This post includes some sponsored links, all thoughts my own.
In April 2020 home working leapt from 5% to 47%, and with it came environmental benefits.
For many of us, home working can be significantly greener than our usual commute into the office, with home working reducing our personal emissions by up to 80% in some cases.
However, working from home can also make home energy use dramatically increase.
56% said they were heating their homes more often or for longer, 47% used more water at home, 40% were doing more cooking at home and 39% were using TVs, game consoles and laptops more.
As many people now adopt a hybrid style mixing home and the office, I wanted to look into as many ways to make your workplace as sustainable as possible, whatever setup you’re currently using. Here’s what you need to know.
Working from home
Consider your energy
Heating and hot water make up more than half the typical household energy bill in the UK. Working from home can mean people use more heating, but there are ways to reduce overall energy use:
- Insulate and draught-proof your home where possible. Fill gaps around windows and door frames (although keep any existing condensation issues in mind), use draught excluders for the bottom of doors, seal gaps if you have bare floorboards, and invest in some thick rugs if you can. Lined curtains and blinds can also keep heat in, especially closing them overnight, but if the sun comes out it’s worth getting as much into the home as possible.
- Install energy-efficient heating with smart controls. Items such as timers, room thermostats, and thermostatic radiator valves (TRVs) can all help, and you may be able to get a grant to help with some costs.
- If you work in the same room all day, only heat that room rather than the whole house. You can even switch off central heating and use a portable heater during working hours. And if it’s too hot, you may be able to open windows rather than using air conditioning, as would be the usual in an office.
- Turn down the temperature to the lowest comfortable option. Each 1-degree reduction can save 10% on energy bills while reducing carbon emissions. Wear warm clothes and multiple layers to stay cosy and, if it’s very cold, try a hot water bottle or electric blanket.
- Turn off technology when not in use: turn off at the wall, turn off standby, and don’t leave your computer on overnight. If sockets are hard to reach or you’re likely to forget, you can use timer switches or plug-in remote-controlled sockets to turn items off.
- Dimming the brightness of your monitor screen can also save up to 20% of its energy.
- Light your office with natural light wherever possible. Choose rooms on the south or southwest side of your home, where you’ll get the most afternoon sunshine, and add mirrors to strategically increase light. Replace inefficient lights with LED light bulbs and turn off lights when not needed. They cost more at first, but you’ll save money long term on both energy bills and replacement costs, as LED lights last much longer.
- Choose when to run appliances: if you have solar panels you can make use of their power during daylight to run the things like washing machines or dishwashers, that you might once have done during the evening.
- When buying or replacing electronic items, look for energy-efficient models and use eco settings.
- Fill your kettle using your mug, rather than from the tap, so you only use the water and energy you need.
Plus, switch to a renewable energy tariff so your electricity doesn’t come from fossil fuel sources.
The average American office worker is said to use a sheet of paper every 12 minutes. Keeping things digital whenever possible, including reviewing and changing documents on-screen, using e-statements and invoices, setting up automated payments and paperless banking, and shifting to electronic signatures, can all really add up.
This is also where Wipebook can help. Their smart reusable notebook is the only one you’ll ever need, with a mix of erasable graph & ruled pages and a smudge-proof pen. Instead of going through reams of paper, their patented Hypergloss sheets allow users to write, scan pages with their free app to save work in their preferred cloud service, then wipe clean and reuse forever.
If you do need to print, make sure supplies such as paper, ink cartridges and toner are remanufactured, recycled, recyclable, or as sustainable as you can find. Paper can be 100% recycled or FSC certified, while printing double-sided can cut down waste. You can also use PaperKarma to opt-out of junk mail and Ecosia as a search engine that uses ad revenue to plant trees.
Opt for sustainable food
UK households waste 4.5 million tonnes of food annually, much of which is packaged in plastics and materials that end up in landfill. Working from home gives people the opportunity to prepare all meals, snacks, and drinks themselves, finding more sustainable options.
There are simple tricks to reduce waste such as planning meals in advance, making shopping lists with recipes in mind to avoid throwing out unused ingredients, or using leftovers for lunch the next day. Batch cooking and freezing meals can help people stay prepared while making the most effective use of your oven/hob. Plus, you can also use alternative appliances which need less energy, such as a slow cooker or air fryer, when appropriate.
Additionally, working from home means people can shop from smaller local businesses like bakeries and greengrocers. These shops are likely to have shorter opening hours than supermarkets but are also easier to access when working from home. Many areas now have community initiatives and apps such as OLIO and Too Good To Go to share out food in your area and prevent waste.
Additionally, you can also start a compost bin for food scraps, seek out low waste grocery options like Oddbox, and find more ethical and sustainable coffee and tea options.
Don’t duplicate equipment
Duplicate equipment is a large problem for home/hybrid working setups. If someone works both at home and the office, they may have a set of devices for each workspace.
Not only does this encourage more consumption of electronic items people wouldn’t have had before, down the line it also substantially contributes to electric waste. There are already an estimated 50 million tons of e-waste produced each year globally, less than 20% of which is formally recycled, so businesses need to take this into account and develop strategies to prevent waste and avoid duplicating.
From April – June 2020 home office furniture sales went up: online searches for office chair sales increased by 300% and desks by 438%. As more businesses cut down on office space, excess furniture and office items also shouldn’t go to waste for no reason. Businesses could offer the surplus to remote staff, sell it on, or donate it to local initiatives that could use resources.
In the office
Company pensions and banking
Where money is stored is extremely important, so who handles a business’ money can make a huge impact. Greening your pension can have 21x more impact than giving up flying, becoming vegetarian and switching to a renewable energy provider combined. Visit Make My Money Matter for resources on switching pension schemes and talking to your workplace about this.
Businesses should also consider their bank account (learn more and find ethical options here), as well as who provides energy, and potentially internet and phone plans.
Foster conscious culture
Creating a sustainable culture in your workplace can make the office more eco-friendly, while also helping employees adopt conscious habits. When setting up your office space you can:
- Avoid fast furniture which operates like fast fashion: harming the environment, sending large amounts to landfill, using toxic materials and manufacturing processes, and creating a large carbon footprint. Instead, find secondhand furniture and electronics where possible.
- Or choose sustainable options when shopping first-hand. Look for sustainable furniture brands and find electronics that are A+ energy certificated.
- Install motion-activated light switches so lights don’t stay on unnecessarily, and switch to long-lasting LED bulbs.
- Offer volunteer opportunities and chances to get involved with local campaigning in the area, for example cleaning up local areas or volunteering with food banks.
- Incentivise sustainable behaviours through business perks, such as providing public transport passes. If your employees are working from home, you could offer alternatives such as money for insulating homes or installing solar panels, or discounts on renewable energy suppliers.
Employers could also provide incentives for active travel for work meetings like bike schemes; they can further offer recycling and safe disposal of duplicate or old electronic devices and e-waste through in-house drop-off centers or partnerships with upcycling companies.
…One company’s workforce might rely heavily on technology, so helping reduce emissions from e-waste and energy is especially important. Another company’s workforce might commute long distances or undertake frequent work travel; for this company the priorities should be to lower travel emissions by reducing options like non-essential trips, using low-carbon transport, flying economy for essential trips, and carbon offsetting.
Additionally, companies may need more flexibility to help with sustainable initiatives. For example, a more climate-adaptive approach to dress code wouldn’t require people to wear an entire suit during hot months, reducing extra air conditioning use.
Start a sustainability team
If you’re an employee, sustainability teams can help identify areas of improvement and finds ways to implement change. Representatives from all areas of a company can work together to understand what is being done, create realistic goals to improve, and then create achievable plans that work for that context. Groups could educate other employees, run reading groups, organise local volunteering, get involved in campaigns, and work with management to implement policies that benefit the workforce.
Develop a sustainable purchasing policy. Create a list of regular purchases with details about what to buy or avoid, and what staff should look for (eg certifications like Fairtrade). Ethical Consumer Magazine has detailed breakdowns and guides to help.
For office snacks, opt for local businesses such as organic and seasonal fruit and veg, bulk items with less packaging, or small producers. You can also source eco-friendly alternatives for things like toilet paper and tissues, use cloths instead of paper towels for the kitchen, source ethical and plastic-free tea, and opt for a cafetiere over a coffee machine that needs pods.
Additionally, look for environmentally friendly cleaning products you can buy in bulk (I personally like Bio D), and source business cards from eco-friendly printers.
Priorise reuse. Encourage employees to bring their own water bottles and reusable cups. Create an in-house compost system for food scraps, alongside clearly labelled recycling, and invest in a TerraCycle box for items not accepted by local recycling.
As a business, you can also commit to going plastic neutral by offsetting plastic use with rePurpose. And if you’re also a business that sends out products, opt for sustainable, plastic-free packaging with Noissue.
Tackle the company footprint
Emissions are grouped into Scopes. Scope 1 is directly produced by your organisation, Scope 2 are emissions from purchased energy, and Scope 3 are indirect emissions you are responsible for (eg. staff travel). Accounting for Scopes 1 and 2, as well as covering as much of Scope 3 as possible, is really significant.
Organisations such as CDP or Climate Care can help with measuring emissions, allowing you to set realistic reduction goals. This can be specific emissions, or non-emissions targets such as reducing overall energy use. Targets should be ambitious, achievable, and transparently shared with the public.
Developing a travel policy can be a key part of this. For example, a time-based limit can be used to decide when a flight is permitted (eg. a journey time of 10 hours+ will require a flight, but under 6 hours is a return train). Offsetting also can’t be used as an excuse for highly polluting activities. Instead, use it as a last resort, and focus on reducing emissions whenever possible.
While every business and context looks different, taking these options and exploring what you can implement can make a big difference. Explore what you can do, be ambitious with implementing it, and let’s make work environments as sustainable as they can be.