Green Up Your Office

By Sharon Naylor

May 6, 2014 6 min read

If you spend much of your week in your workplace, whether it's in a cubicle or a corner office, you're using costly and environment-affecting energy and resources every hour you're at work. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' American Time Use Survey, employed Americans spend an average of 8.8 hours each weekday in the office, and 34 percent are also in their offices during at least one weekend day. That's a lot of energy being used by each person, each day. The Sierra Club says that businesses waste $1 billion worth of electricity a year, and the amount of non-recycled waste coming from just one office can be jaw-dropping.

No matter where you are in the workplace hierarchy, from owner to manager to intern, you can do your part to make your office more eco-friendly. Even the smallest adjustments to green choices can make a big difference in your company's energy usage, which affects the company's bottom line. And, money aside, many green practices can create a healthier environment for you and for your co-workers.

Here are some easy ways to "go green" at your desk and at your office overall:

--Prevent energy drain when computers and other equipment are turned off. If they're plugged in, they're still using a small amount of energy, so a more complete shut-off can eliminate energy drain. First, check with your IT department first to see whether your office's computers need to be plugged in for automatic backups and other maintenance. If you get the "all clear," either unplug your electrical equipment before leaving the office at night or simply use a power strip to turn off all your technology in one easy flick of a switch.

--During the day, while you're at your desk, set your computer to sleep mode or energy-saver mode, so that your desktop or laptop will automatically go into power-save mode. This one step can cut energy use by 70 percent, which Energy Star also reports as saving $50 annually on energy bills. Keep in mind that energy-save mode is different from screensaver. Screensaver doesn't save energy; it saves your screen.

--Suggest to your company's top decision-makers that any new office equipment purchased, right down to the coffeemaker and water dispenser, be Energy Star-certified to save money and power usage. Energy Star says that a certified water dispenser uses half the energy of standard, non-Energy Star-marked units.

--Suggest to your company's top decision-makers that all computer and copy paper be 100 percent post-consumer waste recycled paper, chlorine-free and in lighter paper stock. Office supply companies often offer bulk discounts for company accounts, which can offset any higher unit prices for chlorine-free paper. And if you supply your own paper, legal pads, notepads and other paper supplies, shop for eco-friendly papers, which you can find in top office supply companies and on their websites.

--Print on both sides of papers. If you don't know how to do this via the office copier, ask your office manager for information on how to make this simple, money-saving switch, and volunteer to print up instructions for everyone in the office. Printing on both sides gets twice the use of each ream of paper.

--Add more recycling bins. If the company's recycling bins are a long walk from your office, place small bins beneath your desk or in a corner of your office, so that you can toss those glass or plastic bottles into them easily. And suggest to your office manager the addition of recycling bins for old cell phones, ink cartridges and other small technology.

--Jodi Helmer, author of "The Green Year," says to cancel all print newspaper and magazine subscriptions and switch to online subscriptions instead. Your industry association magazines may be online as well.

--Use compact fluorescent, LED or halogen bulbs instead of conventional incandescents in your desk lamp. Energy Star says that CFL's use 75 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs. And they'll use zero energy when you get into the habit of turning off your desk and office lights whenever you leave your office for a period of time, such as going into a meeting or to lunch.

--Pack your lunch in an eco-friendly insulated bag, instead of a paper or plastic bag. Helmer says that the reusable lunch tote saves money many times over, and you can also fill your lunch tote with homemade organic meals and snacks to extend your green practices.

--Use organic, nontoxic cleaners in your office for those times when you tidy up your desk and clean your keyboard. The same goes for air fresheners and aromatherapy scent misters -- switching to non-toxic brands prevents you from breathing in chemicals and adding to indoor air pollution.

--Keep your blinds open during cool days to let sunshine in and warm your office, and close blinds on warmer days to keep your office space cooler.

--For any desk accessories such as mouse pads, chair cushions, wrist wrests and other comfort items, choose ones made from earth-friendly materials such as hemp, bamboo and organic cotton, using organic soy inks.

--And of course, bring some air-purifying green plants into your office space, if your company allows. Besides cleaning the air of allergens, dust, mildew and even toxic chemicals from printers, green plants make the corner of your work world prettier and cheerier for all your long work hours.

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