Making a Green Office
By Tiffany Meyers, March 2009
Gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins, and office buildings are guilty. They binge on more electricity than any other type of commercial building, representing about 25 percent of the sector’s total electricity consumption. The natural gas they guzzle accounts for almost 14 percent of consumption in nonresidential buildings. But if you take a few simple steps toward a more sustainable office, you’ll see payback in many shades of green—from money saved to increased employee morale and retention.
1. COOL IT According to the most recent statistics from the Center for Sustainable Systems, space cooling accounts for 11 percent of total electricity consumption in commercial buildings. If you’re in a mild climate, ask your landlord to consider adding an economizer, which conditions by bringing in outside air—not by using refrigerant—when it’s cooler outside than in. For optimal wintertime savings, experts recommend setting thermostats to 68 degrees during work hours and 55 degrees after hours. Stay on track with a programmable thermostat. HVAC maintenance matters, too: You and your landlord should seal leaky ducts, change filters and have your contractor come out to do annual tuneups.
2. SCREEN SAVE Don’t let the save in screensaver fool you: Computers and monitors are energy hogs, which means they drain cash, too. Turning computers off after work and enabling power management and sleep-mode features can slash both energy use and the cost associated with these power-thirsty machines. And since peripherals continue to draw power even when equipment is idle, invest in “smart” power strips, like the ones available at wattstopper.com.
3. CUT PAPER The paperless office—will it ever be? Not when the typical worker uses almost 12,000 sheets annually. Do without paper where possible: Distribute memos via e-mail and review documents on your computer screen. When it comes time to hit Ctl+P, print on both sides of recycled paper. And make it easy to recycle again by putting well-marked bins at every desk and in common areas. Haven’t established a program? See the how-to guide at paperrecycles.org, which makes a good case for recycling: Every ton of recovered paper saves 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space.
4. SHED LIGHT Lighting represents 24 percent of all the energy consumed in the commercial building sector, according to the Center for Sustainable Systems. But sunshine is free. Consider daylight sensors or mechanical blinds, which automatically adjust according to natural light. To reduce the use of overhead lights, furnish work spaces with high-quality task lighting. And trade up: Replace T12 lamps and magnetic ballasts with more efficient T8 lamps and electric ballasts. Meanwhile, Energy Star-qualified compact fluorescent lights use about 75 percent less energy than those has-been, incandescent bulbs.
5. TRAVEL THE ROAD LESS To make eco-friendly commuting attractive, offer cash instead of parking, as well as transit subsidies, bike racks, on-site showers and telework programs. If half of all U.S. employees were offered such benefits, the reduced traffic and air pollution would be like taking 15 million cars off the road, according to the EPA. To earn national recognition for your efforts, check out “Best Workplaces for Commuters” at bestworkplaces.org.