Whether we like to admit it or not, much of our lives are spent at the office. Western culture puts in at least 40 hours per week at work. While we’re there, we can improve overall quality of life and reduce our carbon footprint just as we do when we're at home. And reducing our impact on the planet while at the office is simpler than many people ever thought possible. New technologies and an overall push toward conservation have made sustainability in the workplace a realistic goal.
What are the keys to creating a lower-impact office? First, take a look the technology in your office. From sustainable computers to printers and even fax machines, technology is becoming more eco-friendly all the time. Business owners are realizing that by reducing overall electricity use, they not only reduce their carbon footprint, but improve their bottom line as well.
Technology is making the workplace more efficient, but it's also reducing the need for employees to be present in the traditional office in the first place. Innovations in teleconferencing and online meeting software mean companies don't have to waste fossil fuels flying their employees all over the world. What's more, you can work from home at least part of the work week.
While you're at the office, you can preserve finite resources, specifically trees, by going paperless and by choosing eco-friendly furnishings.
You can also use sustainable nutrition while at the office. Seasonal, local and organic foods make for a healthier employee and a healthier planet.
Which is more sustainable: a laptop or a desktop computer? Find out on the next page.
Improve Office Efficiency with New Technology
More energy-efficient technology can make a big difference in your company's bottom line. Information technology energy costs alone add up to nearly $8 billion a year in the United States.
Office laptops provide optimal efficiency by using five times less energy than a desktop computer. You can also take them home, which means working from home at least part of the week and saving fossil fuels on a reduced commute.
Your best bet is a small, Energy Star-labeled laptop with built-in energy saving components so that when your laptop is in the off, idle or on position, it consumes the least amount of energy possible.
The same goes for copiers, fax machines and computer printers. All of this equipment should abide by Energy Star standards. Looking for the Energy Star label on copying machines and fax machines means saving 40 percent on overall efficiency.
Many offices are also installing smart technology that turns off lighting and power when employees aren't in the room. Some offices have lights that turn off if they don't sense movement for an extended period of time. Office refreshment machines can even be controlled by smart technology. But easy upgrades like switching to energy-efficient lighting and turning off lights when leaving the office, meeting rooms, lounge or bathroom make a significant difference.
Learn how to save money and protect confidential files via encryption on the next page.
Go Paper-free at the Office
Not only do we waste tons of trees by printing unnecessarily, we also waste the energy in processing and manufacturing immense amounts of printer paper. This is true even if you use recycled paper because the recycling process also uses energy. The best policy is to reduce paper consumption.
You can avoid printing out notes at meetings by putting them up on an overhead projector or PowerPoint display and encourage employee note-taking. That way you don't waste countless sheets of paper on a book of notes that will likely get thrown in the trash.
Use an e-mail signature that advocates an office policy against e-mail printing. It could read "please print e-mails responsibly" or "please take the planet into account when printing e-mails." Avoiding e-mail printouts translates into inter-office paper conservation while also reminding anyone you e-mail to think twice before pressing print.
Instead of making copies in the office, scan files into your computer. Scanning papers is actually safer than having paper copies because paper copies can get lost or damaged more easily. Backing up files in various places on your computer, as well as encrypting very important data is safer than backing up with paper copies. Encrypting office files with simple PC software changes the format so that they can't be read. Locking confidential paper files becomes unnecessary.
Read on to find out how office furniture can release poisonous toxins.
Furnish a Green Office
Furnishings are as important to a sustainable office as technology and overall conservation. Office furnishings can release toxins and ruin indoor air quality. We spend up to 90 percent of our time indoors and much of that time is spent at the office. Responsibly produced office furniture not only affords cleaner air, it's gentler on the planet.
We spent $11.9 billion on office furniture in 2005, so buying the good stuff is increasingly important. Take, for example, your desk; choose a desk made of sustainable materials like bamboo, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) wood or reclaimed materials. FSC wood comes from managed forests that replace harvested trees with new growth. Choose furniture that doesn't give off Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) like formaldehyde and benzene.
Guard against bad indoor air quality by choosing plants that remove toxins. Certain indoor plants not only liven up your office but absorb poisonous toxins from the air. Gerbera daisies, chrysanthemums, spider plants and golden pothos are believed to be the most effective at toxin absorption. Just as planting trees improves the quality of life outdoors, so, too, does greenery indoors.
Work travel could become obsolete; find out why on the next page.
Telecommute Whenever Possible
Commuting often uses a large chunk of your carbon footprint. That's why telecommuting is possibly the most significant way to reduce environmental impact. In the quest to reduce office overhead, more workplaces are going virtual. New technology makes working from home easier than ever. You can have full access to your office by logging onto your PC at home.
Business air travel is the least sustainable mode of transportation. In fact, a typical cross-country flight releases 2,200 pounds (997.9 kg) of carbon per passenger. That's the equivalent of more than a quarter of your allotted annual carbon footprint if you’re working toward a responsible goal of 4 tons. Teleconferencing makes business travel and needless in-person meetings outdated.
Today, thanks to modern phone and online conferencing technology, virtual meetings are simple. Follow a PowerPoint presentation remotely online. Ask questions in real time and follow along as a supervisor updates you via video conferencing. Modern technology equals less lag time, minimized sound distortion and better overall picture on your PC.
Teleconferencing services are less expensive than ever; in many cases, they're free of charge. You can receive constant company updates via video chatting, which enables person-to-person employee communication from anywhere.
Learn about how livestock produce 18 percent of all greenhouse-gas emissions on the next page.
Nourish Your Health with Eco-friendly Foods
Your diet is also important to the health of the planet. Consider vegetarian, seasonal and local foods for your office meetings and lunches. Choosing vegetarian meals at least some of the time can make a huge difference in your footprint: 18 percent of all greenhouse-gas emissions come from livestock.
Antibiotics and hormones pumped into conventional livestock seep into our groundwater and pollute our soil, lakes, rivers and streams. If choosing vegetarian foods is out of the question, consider grass-fed, free-range meats and organic dairy that's free of hormones, antibiotics and other chemicals. Choose local and seasonal foods as well. Sourcing your food close to home saves the fossil fuels wasted in our food's average 1,500-mile (2,414 km) journey.
Select biodegradable takeout containers instead of plastic or plastic foam, and whenever possible, skip the takeout containers entirely and use reusable forks, knives, spoons, plates and cups stored at the office.
Start your day with organic, fair trade coffee housed in a reusable mug. Fair trade certification ensures that your coffee beans were grown responsibly and the workers that produced them were paid a fair wage. Instead of a soda, fill up a water bottle and stay hydrated throughout the work day.
Organizing your home office is important in creating a comfortable and separated space. Learn where to start in organizing your home office.
- "How long is the average work week in the U.S.?" Library Spot. (Sept. 12, 2010.) http://www.libraryspot.com/know/workweek.htm
- Malik Char, Jaymi. "How to Buy a Green PC." Computer Shopper. (Sept. 7, 2010.) http://computershopper.com/feature/how-to-buy-a-green-pc#
- Malik Char, Jaymi. "How to Buy a Green PC: Go Small." Computer Shopper. (Sept. 7, 2010.) http://computershopper.com/feature/how-to-buy-a-green-pc2
- "Imaging Equipment." Energy Star. (Sept. 7, 2010.) http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?fuseaction=find_a_product.showProductGroup&pgw_code=IEQ
- Glover, Sam. "Paperless Law Office Is Easier Than You Think." Lawyerist.com. (Sept. 10, 2010.) http://lawyerist.com/paperless-law-office/
- "The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality." EPA. (Sept. 8, 2010.) http://www.epa.gov/iaq/pubs/insidest.html
- Gordon, Jacob. "How to Go Green Furniture." Planet Green. (Sept. 9, 2010.) http://planetgreen.discovery.com/go-green/green-furniture/green-furniture-stats.html
- "NASA Study House Plants Clean Air." Zone 10. (Sept. 10, 2010.) http://www.zone10.com/nasa-study-house-plants-clean-air.html
- "Plants Clean Air and Water for Indoor Environments" NASA Spinoff. (Sept. 16, 2010.) http://www.sti.nasa.gov/tto/Spinoff2007/ps_3.html
- "Reducing Your Carbon Footprint." Expedia. (Sept. 12, 2010.) http://www.expedia.com/daily/sustainable_travel/going_green/carbon_footprint.asp
- Pagnamenta, Robin. "Climate chief Lord Stern: give up meat to save the planet." The Sunday Times. (Sept. 7, 2010.) http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article6891362.ece