Working from home is great for the environment by reducing air pollution, consuming fewer resources, generating less waste, and saving on electricity compared to working at an office. But have you considered the environmental impact of your home office?
1. Energy Use:
First, consider your current home energy use. Figure out how much energy you are consuming to work from home by using an energy calculator. This will show you how much energy (heat, electricity, water) you are using and where you could try saving energy.
2. Heat/cooling and light:
It goes without saying, turn off the lights when you leave the room. This is not always possible in an office setting but is easy enough to do at home. If you haven’t already, switch out your incandescent light bulbs for LEDs which are much energy efficient. For optimal light, place your desk near a window and enjoy the health benefits of natural lighting.
Windows should be double or triple glazed and older windows can be resealed to prevent air leaks. Also consider only heating your home office with a portable, energy efficient heater instead of turning up the thermostat and heating your entire home. Likewise, in warmer months, buy a portable fan you can use in your home office instead of cranking the central A/C.
Shut down electrical devices when not in use, especially at night. If you can’t remember to shut them down, install smart plugs that you can control from an app or through Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa or Apple HomeKit. According to Duke Energy, even when not in use, devices consume electricity and can account for as much as 20% of your electricity bill.
3. Switch to green energy suppliers/become your own supplier:
In many cities and towns, green energy suppliers are popping up. Sometimes it’s as easy as asking your current electricity supplier to switch you to green energy sources. Or you can sign up to an alternative green energy supplier that offers alternative energy sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal. The EPA has advice on how to buy clean electricity.
If you are looking at drastically reducing your carbon footprint, you may also want to install solar panels on the roof of your home. Some cities and states are offering tax incentives for solar panels, while federal incentives allow you to claim a percentage of the cost on your tax return. However, the credit which is currently at 26% will reduce to 10% by 2022. Solar panels can be installed as a rent-to-own or purchased outright and if you end up with a surplus of electricity, you can sell it back to the local electricity supplier.
4. Re-consider paper and printing:
If you can live without a printer, do. If it’s absolutely necessary for your work, make sure you are only printing what is required and always do black and white double-sided printing. It not only saves paper but ink too. There are so many screen and presentation sharing online tools out there, printing will hopefully soon be a thing of the past.
Once you’ve printed, make sure you are recycling any discarded paper or shred it for your compost bin.
5. Improve indoor air:
A 2016 Harvard study found that the air we breathe in the office has an impact on our ability to think and perform tasks. The research shows that higher levels of CO2 and VOCs in the air led to lower cognitive scores.
Fortunately, there is a simple solution to improving air quality: plants. A study conducted by NASA found that a number of plants excelled at purifying the air by removing chemicals such as benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, and ammonia from our surroundings. The best plants for purifying indoor air include Florist’s Chrysanthemum and Peace Lily as well as a variety of indoor palms.
6. Adopt the 5 R’s (Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, Recycle)
We all grew up with the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle) but given the abysmal state of recycling here in the US, we need to think of other ways to reduce our carbon footprint.
Start by refusing to buy products that are harmful to the environment. Every time you think about purchasing something new (clothing, food, household products, furniture, etc), consider its environmental impact, including the packaging it arrives in (especially if you are ordering online).
In addition to reusing items, consider repurposing old items or items that you would normally discard such as light bulbs, bottle caps, skateboards, books, and bicycles among others. Here are some creative ways to repurpose old items.
And don’t forget recycling doesn’t only mean putting cans in the recycling bin, you can also donate clothing, shoes, books, and furniture to charitable organizations such as the Salvation Army and Goodwill.
By working from home, you are probably generating less food packaging waste than you did at the office. Grabbing a coffee on the way to the office and picking up lunch from a nearby cafe are no longer options. Nevertheless, now that you are at home, you are probably cooking more and generating more organic waste like fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds, tea bags and the like. If your city doesn’t offer city-wide composting, now is a great time to invest in your own composter. There are many options from a simple bin with a lid to a more complex dual-chambered tumbler. Worm composting is another option that can be done inside and requires little space.