The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a drastic increase in the number of Canadians working from home. At the beginning of 2021, almost a year after the first shut-downs began, 32% of Canadian employees aged 15 to 69 worked most of their hours from home, a 28% increase compared to 2016 figures. (Source)
Employers have had to overcome significant barriers to keep their businesses running and to maximize employee productivity during this unprecedented time; capital expenditure on fresh technology, networks, and portable office equipment have all been necessary in adapting to this new working environment. Of all the new teleworkers, 90% have reported being at least as productive at home as they were previously in their usual place of work and 80% have indicated that they would like to work at least half of their hours from home once the pandemic is over. (Source)
These statistics represent an undeniable shift in workplace preferences. If employers are willing and able to accommodate employees demand for telework moving forward, they should subsequently focus on how best to minimize the environmental footprint of all these pop-up home offices. Employers are used to worrying about environmental sustainability from a one-roof office building perspective, but just because there are now less utilities to pay for, less office supplies to buy, and less garbage/recycling programs to facilitate, doesn’t mean that green office initiatives should go away.
Not only are you helping the environment, studies have shown that green practices translate to increased employee productivity.
- Boost cognitive thinking
- Improve motivation and productivity
- Improve sleep quality
- Reduce sick days
The following sections describe simple ways in which you can encourage employees to be more environmentally conscious while working from home; reducing their carbon footprint, saving them money, and boosting efficiencies.
Eco-Friendly Tips for a Green Home Office:
Proper Lighting – Having appropriate lighting in your workspace is key to reducing eye fatigue and headaches and improving productivity. Try to minimize the amount of glare or shadows on your computer screen, as this will lead to straining and poor visibility.
Choose a space with maximum natural light or purchase environmentally friendly artificial light.
- Natural light: in Canada (northern hemisphere), setting up your home office on the south side of the house results in the most sun exposure throughout the day. If location choice is limited, try painting the room white or installing a larger and more energy-efficient window.
- Artificial light: LED bulbs are the most energy efficient option and cast a great light. They are a bit more expensive up-front but you’ll notice savings over time on your energy bills and they last double the amount of hours as an incandescent bulb.
Office Plants – Think green, think plants. Introducing some plants into your home office will help improve air quality, lower blood pressure and stress levels, and energize the mind. You don’t have to have a green thumb, but consider your skills/knowledge, lighting, and available space before deciding which plants, and how many, to welcome. Here are some popular options: snake plants, jade plants, succulents, African violet, English ivy, philodendron, oxalis, peace lily.
Reduce Energy Consumption – We should all strive to minimize the amounts of toxic fossil fuels we produce, and in doing so will also save money. Be aware of the devices and equipment that use power and shut them off whenever not in use (actually unplugging cables and turning off power bars helps too). Also consider the following tips:
- Purchase a smart power strip
- Use energy efficient settings on monitors, cell phones, etc.
- Purchase ENERGY STAR high efficiency products
- Turn off any heating/AC to your home office room when not in use
- Work from a laptop instead of a desktop
Reduce Waste – When working in a traditional office setting there are many common products used regularly that produce excess waste, for example: sticky notes, plastic water bottles, and paper towels. At home, try implementing these green alternatives to reduce the amount of garbage being contributed to landfill sites every single day:
- Use a whiteboard instead of sticky notes
- Use washable cloths instead of paper towels
- Reuse the same mug all day for beverages instead of plastic water bottles or pop cans
- Try a coffee bodum (pour-over) instead of individual coffee pods
- Eliminate packaged snacks
- Request no-plastic shipping when possible
- Create a proper recycling and composting system at home
Paperless and Printerless – Reducing everyday paper consumption is a simple, effective way to become a more eco-friendly citizen, and there is no denying that having a printer set-up in your home office will encourage a lot of unnecessary paper usage. With all the modern cloud storage, digital signing, and enterprise content management technologies available today, there are more ways than ever to share information and store data without paper.
If you need to have a printer and want to be green, consider the following tips:
- Recycle used cartridges and buy remanufactured cartridges
- Purchase recycled paper
- Print on both sides of each sheet
- Reduce print quality and select greyscale or black and white whenever possible
- Reduce print margins and font size
- Use automatic electronic backups and document versioning instead of print backups
Second-hand Office Furniture – Before running out to IKEA or Walmart for that new desk or chair, consider purchasing a second-hand item. This phenomenon of “fast furniture” is having a detrimental impact on the environment because these cheaper items are thrown away more often, the materials are not environmentally sourced, and the manufacturing facilities typically have large carbon footprints. There are great second-hand sites to browse through like Facebook Marketplace or Kijiji, and if you have no luck there, consider repurposing a piece of furniture you already own. You might find something that just needs a fresh coat of (eco-friendly) paint or some new upholstery.
Environmentally Friendly Products – In your quest to go green, get in the habit of looking for environmentally friendly office supplies, cleaning products and food choices. Items that are made from recycled materials, biodegradable formulas, and are naturally sourced are great alternatives to help minimize your carbon footprint.
- Look for supplies such as notebooks and pens made from recycled materials
- Purchase a refurbished computer, not new, when you need to upgrade technology
- Try to source natural hardwood furniture, not MDF or laminate
- Try to source natural wool, cotton or jute textiles, not polypropylene
- Look for biodegradable formulas and ingredients sourced from renewable plants
- Purchase refillable containers and packaging made from higher percentages of recycled plastic, or no plastic at all
- Try an essential oil diffuser instead of chemical aerosol sprays
- Look for organic options
- Purchase products that have minimal packaging or eco-friendly packaging
- Try to source locally farmed or manufactured food items
How Employers Can Assist and Promote Green Home Offices
Employers can play a pivotal role in helping their employees achieve success in setting up and maintaining their green remote offices. Encouraging individual buy-in and responsiveness should be an active task for each business and organization to build an energy-saving culture, one that will reduce costs and slow down climate change.
Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) has a helpful guide for creating an employee awareness program (EAP) called “Building an Energy-Saving Culture in the Workplace”. This is geared to traditional office workers but can easily be tailored for the at-home teleworker.
1. Assemble your team or champion:
Form a small team or select a motivated individual to spearhead your EAP. Typically, the organization would be communicating the upcoming changes but in this case you are communicating WHY the remote worker should choose to implement these suggested changes and how they/the organization will benefit from them.
2. Establish the plan and actions:
- Why is your company implementing the EAP?
- Who is the target audience?
- What are the key messages and what tools/mediums will be used to deliver them?
- When will the EAP activities/communications take place?
- Where will any activities/events be held?
- How much will your EAP cost?
3. Maintain the momentum:
Follow-up with your teleworkers to track understanding, involvement, and perceived success of their green home office space. Ensure that the information is being communicated effectively to your remote workforce and then ask further questions about what steps they’ve taken, obstacles they face, and how they feel about the initiative.
4. Continue to lead by example:
While your remote employees may not be able to see how you are conducting environmentally sustainable business at home on a day-to-day basis, you can still demonstrate your dedication by providing lists of eco-friendly products to your employees and working with eco-friendly vendors. Your impact on the environment extends beyond your organization, so when looking for business associates, do some research and put a bit of pressure on them to change their practices for the betterment of the planet.