Green Your Work Space

By Sharon Naylor

October 2, 2009 6 min read

Office space creates a lot of office waste, with mountains of paper and multiple energy drains. Whether you work in a corner office, cubicle or home office, having a green mindset saves the planet, your health and lots and lots of money. Here are the top tips for greening your work space:

*Green your equipment

"When possible, replace your office equipment with Energy Star models, including computers, printers, phones, light fixtures and others, which use two-thirds less energy than non-Energy Star brands," says Avital Binshtock, lifestyle editor of Sierra magazine and its popular blog, The Green Life (http://www.SierraClub.org/GreenLife). The Energy Star Web site (http://www.EnergyStar.gov) shows brands and models of thousands of products in more than 60 categories, some of which will earn you new tax credits for implementing them.

*Turn it off

"At the end of your workday, turn off your computer," says Binshtock, who says that our nation's habit of leaving computer equipment on overnight costs the U.S. more than $2.8 billion in wasted money. In addition to powering down your computer, turn off the power strip. "When the computer is off but the power strip is still plugged in, the computer, printer and other equipment are still using phantom energy," says Trish Riley, co-author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Greening Your Business." "They're just in standby mode when you turn them off, wasting energy."

If you can't remember to turn off lights when you leave a room, install inexpensive motion sensors, which can be found at eLights.com and which automatically shut lights off when a room is not in use, suggests Binshtock. And of course, compact fluorescent light bulbs, or CFLs, last 10 times longer than traditional light bulbs and cut down on greenhouse gas emissions.

*Green Your Paper Trail

Don't print out every e-mail and document you handle. Only print what's crucial to have as a hard copy, and for all other projects, work on document versions using the "track changes" feature, vowing not to print out drafts. Use online file-sharing tools, such as Microsoft Office Live, to co-create project drafts with colleagues and bosses, and if you must print out non-final materials, do so in draft mode, which uses less ink.

"Use the new Ecofont, which you can download for free at http://www.ecofont.nl. This eco-friendly specialty font leaves tiny open circles in the middle of letters, minimizing ink use by 20 percent," says Binshtock.

Riley suggests using only recycled office paper, printing on both sides of each sheet, and keeping one-side-printed pages for use as scrap paper to cut down on waste and eliminate pricey new paper purchases.

Ink cartridges and toners last longer, as do computers and printers, when you print out fewer pages, and many office supply stores, such as Staples, invite you to bring in your spent ink cartridges to earn several dollars' worth of points on your member rewards plan. You also may opt to mail in your empty ink cartridges for recycling, using postage-paid mailers provided by the ink companies.

Right now, according to Riley, soy- and vegetable-based inks are becoming more available as green-friendly alternatives that work in standard printers.

*Recycle

Acquire recycling bins, not only for newspaper, glass and bottles but also for computer paper and junk mail.

Shredders can create package filler out of used printer paper, and when newspaper is shredded, it can be added to your home compost bin. Cardboard shipping boxes can be saved and reused with prior mailing labels removed and any markings on the boxes blacked out with marker for an eco-friendly recycled mailer plan. Your old computer and office equipment can be recycled, as well.

*Clean air

Riley suggests bringing several green plants into your work space as natural sources of oxygen and air purification. "Spider plants are among the most effective," she suggests. If possible, open windows to allow for a refreshing natural cross breeze, which could allow you to turn off air conditioning for the day. "Anytime you can adjust the office thermostat 5 degrees up or down, depending on the season, and then either add or remove a sweater for your comfort, you save energy and expense," suggests Riley.

Keeping your work space clean shouldn't mean a cloud of dangerous chemicals from commercial cleaners and air fresheners. Green your office cleaning supplies with natural products, found in such lines as Method and Seventh Generation, and ban aerosol air fresheners that contain hazardous chemicals. Use a natural spray, such as a homemade mix of water and lemon or tangerine essential oil.

*Green your coffee break

Riley says, "Don't use disposable kitchenware in your office or break room," citing the eco-danger of Styrofoam coffee cups. Use your own mug to enjoy 100 percent organic coffees and teas, found at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. Drink water filtered straight from the tap to eliminate dangerous plastic water bottles, which pose a threat to the environment and to your health from leached plastics and toxins.

*Green your meetings

Use teleconferencing tools, such as Skype, for important face-to-face meetings with clients, and avoid the carbon footprint nightmare of long-distance travel.

For more green work space tips, sign up for a daily inspiration e-mail at the Sierra Club's Web site.

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