Resource Rationalization for the Home Office

liloutdoorofficeWe’ve all heard talk about remote work being more sustainable than sitting in an air-conditioned office block with your car parked in the basement. But just how sustainable is your remote work?

Here are a few ideas that might help you cut your greenhouse emissions and bump up the sustainability of your lifestyle.

You’re probably aware of the “three Rs”: reduce, reuse, recycle. Keep this mantra in mind as you approach an assessment of your remote working lifestyle. What can you do to you reduce your resource usage? Can you reuse objects rather than discard them? And where and how can you recycle the items you want or need to discard?

I use another set of criteria to assess prospective purchases of things like computers, office furniture, and so on:

Do I need it?
First, I try to work out if I really need the item, or if I can get by without it. For example, can I add memory to boost my computer’s capacity rather than buying a new machine?

How long will it last?
If I decide I really need to buy an item, I look at the products on offer and consider their lifetimes. I prefer to buy things that last and can be repaired or augmented, than things that can’t. For this reason, I have a second-hand wooden desk chair (yes, ergonomically it’s fine) rather than the latest high-tech number from a developing nation with a big pollution problem. I also try to consider the resources it took to create whatever I’m buying (as I’ll explain in a moment), though sometimes this can be difficult.

How will I dispose of it?
Finally, I consider the reusability and recyclability of the items I buy so that I know that when I finally need to discard my computer, phone, desk chair or lamp, I’ll know it’s not going into landfill. The best option, before recycling, is always reuse: Can your neighbor’s teenager use your old computer for school assignments? It may not meet your needs for processing or disk space, but someone you know might be glad to have it.

I find these criteria helpful for assessing new purchases. But there are a range of other considerations in the home office. Let’s look at them now.

There are three key power drains in my office: climate control, lighting and device usage.

When it’s cold do you put on a jumper or turn on the heater? Can you open your office windows on warm days? Do you turn your monitors and other devices off at night (and I mean off, not on standby)? Do you crank up your surround-sound system to get motivated, or put on some headphones and play an album through your computer? Outside your home office, do you drive to all your meetings (under the justification that you don’t have time to wait for the bus), or travel on public transport or your bike?

All “environmental” choices seem to have degrees of impact, and it’s definitely true with powered devices. For instance, task lighting is generally more efficient than overhead lighting, and fluorescent or LED technology is more efficient than incandescent bulbs. But ideally, you probably want to get some natural light happening in the home office — aren’t luxuries like fresh air and sunshine what remote working is all about?

The paperless office might be an ideal, but for many, it’s impossible. I try to keep my printing to a minimum. I buy recycled paper, and I print at draft quality to conserve ink. It’s easier on the wallet as well as the planet. Depending on the type of work you do, you might be able to find ways to curb paper usage, and use more environmentally sound printing products to boot. Don’t forget toner refilling services, either.

Few of the offices I’ve worked in have had recycling on offer. But at home, I have all kinds of recycling — including organic waste. So I make sure to use them. Obviously, the types of materials that you can recycle will depend on the services in your area, but make sure you know what you can recycle, and see if you can reuse the items that aren’t recyclable.

Device choice and usage
Choosing low-energy devices is an essential consideration in the green home office. But, as I mentioned above, don’t neglect to look at the recyclability of the devices you buy, and to consider how long you think you’ll use them. Augmenting your systems with extra capacity, clearing old files from your hard drives, and using devices like phones until they die can be simple but good ways to do your bit.

Your choice of office furniture — desks, shelves, chairs — is another area in which you can make greener choices if you need to. I’ve always used second-hand office furniture, because it’s affordable, and I can keep it out of landfill those few years longer. Second-hand stuff also meets my  recyclability criterion perfectly!

If you’re buying new furniture, look at the resources involved in the product. This can help you avoid accidentally buying computer desks made from rainforest timbers that would probably have served the planet better if they were still growing.

These are the kinds of things I’ve thought about in trying to make my home office more environmentally sound. What are your tips?