The Way We Work
April 22, 2010 by Tamara Rice

While the lifestyle of work-from-home professionals is already ‘greener’ than commuting to an office — less fuel consumption, fewer vehicle emissions, etc. — there is still more that can (and should) be done to keep your home office safe for both you and the planet. While much about conservation, sustainability and recycling is just common sense, there may be a few suggestions here that surprise you.

In honor of Earth Day, we’ve gathered a few ‘green’ tips you can put to use today!

1. Green paper and note pads — recycle and buy recycled!

Buy paper made of 30 – 100% post-consumer waste. Your recycled post-consumer paper should be processed chlorine-free (PCF), and look to buy the lightest weight paper you can. (Note that if it isn’t labeled “post-consumer” it’s probably just made from the scraps left over from first-run paper at the paper factory and isn’t actually “recycled” at all!)

Keep a recycling bin next to your desk… and use it. If paper has been printed on only one side, use it as scratch paper before putting it in the recycling bin. Why ruin a perfect piece of paper just to jot down a quick phone number? (What’s more … why jot it down on paper at all when your computer is a mere three inches away?)

2. Green printer usage — get creative and get digital!

When it comes to your printer …

  • It should be ‘off’ when not in use.
  • It should be avoided whenever possible.
  • If you must print, do so on both sides of the paper.
  • Always recycle your ink cartridges when they are empty.

Thanks to the availability of fantastic (and free) document and email management tools online, there are many ways to store and send information digitally – which means it’s rare for most of us to truly need the printer in our daily business. Faxes can be sent online and received direct to your email inbox, files can be stored and shared online, your bills and invoices can be managed without paper, even your company newsletter and holiday cards can be emailed. Always ask yourself: Is there a way to accomplish this without using paper? If so, please do!

3. Green computer habits — shut that thing off!Light bulb with plant

Whether you use a laptop or desktop computer, shut it off each night before bed. In addition, set energy-saving features so computers go into ‘sleep’ mode when they aren’t in use. (Note: These steps might save you as much as $90 a year, depending on how much energy your particular computer uses in sleep mode!) What’s more, recognize that a desktop personal computer with a hard drive the size of  a small child is going to consume more energy than your tiny netbook. (Bonus conservation tip: Stop throwing away old computers and electronics. Recycle them properly!)

4. Green air-conditioning, heating and at-home air quality by conserving and keeping it clean.

Put on a sweater before reaching for the heater, and try turning on a fan or opening a window before you turn on the air-conditioner. That fan will use approximately 60% less energy to run than your A/C — good for both your wallet and the earth!)

Buy a reusable, washable air filter for your A/C or furnace and clean it often, as frequently as once a month. Keeping a clean filter in place when using your air conditioner or heater can cut your energy use by roughly 5 – 15%. It’s better for your lungs, better for the environment, and better for your pocketbook.

5. Green lights — use less and buy smarter!

Unless artificial light is vital to what you do, work in natural light from windows for as much of the day as you can. When you work from home, it’s possible to have the lights on at your house practically around the clock — but it isn’t necessary. Besides, a little sunshine can do an at-home worker a world of good!

Use energy-efficient lighting. Sure, it may cost you a little more to replace bulbs, but you will save money on your utility bills.

green your home office 2

While these five tips will ‘green’ up your home office in a flash, there is more you can do. Clean with natural, organic cleaners — do you really want to scrub your desk with something toxic and then sit at it all day? And speaking of your desk, the next time you need a new one, buy used — or “vintage” if you prefer. Keep yourself informed about local environmental issues – and maybe even donate some of your skills to an environment-related non-profit that shares your excitement for making the world a little greener.

Further Reading:

Are you already implementing ‘green’ work habits in your home office?

Tell us about them!

Tamara Rice

Freelance Writer and Editor

Tamara Rice is one of several freelance writers on the oDesk Blog team. She joined the oDesk marketplace in 2009, after more than six years on staff at an award-winning national magazine.