More than a year after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, working from home has become the norm for many office workers and professionals, creating environmental pluses and minuses.
Although fewer cars clog up the roads, reducing air pollution, more time at home has drastically increased waste, with take-out containers and packaging from online shopping piling up in landfills.
The work-from-home phenomenon may well be here to stay. After all, a whopping 54% of adults who work remotely indicate they’d like to continue doing so once the pandemic subsides. Thus, there is no time like the present to make your home office space more sustainable.
1. Check your lighting
When it comes to lighting, natural is always better for both your energy bill and the planet. However, if that’s not an option, make the shift to LED lighting.
“[It’s] the easiest thing that you can do, and it is the fastest return on investment of anything else,” says Emily Schosid, DU’s sustainability program coordinator.
Fortunately, LEDs now come in all colors, shapes and aesthetics. For a warmer, yellow light, get a low Kelvin LED bulb. If you want a brighter, bluer light that mimics natural light, look for a bulb with a higher Kelvin number. (Kelvin is the scientific measurement for the color of the light itself.)
2. Unplug anything you’re not using
Whether it’s your printer or laptop, keeping electronics plugged in eats up energy. Dimming the brightness on your computer also cuts down on charging time. Keep in mind that computers should never be left to charge overnight. Not only does this use excessive energy, but it also depletes your computer’s battery since most generic chargers do not automatically prevent overcharging.
3. Control the temperature
“Heating and cooling your space is one of the largest uses of energy in your house,” Schosid says.
In the winter, try setting your thermostat two to three degrees lower than normal. Reverse that in the summer and set your thermostat two to three degrees higher.
4. Eliminate paper
With so many electronic devices at hand, it has never been easier to rid your office of paper. Use apps like OneNote, Notion or Evernote to shift your jottings online. When possible, skip the paper copy of a publication and choose the e-version. If you like the feel of an actual book, opt for a library copy or stop by one of Denver’s many beloved used book shops.
5. Reassess your printing
To reduce paper waste even further, be mindful when it comes to your printer. Before printing anything, ask yourself if it is essential to have a hard copy. (Hint: Most of the time it’s not.) If it is, print double-sided on recycled printer paper and use refillable printer cartridges.
6. Shift to clean supplies
Look for biodegradable or refillable pens and pencils, as well as highlighters made from recycled plastic. They may cost a little more, but they’ll save you money in the long term. Choose trash bags that are biodegradable, compostable or made from recycled materials. And if you can’t do without paper products, purchase notebooks, planners and greeting cards made from recycled or organic materials.
7. Shop locally
Buying locally drastically reduces waste. Online purchases from national brands typically arrive bedecked in excessive packaging. Meanwhile, you can bring your own reusable bags to a neighborhood store. If you’re using curbside, contactless pickup, you can ask the vendor to package your purchases with sustainability in mind.
“A lot of those big online retailers, they don’t need your money right now,” Schosid says. “But you know who does need your money are local businesses, especially small businesses, women-owned businesses [and] Black-owned businesses. They need your money.”
The Denver metro area boasts a wealth of sustainability-minded merchants offering the latest in zero-waste or eco-friendly office and home supplies. Find a list to get you started here.
8. Clean ethically
Over time, home offices can become fairly dusty, grimy and germy. Instead of relying on single-use Clorox wipes, purchase a glass spray bottle and make your own refillable cleaning solution from dissolvable cleaning tablets or an easy recipe. Then, use a washcloth or rag instead of paper towels to wipe surfaces.
9. Try composting
Working from home means eating and drinking from home. That, in turn, means food waste. Composting offers the best way to divert food waste from the landfill and to convert it into something useful.
Anything that used to be alive can go into compost: apple cores, carrot shavings, coffee grounds, tea bags, meat, cheese, bones, potato skins, compostable plastics, paper towels, tissues and napkins.
If you live in a single-family home in Denver, you can sign up for curbside compost for only $25 per quarter. Although the city composting service is currently not available to apartment residents, plenty of locally owned companies have convenient compost programs for all home types.
10. Add plants to your work space
Bring some greenery to your surroundings with a potted plant. Denver offers no shortage of locally owned plant shops and nurseries supplying everything from easy-to-grow snake plants to slightly more challenging succulents. Plants not only offer refreshing decoration; they also enhance your mood. In fact, “indoor plants improve concentration and productivity (by up to 15% ), reduce stress levels and boost your mood,” making working from home even more sustainable.
Find more information on sustainable practices and purchasing at DU’s sustainability page.