As more of the business world is shifting to remote workplaces and preparing to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, I thought it might be helpful to share some tips on greening your new home office space. Working from home has so many great benefits, and some inherent environmental benefits as well, but many of the conveniences and efficiencies of working in a modern office are sacrificed when working from home. With no composting program in the “kitchen cafeteria”, and a steady stream of hungry mouths to feed (which means meals to prepare), you’re probably starting to notice the amount of waste your home is now creating. And with no whiteboard on the huddle room wall, you might be finding yourself using more paper than you typically would. So what simple things can you do to ensure your home work space is as efficient and environmentally friendly as a modern workplace should be?
Let’s start by introducing a few ideas for a work space that is geared towards good health.
1 Clean Air – ensure you have a way to clean the air and keep it flowing in your new work space. Although the current science isn’t totally conclusive around air transmission of the novel coronavirus, experts say that filtration could help, and it’s a good idea either way >> breathe some fresh clean air! Opening or cracking a window (depending on your local weather) can freshen the air and reduce indoor air contaminants. And we’re probably all aware of the air quality benefits of plants, and here’s a friendly reminder, plant some plants! Keep an eye out for oxygen power plants that are known for their high oxygen-creating abilities, and don’t forget to mix in some herbs; they’re small, forgiving, flavorful, and snackable, so go plant some!
2 Clean Surfaces – this one is pretty obvious in the current environment, but it’s something to consider at any time. I recommend that you’re checking the CDC guidance on cleaners that are effective against the novel coronavirus, but I also recommend that you find something free of toxins and naturally derived as a complement. Remember, you are the cleaning crew for your home office, so don’t forget to keep it clean.
Ok, you’re set up for a healthy space, how about your impact on the health of the environment.
3 Energy Consumption – many of the offices we’re accustomed to working in have sensors on switches, LED bulbs, and expertly programmed thermostats. Take the opportunity to optimize your thermostat, using zones and timers or taking advantage of smart features (an upgrade might even pay itself off in short order). Keep an eye out for energy vampires and ensure you’re shutting down devices and switches properly in the evenings. A few minutes of your attention on energy consumption could pay big dividends when you’re increasing the hours you spend working from home. Also remember to take advantage of natural sunlight, it’s good for so many reasons!
4 Waste – you’re probably finding that your household waste is increasing, so it just might be time to introduce composting at home. One of the easiest ways to get started is with a small worm bin, which you could even keep in your home office workspace. Vermicomposting, or the process by which worms break down organic matter into a nutrient dense soil amendment, is relatively inexpensive to set up and is pretty low maintenance. You just need a worm bin, worms, and some bedding – all of which can be procured for under $100, and next thing you know you’ll be turning banana peels into gold for your garden and reducing your household waste-to-landfill!
5 Supply Chain – you’ve probably noticed that you’re buying some different things at the (on-line)store these days, so it’s pretty important to pay attention to your supply chain. Keeping it local has real benefits to the community as well as a lighter footprint. Going paperless also has a big impact and can be achieved by doing little things like making the change to using the sticky notes app on your computer. When you can’t go paperless, make sure you’re spending your dollars (votes!) on products with high recycled content, with post-consumer content being ideal, and make sure you look for those third party certifications because transparency is important!
Ok, you’ve got a healthy working environment, and one that is also healthy for the natural environment, but what about your health?
6 Wellness – you are what you eat, so eat healthy food! Eat whole food. Eat local food. Grow some food. This is the perfect opportunity to see how green your thumb can get. Replace your commute time with garden time, it’ll be good for you in so many ways! Also be sure to get some exercise. Early morning yoga. A midday HIIT or dumbbell session. A walk with the dog and evening sports with the kids. That’s what works for me, find what works for you and do it, every day! Also recognizing that your new home office might be your dining room table, make sure that you’re making an effort to sit with good posture! Having the right chair, desk, or even a stand-up desk can make all the difference in your physical well being.
7 Mental Wellness – this one is particularly challenging right now and that’s why it’s so important to pay attention to. Many of us are dealing with a lot of change right now, and so are our loved ones or housemates. We have new responsibilities, new anxieties, and new routines. It’s okay to feel your feelings and it’s also okay to take steps to be proactive about your mental health. Be sure to make time to decompress, meditate, read a book, drink a cup of tea – find what works for you and do it, every day!
As you’re setting into your new space you’re probably pondering how this pandemic will change the future of business, as am I. Here’s where I’ve landed…it’s serendipitous that the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day will put a spotlight on the environment at a critical time. As we are starting to plan our path forward, we have to consider that the environment is the third pillar of the ‘ol three-legged stool of sustainability. We need to focus on moving from surviving to thriving in the short term, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that future generations need to have the same ability to meet their resource needs. To do this successfully, we have to consider all three pillars of sustainability: environmental stewardship, social equity, and economic development. The economy and society both need to heal right now, and we’re watching the earth heal before our eyes as pollution has slowed and we generally disrupt the earth’s natural systems less. These concepts have to achieve the right balance; if one leg is shorter than the others the stool will reach a tipping point, a familiar concept, I know.
So, this year on the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, let’s all do our part by setting up millions of green offices across the world and change the way work gets done! Be the change, people!
Written by Nathan Gassmann, Co-Founder & Senior Director, GreenLight Solutions Foundation
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