In these days of high gas prices and a struggling economy, many companies are incorporating telecommuting into their workweeks as the norm rather than the exception. It's estimated that up to 14 million Americans will work from home at least part-time in 2009 [source: MSNBC]. It not only saves the company money, it also decreases their carbon footprint. And it saves you fuel costs as well as traffic time, which improves your quality of life. So everyone wins. Since you're already helping the environment by staying put, why not kick it up a notch and go green in your office, too?
There are so many environmentally friendly products available that greening your office is a snap. But a green lifestyle includes more than just what you buy. Making small changes in your everyday behaviors counts, too. You can start small by eliminating toxic chemicals and bringing light and fresh air in. Simply switching to natural cleaning products can make a huge difference in your air quality, and it also helps the environment. And just because your company is dedicated to printing and handing out every memo they issue, it doesn't mean you have to in your home office. Big companies like Office Depot offer guides to going green in your office, as well as having a large selection of green office supplies. Just don't forget to bring your own bag.
You can usually expect to pay a little more for green living, but there are other costs you have to consider that aren't involved with your wallet. And some of these things can even save you a little green -- money that is.
These are just a few pointers to get you in a green frame of mind. We'll cover all kinds of ways you can have a green home office, starting with some environmentally friendly materials on the next page.
Green Home Office Materials
So, now you're inspired to green up your home office, but it's hard to know where to start. So let's start with decorating. Paint is an inexpensive way to change the look of a space without a huge investment, but most paint fumes will send you running for a respirator or an open window. This is because they contain high amounts of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that produce a smelly gas when they're applied. Paint manufacturers rose to the occasion and created a large selection of low-VOC and zero-VOC paints that are available in a variety of palettes.
If you're looking to replace the flooring in your home office, consider bamboo or cork as sustainable alternatives to traditional hardwoods and carpet. Bamboo is a renewable resource that is recognized as a green material by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). For example, bamboo can be harvested in three years, unlike oak, which takes 120 years to grow to maturity [source: Treehugger]. Bamboo regenerates by itself and requires almost no pesticides or fertilization. Cork flooring is also sustainably harvested, and offers benefits, such as being naturally mold-resistant and extremely durable. Plus, it's biodegradable so it won't live for eternity in a landfill when it's removed.
If your existing flooring is staying put, you can always get a rug made from recycled materials. No longer is woven denim from old jeans your only option. There are beautiful rugs in many different styles and colors that are made from recycled materials such as PVC and PET plastics and recovered scraps from the textile industry. If you wanted to go the extra mile and add social consciousness to your green agenda, you could ensure that your imported, handmade, recycled rug was purchased via fair trade.
Filling Your Green Home Office Space
Now that you have the walls and floor all greened up, the next step is to pick your furniture. There are many inexpensive options on the market for office furniture made of particleboard, and wood furniture can be considerably more expensive. But although going the cheap route is better for your wallet at the time, it's not always the best choice in the long run. Not only does particleboard off-gas formaldehyde when it's new, it generally doesn't hold up as well as a solid, wood-crafted desk.
Next, you're going to need stock up on supplies. Fortunately, there are a wide variety of green office supplies available, especially in the paper department. This includes office paper, file folders, envelopes, shipping boxes, as well as paper towels and tissues. Most office papers on the market still contain zero recycled content, so be sure to carefully read the labels when purchasing paper. But you're not just limited to paper goods when going green -- you can also buy refillable pens, biodegradable garbage can liners made of corn, solar-powered calculators, and non-toxic markers and glue sticks. These are all good supplies to have on hand for your green initiatives.
Green computing is another way to honor the environment, and there is a new system for evaluating and certifying electronics that keeps this in mind. The Electronic Product Enviromental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) has a set list of 51 specific criteria that they use to rate and categorize computer equipment according to its environmental friendliness. Some highlights of the list are:
- Eliminating environmentally sensitive materials like mercury and lead
- Limiting amount of post consumer materials used
- Promoting longevity
- Promoting energy conservation
- Conserving packaging
Green Home Office Behaviors
A great place to start greening your everyday behavior is to think about the cycle of waste reduction -- reduce, reuse, recycle. In 1960, 88 million tons of garbage were thrown away. In 2005, that number was upwards of 245 million tons [source: Hill]. Our throwaway culture has created a heavy burden on our environment in the form of landfills, so reduce is first on the list, because eliminating waste is the ideal. Going paperless is the best option, but not practical for everyone. The next step is to reuse, which includes tasks like printing on both sides of a sheet of paper, saving paperclips, rubber bands and file folders to use again, and choosing refillable pens and ink cartridges rather than buying new ones. Given the hefty amount of packaging that so many supplies come in, you may even find clever ways to use it as storage. And then there's recycling. If you set aside containers labeled specifically for this purpose, recycling easily becomes a habit, just like drinking your morning coffee. So many things can be recycled these days -- junk mail, white paper, cardboard and packaging materials, and even ink cartridges. In fact, many manufacturers of ink cartridges will pay you money or give you a credit toward your next ink purchase if you send the cartridges back to them.
Another important item for green living is clean air. According to the EPA, indoor air is three times more polluted than outdoor air, and paints and finishes are two of the main culprits [source: Eartheasy]. This is because they release low level toxins for years after they're applied. In addition to choosing low-VOC paints, there are several other things you can do to improve your indoor air quality. Find out what they are on the next page.
Saving Home Office Electricity -- and Air
First, open your windows. To improve your air quality, let some fresh air in. Nothing beats the feeling of a cool outdoor breeze blowing through a room, plus fresh air and natural light have been proven to increase productivity. This isn't always an option, especially if you have allergies, so you may want to consider buying an air purifier. Look for ones with a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) rating for maximum efficiency and purifying capabilities. Another worthwhile investment is a plant. Not only do houseplants beautify your environment, they also benefit your air by sucking formaldehyde, benzene and carbon monoxide out of the air and storing them in their roots or breaking them down into less harmful gases. The two most effective are the peace lily and the areca palm.
Conserving electricity is high on the list for a green lifestyle. By making maximum use of natural light, you can cut down on the number of lights that you turn on during the day. But if lights are a must, you can switch to compact fluorescent bulbs, which cost a little more but last considerably longer than incandescent bulbs and are recyclable as well. Items that are plugged into electrical outlets draw power even when they're not in use. This is called phantom power, and it accounts for about 10 percent of your monthly electrical bill [source: Planet Green]. It's probably not likely that you'll remember to unplug every electrical appliance you own at the end of each day, so you might want to consider investing in energy saving power strips that can be turned off at the source. You can also purchase solar or hand-cranked chargers for many of your handheld devices.
This should be enough to get you started, but if you want even more information on making your home office environmentally friendly, see all of the information on the next page.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
More Great Links
- Alter, Lloyd. "Working From Home Makes More Sense Than Ever." Treehugger.com, October, 2008.http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/10/working-from-home.php
- Alter, Lloyd. "Bamboo Flooring- Is It Really Treehugger Green?"
- Treehugger.com, September, 2005.http://www.treehugger.com/files/2005/09/bamboo_flooring.php
- Alvarado, Paula. "Gorgeous Textiles and Rugs Made From Recycled Materials by Brazilian Designer Claudia Araujo." Treehugger.com, September, 2008.http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/09/fabrics-rugs-recycled-materials-claudia-araujo-brazil.php
- "Cork Flooring 101." Articlesbase.com, August, 2008.http://www.articlesbase.com/diy-articles/cork-flooring-101-507384.html
- Dunn, Collin. "Like LEED for Computers: EPEAT, The Green Computing Standard." Treehugger.com, May, 2006.http://www.treehugger.com/files/2006/05/like_leed_for_c.php
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- Epeat Company Website - http://www.epeat.net/
- Grover, Sami. "Detox Your Home: In the Office, Part 1." Planet Green, March, 2008.http://planetgreen.discovery.com/home-garden/detox-office.html
- Grover, Sami. "Detox Your Home: In the Office, Part 2." Planet Green, March, 2008.http://planetgreen.discovery.com/home-garden/detox-office.html
- "Here's Your Guide To Buying Green." Office Depot company website, 2009. http://www.officedepot.com/promo.do?file=/guides/buygreen/buygreen.jsp
- Hill, Graham. "Ready, Set, Green." Villard, 2008. pp. 15-16.
- "Low- or No-VOC Paints, Finishes and Adhesives." Toolbase Services, 2008.http://www.toolbase.org/Technology-Inventory/Interior-Partitions-Ceilings/low-voc-paints
- "Non-toxic paints." Eartheasy.com, 2009.http://www.eartheasy.com/live_nontoxic_paints.htm
- "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle." Environmental Protection Agency, February, 2009.http://www.epa.gov/waste/conserve/rrr/index.htm
- "Sustainable Cork Wood Flooring - Save The Planet, Save Yourself." Articlesbase.com, December, 2007.http://www.articlesbase.com/home-improvement-articles/sustainable-cork-wood-flooring-save-the-planet-save-yourself-277432.html
- Tahmincioglu, Eve. "The quiet revolution: telecommuting." msnbc.com, October, 2007.http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20281475/