable coffee filters;
- getting rid of your K-cup machine, if you have one;
- never using bottled water or disposable cups;
- eliminating packaged snacks in favor of bulk items, fruit, and other minimally packed foods;
- recycling everything you can; and
- composting organic waste.
Following tips like these, and buying sustainable products and office equipment that helps you save energy, can make your home office just as green—if not greener—than the one you were working in before COVID-19 brought us a new kind of normal.