How to Go Green at Work

If you are already taking environmentally friendly steps at home, it's a natural extension to take similar measures at work, both to save energy and to create a healthier workspace environment. Making the environment more pleasant for yourself, energy efficient, and eco-friendly will increase your enjoyment of the workplace and lessen its impact on the environment as a whole.

Being energy and resource efficient and conscious of improving the health and well-being of the work environment will also reduce the costs of running a business. It's time to "go green" at work, and here is how.


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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.
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    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:[1]
      • 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.
    • Set the computer to sleep mode when you are away for short periods of time. 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.[2]
    • Switch to a laptop or a thin client. Laptops and thin clients use less energy than desktop computers.[3]
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    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.
    • Use a power strip as a central turn-off point to reduce the number of switching off actions required.
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    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 better.
    • Try not to print in color - learn how to Cut Printing Costs on an Inkjet Color Printer.
    • 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 - learn how to Refill and Reuse a Printer Cartridge.
    • Try to use a multifunction device. This is a combination of printer/scanner/copier in one. Especially if it is Energy Star rated, it can save both energy and space.
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    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, or share them online or in the cloud.
    • Use old paper with extra space to print small documents.
    • Don’t get any extra catalogs or magazines mailed to your office. Use a sharing system to pass around interesting materials between everyone's in-trays, or get off mailing lists entirely and consult such matter online. This saves paper and money, and it cuts down on clutter.
    • 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.
    • Use just one paper towel each time you wash your hands.
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    Prioritize your paper use. When you do use paper, 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 daycare or school for artwork use.
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    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 compact fluorescent light bulbs or LEDs qualified with the Energy Star rating. These bulbs use 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs and last up to 10 times as long. You may have to ask whoever is in charge of facilities for help with changing building lighting.[4]
    • 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. Request motion sensing light switches, to turn off unused lights automatically.
    • 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 windows and vents clear of obstructions, to allow the free flow of air.
    • Use Energy Star rated programmable thermostats to adjust heating and cooling in the building automatically to avoid wasting energy, especially when no one is around.
    • 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.
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    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,[5] equaling 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, and encourage cleaning staff to do the same. Water-dampened cloths are sufficient to clean most dusty work spaces.
    • 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.
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    Green your desk, cubicle, office... literally. Get a plant and place it on or near your desk. Better yet, buy plants for all of your neighbors. 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. Check out wikiHow's article on how to choose a good office plant.
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    Recycle. 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:
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    Eat green and healthy. Everyone looks forward to their lunch break. You can save a good amount of money (about $3,000 a year) by not going out to eat every day and instead packing your lunch.[6] Follow these lunch tips to have healthier, greener eating habits:
    • Pack your lunch in a reusable lunch bag or box. Bento boxes are popular, allowing you to have a delicious, healthy variety every lunch.
    • If you bring your lunch in a paper or plastic bag, recycle it. Plastic bags can be washed and left standing upside down overnight to dry.
    • Use containers, mugs, and silverware that can be washed and used again.
    • Switch to organic food and drinks.
    • Drink from the fountain instead of bringing water bottles. You can bring your own durable, reusable water bottle for constant refills.
    • Use a ceramic or glass coffee cup instead of paper or plastic.
    • Recycle your soda cans, bottles and aluminum foil.
    • Use a washable napkin instead of paper towels.
    • Walk to a healthy lunch eatery if you forget to pack your lunch.
    • If there is a break room, ask that dish soap be provided there, so you can wash your reusable cups and flatware, and simply leave them at work.
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    Travel green. The first part of your workday starts with getting to work, and for many people that means driving. Cars emit tons of carbon dioxide gases into the air, contributing to greenhouse gases. Getting stuck in a traffic jam regularly is also bound to increase your stress levels. Here are some ideas you can do for a green ride:
    • Join a ride share or carpool.
    • Take the train, bus or subway.
    • Ride a bike or walk if you live close enough.
    • Invest in a hybrid or electric car, but remember that the energy to power it must still come from somewhere.
    • Reduce your travel by telecommuting, or working from home whenever possible. This option is becoming increasingly viable for many office-based jobs, and if your workplace offers it, look into the potential of using it for at least some of your work week.
    • Reduce your air travel, too. You'll save time, money, and significant greenhouse gas emissions by phoning or teleconferencing in to a meeting, instead of flying to be there.
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    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 coworkers. 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.[7]
    • Encouraging the office to join or start a recycling program.
    • Purchasing company carbon credits.
    • Buying eco-friendly office products.
    • Setting up a carpool calendar.
    • Making green actions fun. Get 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 coworkers outside the daily work grind.


  • If your workplace hosts an event, be sure to host a green event.
  • Be sure to think about related work items that can be green. For example, look for recycled or eco-friendly laptop bags, tote bags, wrist rests, chairs, etc. Even electrical cords can be eco-friendly.
  • Use green cleaning products in the work kitchen, on desks and computers, and in the bathrooms.
  • The energy used by a building to support just one office worker for a day causes more than twice as many greenhouse gas emissions as that worker’s drive to and from work.[8] Moreover, there are almost 5 million buildings in the United States alone that consume almost $100 billion of energy. [9] If you own a business, or have some influence over location of your work team, aim for finding a building that is Energy Star rated. Alternatively, you can find out if your existing building qualifies for an EPA Energy Star rating.

Sources and Citations

  1. Climate Savers Computing, Power management instructions,
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