How to be green at work.

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Feel empowered.

You don’t need to be management to institute change; your role as someone who cares about improving the energy efficiency and healthiness of your workplace is just as vital as those able to make the “big decisions”. In fact, change from the bottom-up is often a lot more effective as everyone has “buy-in”. And just because you don’t make the purchasing decisions, it doesn’t mean you can’t influence them. Do your research, point out the financial savings to management, and enlist the enthusiasm of your team members too. Tell them about the research that shows a happier workplace is more productive and creative, with less absenteeism. Encourage them to take this further by considering how to bring sustainable happiness into the work environment. Find the information, show by doing, and create the momentum, all just because you care.

Conserve your computer’s energy.

For many people with desk jobs the computer is necessary to get things done. Yet, this “efficiency” comes at a cost – it is estimated that people waste over £1 billion in electricity every year just in computer use! To help conserve energy from your computer use, you can:

  • Invest in an energy-saving computer, monitor and printer – it’s easy to find these computers thanks to the energy star label in the USA. The energy savings rating is available in many other countries as well.
  • Switch to energy-saving settings – the Climate Savers Computing Initiative recommends these power management settings:
    • Monitor and display sleep: Turn off after 15 minutes or less;
    • Turn off hard drives and hard disk sleep: 15 minutes or less; and
    • System standby or sleep: After 30 minutes or less.
  • Setting the computer to sleep mode when you are away for short periods of time makes good sense. And don’t use a screensaver – these use energy rather than save it, and you are much better off relying on the power management features to power down to lowest energy use, or sleep mode. A computer in sleep mode can save 60-70% of power.
  • Turn off your computer whenever you’re not using it, especially when leaving work. And note that it isn’t true that turning your computer on and off will wear it out.
  • Switch to a laptop or a thin client. Laptops and thin clients use less energy than desktop computers.

Turn off all peripherals when not in use.

Peripherals such as printers, video cards, speakers, and scanners continue to consume power even when not in use. Unplug them and save energy.

  • Unplug power adapters when not in use.
  • Unplug battery chargers and other chargers when the charging is complete, otherwise they are still consuming energy.
  • Using a power strip as a central turn-off point can reduce the number of switching off actions required.

Reduce printer use.

The printer is one of the most used office items. Every day it cranks out tons of important faxes, emails and other documents. Here are some ways you make your printer use greener:

  • Don’t print unnecessarily. Most stuff can be handled online or on-screen. Learn to increase the font or zoom in if you need to see well.
  • Try not to print in colour
  • Use a printer that does double-sided copying (also called duplexing). If your workplace doesn’t have this, request that such a printer be added to the network and designate that one for the big printing jobs.
  • Print in draft mode. In addition, try to print more screen pages to a paper page. Printing two screen pages per printed page is still readable and double-sided, that means four screen pages per one paper page – a huge paper savings!
  • Recycle ink and toner cartridges
  • Try to use a multifunction device. This is a combination of printer/scanner/copier in one. Provided it is Energy Star rated, it can save both energy and space.

Reduce your paper waste.

Do you have to print out every email and handout? Reduce paper waste by deciding to go paperless wherever possible. You can try to:

  • Keep copies of important emails, files, and more on your computer.
  • Use old paper with extra space to print small documents.
  • Don’t get any extra catalogues or magazines mailed to your office. Use a sharing system to pass around interesting materials between everyone’s in-trays, or consult such matter online. This saves paper and money.
  • Get your check directly deposited. Payment direct to your bank account saves paper, and it’s likely to save you time, too.
  • Send company updates through email instead of on paper.
  • Review any documents online instead of printing them out. It’s commonplace to hear people say that they cannot read on the computer screen. However, it is a learned skill like most work skills, and with practice, it is possible to read most of your work on-screen and print only when necessary. If you have problems with eyestrain, see your doctor.

Prioritize your paper use.

If you do use paper daily then you can make eco-friendly paper choices. Here are some things you can do:

  • Buy recycled and chlorine-free paper.
  • Try paper made from organic products like bamboo, cotton or hemp.
  • Print on both sides of the paper.
  • Shred old paper to use as packing material.
  • Save and reuse old boxes.
  • Use old sheets of paper for scrap paper or note taking. Use mistake prints as scribble paper, or send a stack along to your children’s day-care or school for artwork use.

Reduce energy usage. Along with reducing the energy usage of your computer and peripherals, there are several broader ways to reduce energy usage in the workplace:

  • Replace your desk lamp light bulbs and overhead lights (where possible) with LEDs qualified with the Energy Star rating. These bulbs use 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs and last up to 10 times as long.
  • Turn lights off when nobody is using a space. Where the lighting controls are on automatic override, talk to building management about having the settings changed to only use sufficient lighting for security and safety purposes, rather than over-lighting the whole building.
  • During cold weather, keep  blinds open to let the warmth in; during warm weather, keep blinds pulled to close out the heat of the summer sun.
  • Keep window vents clear of paper or other obstructions, to allow the free flow of air.
  • Get an Energy Star qualified water cooler. These use half the energy as standard units.
  • Turn off projectors and screens in conference rooms when not in use.
  • Ask about getting motion sensors for light switches.

Maintain healthy airflow.

It is already bad enough that you have to worry about air pollution every time you walk outside, but it is also a big priority when you work inside. If you work in an office, cubicle, or workshop, it’s likely that you’re spending most of your time indoors. A Canadian survey found that people spend over 96% of time at home indoors and over 83% of time at work or school indoors, equalling about 40 or more hours at your desk, office, or cubicle. Here are some ways that you can maintain a healthy air flow in your office:

  • Use Non-toxic cleaning products. Water dampened cloths are sufficient to clean most dusty workspaces.
  • Open your windows to increase air flow. If you can’t open windows, be sure to take outdoor breaks throughout the day.
  • Don’t smoke in or near the office.
  • Never bring any aerosol can to work.
  • Use an air purifier to get rid of contaminants.

Green your desk, cubicle, office.

Get a plant and place it on or near your desk. Or, even better, buy plants for all of your neighbours. They will not only see this as a friendly gesture, but they’ll also have cleaner air to breathe!  Plants absorb indoor air pollution and increase the flow of oxygen, so get a green accessory to complement your desk!


There are many items in your office that you can recycle. If you do not have a recycling station at work, start one on your own! You can get a few bins and post recycling guidelines above them. Some of them may include recycling:

  • Paper products like copy paper, envelopes, magazines, etc.
  • cardboard boxes from shipped supplies;
  • Soda cans and plastic bottles;
  • aluminium foil;
  • plastic bags;
  • Ink cartridges;

Spread the word.

The best way to stay involved in the green scene at work is to get others involved. Share your practices and wisdom with your boss and co-workers. You can do this by:

  • Creating a Green Team. The US Environmental Protection Agency suggests creating a Green Team that includes everyone from the CEO to the office intern and to set a goal to make your building the most energy efficient one in your country!
  • Encouraging the office to join or start a recycling program.
  • Purchasing company carbon credits.
  • Buying eco-friendly office products.
  • Setting up a carpool calendar.
  • Try making green actions fun! Getting everyone to pack their lunch and eat together. Not only do you get to share tasty morsels, but it’s a great chance to get to know your co-workers outside the daily work grind.

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