According to the latest telecommuting statistics¹, there are 4.7 million remote workers in the U.S. — 3.4 percent of the entire workforce — and the number is growing. Remote work isn’t only beneficial for employers and employees; it also benefits the environment.
As more companies are focusing on “going green,” allowing employees to work remotely is one of the most effective ways to reduce their carbon footprint. And encouraging remote employees to be more eco-friendly can add up to a significant impact on our environment.
To help you get started, here are 11 tips to “green” your virtual office.
Reduce paper use. Email, text messaging and video chatting are all tools for communication that can eliminate paper waste. Print only the emails and documents you need, and set your printer’s default setting to double-sided printing. If you need to transmit a signed document, scan and email it instead of printing and faxing it.
Reuse paper. Keep one-sided printouts to use as notepaper. If you subscribe to magazines or printed newsletters, consider donating them to your local library or passing them on to a local salon or dentist’s office when you’re through with them.
Recycle paper. Keep a recycling bin right next to your regular trash container. Buy recycled-content office products such as recycled paper, envelopes and packaging material.
Buy Energy Star equipment. Participate in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program. Any product, building or home labeled with the blue Energy Star logo is certified as using less energy, as well as causing fewer emissions that have been identified as contributors to climate change. If you’re buying new office equipment, look for products with the Energy Star label. They’re designed to save a lot more energy than products without the label. Keep in mind that using less energy means you’re saving money, too.
Additionally, set your office equipment to power-saving modes if you won’t be using it for a time. Plug your computer and peripherals into power strips. Many devices continue to draw power when they’re turned off, so power strips allow you to shut off the power on multiple machines quickly. According to the Energy Star website, you can save up to $75 or more per computer by activating system standby or hibernate features and or turning the power off on your office equipment. Energy Star also suggests turning off the computer when it’s not being used; that small move can save you $10 to $40 per year versus leaving a monitor running with a screensaver activated, which can burn up to twice as much energy.
Use your computer’s energy savings options. Set your computer screen to turn off after 15 minutes of being idle.
Use compact fluorescents. Light bulbs are continuously used in the office and at home. Thus, it is essential to invest in energy-saving bulbs and other energy-efficient appliances, as they can significantly reduce environmental impact while simultaneously lowering energy costs. When considering options to light your office, choose compact fluorescents (CFLs) or LED bulbs over incandescent bulbs. CFLs use 25 to 35 percent of the energy used by incandescent bulbs, but if you want to make the most significant environmental impact on the environment, choosing LEDs is the way to go. LED bulbs use 85 percent less electricity than standard bulbs. Also, invest in a good task light on your desk so you can kill the overhead lights when possible.
Make use of natural light. Turning off electric light bulbs and making use of natural light is a great way to conserve energy and help the environment. Moreover, using sunlight will save on electricity costs, improve your health and beautify your home. This tip is particularly useful for homes that have large windows.
Have plants. At home, you can reduce environmental impact by having indoor plants. Plants improve the quality of air and remove toxic chemicals inside the house, enhancing mental state.²
Buy sustainable or used furnishings. Reusing furniture that’s been around the block a few times is a lot easier on the planet than buying new. Visit FreeCycle.org to view listings posted by people looking to promote reuse by exchanging various goods. If you can’t find anything you like on the used market, go with sustainable manufacturers. You can find more information on sustainable furniture manufacturers at the Sustainable Furniture Council’s website.
Use non-toxic cleaning supplies. When working from home, using non-toxic cleaning supplies protects not only the environment but also your health. Highly toxic cleaning liquids can be more harmful in this context, as employees working from home spend most of their time in the home. Ensuring non-toxic supplies are used promotes better health.
Turn off/unplug electronics when not in use. Turn off computers, printers, lights, and heating and air conditioning units when not in use. Streamline this process by using electronics that automatically shut down at night. Moreover, use power strips that group all appliances (television, gaming console, powered speakers, DVD player, etc.) to reduce energy expenditures. An additional option is the use of smart power strips, which lower electricity use by shutting down power to products that are in standby mode. It is estimated that 25 percent of all residential energy consumption is expended on devices that are in some form of idle power mode.³
You can also check out our tips for more eco-friendly offsite meetings and retreats.
²A Study of Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement, NASA, 1989
³ Home Idle Load: Devices Wasting Huge Amounts of Electricity When Not in Active Use, NDRC