Your green office policy for working from home
Posted by American Homes 4 Rent Team
9m read time
Dec 2, 2021
One of the biggest changes to everyday life since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the shift to remote work for many office employees. And, while many have touted the environmental benefits of having fewer cars on the road, some work-from-home habits have simply shifted the carbon footprint from companies to employees. Learn how to work from home sustainably to make sure you really are contributing to a healthier planet, rather than causing more harm.
The environmental impact of remote work
One of the biggest culprits of greenhouse gas emissions is the transportation sector. Commute times contribute a substantial amount to these emissions, with the average American having spent about an hour on the road each day driving to and from the office before the pandemic. During periods of lock down, petroleum usage dropped by nearly 30%. On top of that, early pandemic statistics showed that the first two months of remote work in 2020 resulted in a 15% drop in carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. alone.
But there are some newly-created habits in the work-from-home movement that don’t help the environment either. In fact, some scientists argue that working from home merely shifts environmental damage from the company to its employees. And, while many large companies have “carbon neutral” plans underway to try and combat the amount of carbon emissions they’re responsible for, tracking progress can be a lot murkier when there are countless variables involved for thousands of employees.
At the end of the day, permanent remote work can be the catalyst for incredible change for the environment. But individuals and companies alike still need to make conscious efforts to ensure they create lasting results.
10 ways to create an eco-friendly WFH office
Remote work seems to be doing positive things for the environment in some ways, but there are plenty of ways you and your team can take it to the next level, starting with creating an eco home office. Implement these tips to ensure you don’t etch away at the progress that’s being made with fewer people commuting to offices every day.
Adjust your thermostat
Heating and cooling costs account for 48% of a home’s energy consumption, making it an area with the greatest potential for impacting the environment. You might be tempted to crank up the heat or lower the AC to make your workday as comfortable as possible. But consider adjusting the temperature by one to two degrees than your norm to compensate for the fact that you’re home all day instead of in the office.
Studies reveal that you’ll reduce your energy consumption by 1% for every degree your thermostat is adjusted — that’s one degree cooler in winter months and one degree warmer in the summer. Consider what a difference that makes over the course of a year. Now multiply that by the number of people from your office who are currently working from home. The ability to reduce your company’s carbon footprint as a whole is huge from just one small change in temperature that doesn’t even disrupt your comfort level.
Maximize natural light
Setting up your office in a bright space is good for both the environment and for your health. First, it warms the space in cold months, which could help you set back the thermostat by a few extra degrees. Plus, natural sunlight increases your body’s production of both vitamin B and D, which helps fight illnesses and promotes natural sleep.
Your mental health is also poised to benefit from sitting near a sunny window. Your body produces serotonin and endorphins when exposed to sunlight. Those both increase your mood, especially during winter months when the days are shorter. Enjoy a sunny spot, even if you need to temporarily move your workspace to track the light in your home. Pay attention to the brightest areas during the day, then set up a comfortable chair and folding table in that area for 30 minutes. You’ll get a healthy boost and feel more productive.
Opt for low-waste and sustainable office supplies
Whether you’re working remotely every day or splitting up days between the office and home, make an effort to reduce the amount of work-related waste you produce. There are several ways you can do this.
Use less paper. Instead, grab a reusable notebook that allows you to upload your pages to the cloud. Or take notes directly on your computer, tablet or phone.
Choose biodegradable supplies. There are plenty of eco-friendly office supplies available that don’t have to end up in a landfill for hundreds of years. From pens made with straw to compostable mailers, start shifting towards more sustainable options.
Incorporate bamboo materials. Bamboo is one of the world’s most renewable resources that doesn’t take a huge toll on the land. It’s an excellent replacement for wood, so search for bamboo-made organizers and other desktop products you need. You can even swap out your toilet paper with rolls made from bamboo!
Unplug to avoid vampire energy
The more you work from home, the more devices you likely have plugged into the walls. And that means greater energy consumption, because those plugs are continually leeching electricity even when not actively powering anything. Here are a few ways to reduce “vampire energy.”
The most straightforward strategy is to simply unplug cords from your outlets if you’re not actively using them. Also pay attention to when a device is done charging, because it still uses energy even when it's fully charged.
Make the process even easier on yourself by using power strips. That way you can turn off multiple plugs by pushing just one button. Also consider setting your electronics to sleep mode to avoid an active setting consuming more energy, even when not in use.
Limit at-home printing
Excessive printing hurts the environment in a few ways. First, paper itself is a major culprit in deforestation across the globe, accounting for more than 40% of the logging industry world-wide. Manufacturing ink cartridges uses a large amount of oil (estimated to take about one gallon for a single cartridge). Not only do the cartridges end up in landfills, they can emit harmful chemicals if burned.
Instead of printing off your to-do list or a long report, look for other ways to take in the same information. Enlist the help of your personal tablet to make reading easier or use your phone to create an interactive list. When you do use your printer, recycle sheets when you’re done with them. You can also enroll in an ink cartridge recycling program to keep them out of landfills.
Take advantage of buy-sell-trade groups
“Reusing” is one of the three “Rs” of sustainability and fits in well when outfitting or upgrading your office at home. Unlike in an office building that requires uniformity, you can source second-hand furniture to reduce your carbon footprint. Plus, you may have noticed that it’s difficult to get the furniture of your choice these days. At the start of the work-from-home movement, everyone was ordering desks and office chairs at the same time, often causing shortages. Now, supply chain issues continue to put a wrench in ready availability of products.
Whether you’re looking for a new piece of furniture for your home office or want to get rid of an old piece, sell it or post it for free on an online buy-sell-trade group. You’ll reduce the carbon footprint by avoiding having something new manufactured or shipped, and you save old furniture from going to the dump.
Add indoor plants
Bringing a bit of nature indoors is great for both you and the environment. One of the biggest physical benefits is that plants act as a natural air filter, with many varieties getting pollutants out of the air you breathe.
When selecting indoor plants, try to find ones that are locally sourced. Unique varieties can be exciting, but the transportation from one continent to another can wipe out the smaller scale environmental benefits they bring. Check with local growers or ask friends and family to propagate plants for you from their own collection. It’s the best way to have a completely carbon neutral (or even positive) plant experience.
Enjoy meals at home
You may miss going out to eat at the cafe around the corner from your office, but cooking your own meals is a great work-from-home sustainability tip. There are several ways you’ll help the environment by preparing your own meals instead of going out to eat. First, you’ll avoid driving (unless, of course, your neighborhood favorite is walkable). Either way, it’s great to cut back on gas emissions, especially for small, avoidable trips.
You’ll also reduce waste by using reusable dishware instead of takeout boxes and flatware. This can make a huge difference over time, considering that the average American produces 234 pounds of plastic waste each year — very little of which is recycled.
Finally, boost your sustainable remote work habits by introducing a vegetarian day into your diet, like Meatless Monday. Reducing the amount of meat you eat helps the environment in several ways because of the toll on the earth’s resources it takes to raise livestock. Significant amounts of water and land are used, and greenhouse gas emissions from livestock are actually one of the largest contributors to the problem.
Opt for a reusable water bottle
If you were used to a communal refrigerator stocked with beverages and snacks at the office, you may be tempted to recreate the experience at home. But swapping out that pack of plastic water bottles for a permanent replacement is an impactful way to work from home sustainably. Research reveals that Americans use 50 billion water bottles a year, and less than a quarter of those are recycled.
Plus, think about how much you spend on single-use water bottles each year. If you spend $5 a week, that’s an extra $260 a year you could save by making a one-time purchase of a reusable water bottle. If you invested an extra $260 a year at a modest 8% average rate of return, you could turn $2,600 into over $4,600 within 10 years.
Pause the online ordering
You may think that ordering online is better for the environment because you’re not driving to and from the store. Instead, a single delivery driver is going through the neighborhood dropping off everyone’s Amazon boxes. The problem is that the speed and convenience of online ordering is that it’s common for people to make lots of small orders — and each one requires a separate trip from the warehouse to your doorstep. Plus, if you’re still going out for errands, you may in fact be doubling your carbon footprint.
Challenge yourself to two new habits: first, cut back on the amount of online ordering you do each week. Oftentimes, we’re hitting the “purchase” button on small things we don’t really need. When you order on Amazon, choose the option for a weekly Prime Day instead of next day delivery. All of your purchases through the week are delivered on the same day the following week. Plus, you usually get a small credit added to your Amazon account, which can add up if you order frequently.
Take this one step further and choose just one day of the month to order home office supplies. A little patience can make a huge impact on lowering greenhouse gas emissions.
Creating an eco-friendly home office is a worthy goal that can make a true difference on the future of our planet. Big change happens with small steps. Even choosing just a few of these tips to implement at home can impact the environment for the better.
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