The green revolution shouldn't be just about dusting off the recycling bins, buying organic apples and taking the bus once in a while. It's a change in lifestyle: a new consciousness about old habits and a willingness to take on new ones. Since we spend about 40 hours a week at our workplaces, isn't the office the best place to try out some new energy-saving tricks? Saving energy isn't just about saving the earth; it also can save a company money and it's simply responsible. The Environmental Protection Agency says that about 30 percent of energy consumed by office buildings is used inefficiently. Additionally, about 17 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from commercial buildings' energy use. [source: Energy Star]. The Energy Information Administration estimates that if commercial and industrial buildings improved their energy efficiency by 10 percent, our economy could see yearly savings of nearly $20 billion. That's a lot of clicky pens. Use this top 10 list as a starting point for your go-green initiative; you'll be surprised how easy it is to adopt some of these habits.
10. Flip a Switch
Lighting consumes about 18 percent of U.S.-generated electricity; another 4 to 5 percent of our electricity bill goes toward counteracting the heat these lights generate. If your office always feels just a little bit too stuffy, those light bulbs may be to blame. And because lighting generally makes up the highest portion of your company's monthly electric bill [source: Energy Star], it makes sense to attack the electrical inefficiencies first.
Shut off the lights at the end of the work day and as the weekend begins. If you find that you and your co-workers keep dropping the ball, motion-detecting lights may be your answer. These lights also may be an excellent solution to the problem of that seldom-used, always-illuminated cafeteria or conference room. And many businesses use motion-detecting lights for their buildings' exteriors; they can keep your property safe if anyone approaches at night, but won't eat up excess energy.
Consider replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent units; they'll save around 50 percent on lighting costs, and last up to 10 times longer than traditional bulbs [source: U.S. Department of Energy]. Replace older fluorescent tube lighting with solid-state electronic ballasts. The most efficient form of lighting is, of course, that big yellow ball in the sky; crank those blinds, open a couple of office doors or even install a skylight or two -- just let the sun shine in. Be sure to use sun wisely, like during the times of day and year when its heat won't build up and cause cooling problems.
9. Say Goodbye to Screen Savers
While they might be fun or pretty to look at, screen savers don't save energy; they require full power from your monitor and the same amount of energy from your computer as when you're working away on a spreadsheet. Additionally, a 2009 study found that nearly half of American workers who use a computer at work fail to even shut it down before they head home for the night. This bad habit ends eats up about $2.8 billion in unnecessary energy costs every year [source: Environmental Leader].
So, before you step away for your lunch hour or coffee break, turn off your computer's monitor, or put it in "sleep" mode. Either of these actions significantly reduces the amount of energy consumed by the computer. If you're going to be away from your computer for longer, just shut it down. The U.S. Department of Energy suggests turning your monitor off or putting the computer to sleep before breaks of more than 20 minutes, and turning the computer off entirely if you plan on being away from your desk for two hours or more [source: U.S. Department of Energy].
Transportation constitutes the fastest-growing major source of greenhouse gases. Between 1990 and 2003, emissions from passenger vehicles increased by about 19 percent [source: Environmental Protection Agency]. Commuting alone by car certainly can be a relatively relaxing and easy experience, but as fuel expenses rise, some co-workers who commute may appreciate your efforts to make commuting or carpooling an easy and rewarding experience. And it can also help save them some money in the long run.
Brainstorm some fun incentives to encourage co-workers to use public transportation or to carpool. Employees who regularly use a bike, bus, train or their feet to get to work could receive financial help with their bus or train passes, coupons to local restaurants, fun prizes, or -- if you're up for it -- extra vacation days. Creating designated primo parking spaces for carpool participants could help encourage co-workers to share a ride, especially if you happen to live in a cold or rainy climate, where a shorter walk into the office might be appreciated! If your office building doesn't have dedicated parking, consider subsidizing parking passes for carpool participants who must use municipal ramps or lots.
Of course, knowledge is power, so make sure your co-workers are aware of their transit and carpool options. Keep a resource folder in the break room or on your intranet with updated bus or train schedules, carpool group leaders and bike trails.
7. Go Paperless
According to the Clean Air Council, the average American uses about 650 pounds of paper annually. Americans, on the whole, throw away enough paper each year to build a 12-foot wall from Los Angeles to New York City. That's a long wall -- and a lot of paper and energy. So, before you print an e-mail or document, stop and think: Do I really need a hard copy of this? How long will I keep it? Can I instead save this in an easy-to-find spot on my computer?
Save employee manuals or reference guides on a common server or other public hub instead of handing them out in hard-copy form. Not only will you potentially save reams of paper, but employees also will always have access to the latest version of the document.
Of course, going completely paperless is nearly impossible. So make sure that recycle bins are available and conveniently placed for employees to dispose of junk mail, envelopes, faxes and other paper waste. Invest in paper with a high percentage of post-consumer recycled content, and be sure to refill old ink cartridges instead of tossing them. Finally, if your printers are capable of printing double-sided, set them up to do so.
6. Check Your Vents
Some energy loss comes from inefficient heating or cooling in your building. Start with the simple questions. How's the circulation? Are your air ducts clean? Are your filters old and clogged? In addition, regularly checking and maintaining the stripping around your office's doors and windows helps prevent wasteful gaps or leaks. Plugging leaks may slash up to 10 percent off your energy bill [source: U.S. Department of Energy]
If you're in the market for slightly more ambitious improvements, take a look at your HVAC system. Throughout an air conditioner's lifespan, the water that courses through its condenser tubes may leave behind slimy buildup, which decreases the machine's efficiency. Occasionally treating this problem with chemical or ozone cleaning helps keep your air conditioner in tip-top condition. If either your air conditioner or heater is on its last legs, consider replacing it with a more energy-efficient unit instead of continuing to pay for maintenance. Replacing an outdated A/C unit could reduce your cooling costs by up to 50 percent [source: U.S. Department of Energy]. And if you're shopping around for replacement windows, look for the National Fenestration Rating Council label.
Additionally, if it's possible, paint your office's roof a lighter color or plant a rooftop garden -- also known as a "green roof"; see sidebar -- to deflect the the sun's heat on warm days, and enjoy added energy savings.
5. Follow Your Energy Star
It's not just a pretty sticker; keeping an eye out for Energy Star-labeled products can dramatically reduce your workplace's total energy consumption. In fact, using Energy Star products may slash your energy expenditures by up to 30 to 40 percent [source: U.S. Department of Energy], and an Energy Star-labeled office set -- including a computer, monitor, printer and fax -- can save enough electricity to power a home for an entire year [source: Environmental Protection Agency]. These products use smarter technology to save energy. For instance, Energy Star-labeled office machines, such as computers, printers and copiers automatically enter a low-power mode after a certain period of inactivity, and Energy Star windows have more advanced insulation to help regulate room temperatures.
Use compact fluorescent or Energy Star light bulbs, which require less frequent replacements, saving money and energy. Got an old refrigerator or microwave? Consider replacing them with Energy Star appliances. Although you may be eager to chuck off the old and bring in the new, be sure to dispose of old lighting fixtures and appliances in an environmentally responsible manner; some may contain freon, mercury or other potentially hazardous materials. Contact your local recycling center and ask about disposal services for these items.
4. Stay Home
The 40-hour work week is a familiar pattern, but your office staff may find that a more flexible schedule serves your purposes better -- and helps with your utility bills. Consider enacting a four-day workweek. If that isn't feasible for your line of work, try closing the office after lunch on Friday, or flexing schedules to allow certain workers to take on more hours four days a week in exchange for at least part of Friday or Monday off. Allow and even encourage telecommuting for appropriate workers. Educate your employees on remote access to company networks and empower them to determine their own schedules; your co-workers may appreciate the opportunity to be home for more hours, and your office utility bills will benefit from fewer lights on and computers running. While sending co-workers home early on Friday might seem like a recipe for libertine disaster, offices have seen increased productivity under this sort of scheme. After mandating a four-day work week for state employees, Utah's government agencies saw a bump in productivity. Because of their more flexible schedules, workers experienced fewer circumstances that required them to take leave or conduct personal business at work [source: National Public Radio].
Staying home also translates to staying in the office. If your co-workers travel often, consider using video chat or teleconferencing instead of potentially unnecessary -- and wasteful -- business travel when possible.
3. Lock the Thermostat
Stop the thermostat struggle; agree as a company on a comfortable average temperature for each season and maintain that temperature, even if you have to lock the control. If employees object, hand out airplane blankets or ice packs, maybe with your company logo on them. Just kidding. Do stay conscious of complaints, especially from those with hormonal or thyroid conditions that may increase sensitivity to temperature -- you're looking for energy savings, not mortal enemies. You can encourage layering, add sweater hooks to office doors or cubicle walls, ensure there's access to cool and hot water or make other small efforts to offset potential discomfort.
If you want to save energy without even having to think about it, try installing a programmable thermostat that automatically adjusts the temperature according to the time of day. Why cool or heat the office while everyone is at home? In fact, by turning a thermostat up or down 10 to 15 degrees for eight hours each day, you could save almost 10 percent a year on your heating and cooling bill [source: US Department of Energy]. If you decide to use one of these handy gadgets, be sure to keep it well away from sources of incongruous heat or cold, such as drafty entryways or direct sunlight.
And again, be sure to regularly inspect heating and cooling systems to make sure that everything is running as efficiently as possible.
2. Form a Committee
Nothing gets done in your office without a couple of meetings, right? Implement the same policy for your energy-saving campaign. Decide on priorities, draft a strategy and determine concrete goals. Employees will be more likely to get on board if your new green habits don't seem arbitrary, sudden or useless. To get even more people invested, staff an interested committee to keep your office workers accountable for their goals -- and to take input from co-workers who may have some great ideas about how to reach those goals.
If you're having a little trouble getting started, ask the pros: get a professional energy audit (see sidebar). The results might surprise you -- and give you a concrete point from which to begin.
1. Form a Habit
Now that your go-green plan is moving along, take away the novelty and start making it a habit. What's the best way to hold you and your co-workers accountable? Results, results, results. Track meter readings and energy costs and let the office know about your advances and setbacks. If you and your colleagues are the partying type, perhaps a landmark decrease in energy use could lead to a special office bash. In addition to general celebrations, be sure to recognize and reward fabulous energy-saving ideas from individuals.
Finally, let your customers or clients know that going green is your priority; you might be surprised at the enthusiastic support you receive in return!
Lots More Information
- Wild World: Nuclear Power Quiz
- 10 Reasons to Use Geothermal Energy
- Fact or Fiction: Geothermal Energy Quiz
- Renewable Energy Puzzles
- 10 Sustainable Buildings
- Brundin, Jenny. National Public Radio. "Utah Finds Surprising Benefits in 4-Day Workweek." (April 10, 2009) http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=102938615
- Clean Air Council. (2006) "Waste Facts and Figures." http://www.cleanair.org/Waste/wasteFacts.html
- Energy Star. "Bring Your Green to Work with Energy Star." http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?fuseaction=bygtw.showSplash
- Energy Star. "The Energy Star Challenge: Build a Better World." http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=challenge.bus_challenge
- Energy Star. "Building Upgrade Manual." http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=business.bus_upgrade_manual
- Environmental Protection Agency. "On the Road." (March 3, 2010) http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/emissions/ind_road.html
- Spivey, Angela. Environmental Health Perspectives.
- "Rooftop Gardens a Cool Idea." (November 1, 2002) http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Rooftop+gardens+a+cool+idea.+(Built+Environment).-a095527011
- U.S. Department of Energy. "Energy-Saving Tips." http://www.energy.gov/energysavingtips.htm
- Wenzel, Elsa. PCWorld. "Save Serious Money with a Business Energy Audit." (Aug. 11, 2010) http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/217205