Create an environmentally-friendly work-from-home environment without going all extreme makeover on your home. Check out these 10 easy tips instead!
By Lauren Plug, sustainability copywriter and SEO Strategist at Copy by LP.
When everyone was sitting around wondering what was to become of the world just a few months into 2020, do you remember some of the nature-is-healing news that started popping up?
- Smog and nitrogen oxide emissions significantly decreased in LA.
- The waterways of Venice ran still and clear without the presence of cruise ships and motorized boats.
- Fewer animals were killed by commuting vehicles.
There are few better ways to bond a group of strangers than admiration and excitement over a jellyfish meandering through the Venice canals.
With the entire world experiencing immediate lifestyle changes, these videos and pictures of ‘nature is healing’ provided an immediate visualization of the everyday impact humans have on the environment. One of the biggest impacts was simply going to work.
Remote and hybrid roles are not going anywhere — and while these types of roles have positive impacts on the environment, there are a variety of ways to structure your work life to be more sustainable as a renter or non-homeowner.
Let’s explore some of the changes and updates you can make to minimize your carbon footprint from working at home.
Office Life Wasn’t, And Isn’t, Great For The Planet
It’s easy to not think about the environmental footprint that comes with commuting, office life, and working in general.
Every individual has different lifestyles and preferences with some seeking out remote work, and some being given a choice. For the vast majority, however, work is something that has to be done, with the environmental footprint coming as a non-optional afterthought.
When you think about a work-life carbon footprint, what are the first things that come to mind?
- The commute? Fair, since 85% of Americans commuted by car in 2019.
- The existence of a physical office? Fair since buildings are energy and electricity hogs.
- The overworked HVAC systems pumping out dramatic internal temperatures?
These, in addition to a few others, are all contributing factors to what made office life so bad for the environment.
- Driving to work — particularly long commutes which pump carbon dioxide into the air.
- Glass and steel buildings, particularly skyscrapers that squander energy away. Roughly 50% of a building’s energy consumption comes from HVAC.
- Commercial buildings (mostly in developed countries) that are responsible for 41% of the world’s average energy use; and 73% of the U.S.’s energy use for U.S. office buildings.
- U.S. office buildings use 13.6% of all potable water.
- 61% of the construction and demolition debris in the U.S. comes from commercial building construction.
- Plastic everywhere and a lack of recycling — on average, Americans throw away 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour.
- The average office worker uses 500 disposable coffee cups every year and roughly 70% of the waste a company landfills is actually recyclable.
- Food is the most commonly found item in a landfill with 33% of all food produced globally sent to a landfill. Think about all the food (and packaging) from in-house snacks, catering, lunches from home, and vending machines.
- 2.7 million tons of electronics were generated by Americans in 2018, but only 15% of that waste was recycled.
Now that work-from-home and hybrid roles have become mainstream, many renters and non-homeowners might feel there’s not a lot they can do to change their lifestyle to be more sustainable. But there is!
You Can Live A More Eco-Friendly Lifestyle Even If You Can’t Make Permanent Changes To Your Housing
When remote work exploded, it was met with images of cleared streets, less smog, healthier eating habits, and more money in people’s pockets, it seemed that this was *the* solution.
Could climate change and our negative environmental habits be significantly reduced simply by working from home?
The answer is complicated, of course. Working from home has a plethora of environmental benefits such as:
- Reduced pollution from commuting,
- Healthier air quality
- Reduced pressure on local infrastructure
- And even less plastic usage.
But it also comes with its own set of environmental impacts as we try to build new office life in places it wasn’t intended to go. As a result, we’re seeing:
- Increased energy usage from being home all the time
- Larger technological footprints from powering more devices
- And an increased amount of waste and e-waste.
The majority of solutions propose permanent and structural changes to one’s home to be more sustainable — updates that millions of renters and non-homeowners are unable to do.
For anyone, homeowners included, who can’t make these changes, there are plenty of other sustainable changes to make, habits to start, and updates to revamp that can help you create a more environmentally-friendly work-from-home lifestyle.
When making any kind of sustainable changes, take it slow, even if that’s the opposite of what you want to do.
10 Ways To Work From Home More Sustainably
- Set Your Temp
Every list telling you how to make your home more eco-friendly includes increasing your homes’ energy efficiency — as they should. But if you don’t own the property, you won’t be installing ceiling fans and resealing the windows any time soon.
What you can do is as easy as adjusting your thermostat. The basic idea is the closer the temperature is inside to the temperature outside, the higher the energy (and cost) savings.
The recommended summer temperature is 78 degrees Fahrenheit. If that’s not a comfortable working temperature for you, try keeping it at 78 on the days you need to go to the office and for the rest of the days turn it up 7-10 degrees from where you currently keep it for at least 8 hours per day.
During the winter season, the U.S. Department of Energy recommends setting your temp at 68 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 8 hours. For additional energy savings, turn down the temperature 7-10 degrees (F) for another 8 hours, but maybe try that while you’re sleeping or on the days you go into the office.
As we experience more temperature extremes, be smart. Don’t get frostbite trying to save energy, but if it’s an extra hot day that’s going to overwhelm the grid and you can keep your AC warmer than frigid, do it.
Other things you can do to help regulate the temperature are to use ceiling fans if you have them, pull the shades and block the sun during high heat, use natural air flow if possible, and turn off lights when you don’t need them.
- LED Bulbs
If you’re not responsible for making lighting decisions for your home it makes sense that you’ve probably never given a second thought to light bulbs.
Every incandescent lightbulb (aka the ones that get really hot) can be replaced with LED bulbs. So the next time yours burn out, march yourself right into the lightbulb aisle and grab replacement LED bulbs.
- LED bulbs release very little heat compared to their incandescent predecessors which release 90% of their energy as heat (AKA wasted energy).
- Because of this, LED bulbs use 75% less energy than incandescents.
- LED bulbs typically last 3-5 times longer which means you save money, and another trip to the lightbulb aisle, in addition to energy.
- Use Smarter Power
When you’re trying to plug in the 87 electronics you need to do your job, every outlet is high-value real estate. But each plugged-in device is using excess energy even if you have it powered down.
Many appliances and electronics are energy vampires, meaning they consume energy even when they’re off, causing you to waste a ton of energy — and money.
A smart power strip not only provides you with more precious outlet space, but they save energy by cutting off power to any plugged-in device when it goes into standby mode.
There are many types of power strips to fit all of your setup needs! And if you can’t put everything into a smart strip, get into the habit of unplugging what you’re not using or turning off the main power source.
- Meal Prep / Avoid Takeout
The majority of office incentives revolved around food in ways that were no friend to the environment: single-use K-cups, individually-sized plastic-wrapped snacks, and someone going through the fridge every Friday throwing away not only that cupcake you were saving but also your Tupperware.
Many offices didn’t even have recycling let alone composting options so just by being at home you’re reducing your food waste. Congrats!
But before you get excited, household food waste is a big problem. 33% of food in U.S. households goes uneaten and of the wasted food, 96% ends up in landfills, incinerators, and down the garbage disposal (AKA not good places for the environment).
Channel some of that commute time you gained back into making a few easy changes to help decrease your food waste while working from home.
- Plan your meals ahead of time and stick to your list when shopping.
- Prep your food ahead of time to cut back on waste (and last-minute takeout).
- Set a reminder to actually take your food break.
- When you eat out, opt for a (quick) dine-in experience when possible to cut back on to-go plastic and waste.
- When you get takeout, avoid the non-essentials such as drinks, plastic silverware, napkins, and even the bag when possible.
It’s easy to put food at the back of your mind when working from home. Creating a plan to help you store your food properly and plan your meals can help you cut back on food waste, methane emissions, and your overall carbon footprint.
- BYO Reusable Mug For AM Coffee
Skip the Ubereats in the morning, take a walk outside, and bring your own coffee mug with you. Like every celebrity’s ‘candid’ paparazzi photos. Many places are back to allowing you to bring your own mug even if they’re not advertising it — some will even give you a (small) discount for your eco-conscious efforts. Doesn’t coffee taste better when you know the mug isn’t going to end up in a landfill?
If coffee isn’t within a walkable distance, this could be a good opportunity to start a new morning routine!
- If delivered coffee is a must-have, cut back to once or twice per week.
- If you opt for store-bought coffee, prioritize glass and aluminum cans that are more recycleable.
- Try brewing at home via a Bialetti, pour-over carafes (with reusable filters), french presses, cold brew, and more! Don’t forget to get your beans from a local refill store.
- Lower Your Digital Footprint
It’s not just the energy from powering your computer that contributes to your digital footprint. What you do on your computer also matters.
Here are some habits to begin to reduce your digital footprint:
- If you use a Chrome browser, ensure memory saver mode is turned on as it takes away active memory from the 53 inactive tabs you have open.
- Delete and unsubscribe from emails! If every person deletes 10 emails we could save 1,725,00 gigabytes of storage space and around 55.2 million kilowatts of power.
- Emails are powered by the Cloud which is powered (mostly) by fossil fuels. Delete emails for good, unsubscribe from junk, and don’t keep them using up storage or energy on the cloud.
- If you don’t power down your computer, put it to sleep.
- Turn off your display when inactive.
- Turn off video Autoplay which is one of the largest contributors to energy consumption.
- Save bookmarks for frequently visited websites and navigate directly to them to save search energy.
- Just as you would a file cabinet, regularly go through your photos, inbox, documents, and other files and permanently delete (or save offline) what you’re not actively using.
- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Instead of purchasing brand new paper, build up your collection of scrap paper — you’d be surprised how much junk mail is printed single-sided. Give it a second use for your thoughts before recycling (or composting). You’ll be pleased to know the first draft of this article was written on an old calendar.
While you’re at it, sign up for paperless options wherever possible.
- Switch To A Digital Business Card
Never forget your business card again and never throw away a box of unused cards when you change jobs because they gave you 500 and you only used 5.
Digital business cards are more multipurpose than traditional business cards as well.
- Share your business card on a call (without being in person).
- Use it to share your portfolio pieces.
- Send people to the platforms you want to continue interacting with them on.
- Don’t waste trees, metal, or any other resources with a card that someone will slip into a drawer and forget for years.
Plus, the next time you’re at an event and you whip out your digital card, you’ll get some serious sustainability points and it’s almost guaranteed they’ll remember who you are (especially since you can tie your photo to your information).
- Bring The Outdoors Indoors
As a renter or non-owner you can’t do much to physically change your environment, so bring nature inside.
Caring for houseplants — no matter your level of expertise — has some seriously positive effects on your mental health. Just 20 minutes in the presence of a plant can turn your frown upside down; some studies have shown that people who spend 5-10 minutes in a room with houseplants felt happier than those in a room without them.
Since your office has moved inside your home, the lines between work and play have blurred.
Plants can reduce stress and lower blood pressure; maybe they can’t prevent that breakdown, but they can help you feel recharged and grounded.
Some things to keep in mind when choosing the perfect plant:
- Air plants don’t require soil, large pots, or lots of growing space.
- Succulents and snake plants help purify the air and are some of the easiest to care for.
- Spider plants are small, cat and dog-friendly, and low maintenance.
- Take A Break And Go Outside
With your office being less than 25 steps away from the rest of your life, turning off and taking a break has never been more difficult. You may have gained back time from commuting but somehow taking a lunch break hasn’t become any easier.
This is your sign to start scheduling breaks (and lunch) into your day. The guilt will go away as your productivity (and general happiness) increases.
- Put your electronics to sleep and take a 20-minute walk around the block.
- Water or wash your plants, they probably need it. Play in the dirt a little.
- Sit somewhere else, or stand, and make a meal plan.
- Walk up and down the stairwell a few times to get your heart rate up.
- Go cuddle with your floof, scaly, or aquatic friend; they’ll appreciate it.
- Go outside, sit under a tree, and think about how the universe is the ultimate recycler making both you and that tree out of recycled stardust from the beginning of time.
As we continue to adapt to remote work arrangements, it’s important to consider the sustainable choices and changes you have the power to make as a renter or non-homeowner. By making conscious choices like improving energy efficiency where you can, using smart power strips, and working with the natural environment, you can harness your collective power as renters and non-homeowners to prioritize sustainable practices, create a more sustainable future, and inspire others to do the same.
About the Author:
Lauren Plug is a freelance sustainability copywriter, SEO Strategist, and owner of Copy by LP. A sustainability enthusiast herself, she helps small, sustainable brands grow their reach while helping people reduce their impact.