Whether you work from home or in an office, these tips can help you “green” your workspace for better health, mood, and productivity—and a cleaner environment too.
Air Quality and Indoor Health
NASA studies have shown certain plants clean indoor air by removing VOCs, formaldehyde, benzene, and lowering CO2 levels. Plants in the workplace are also shown to decrease stress, improve productivity, and decrease absenteeism.
While all plants need water, light, and nutrients, some are well suited to indoor environments. Try placing these pollutant removing plants around the office:
- Low light: Pothos, Chinese evergreen, Janet Craig dracaena, peace lily, Sansevieria cultivars (snake plant, mother-in-law’s tongue), Dracaena fragrans cultivars (corn plant)
- Medium light: Bamboo palm, red-edged dracaena, weeping fig, English ivy, ferns, philodendron, spider plant, Dieffenbachia cultivars (dumb cane)
- High light: Gerbera daisy, pot mum, aloe
As natural air fresheners, lavender and rosemary filter out formaldehyde while also providing pleasant scents.
You can reduce pesticide use by taking an Integrated Pest Management approach. IPM emphasizes prevention and low or non-toxic treatments to replace broad chemical applications.
Regular cleaning (vacuuming, dusting, etc.) can reduce allergy-causing irritants. If you have carpets professionally cleaned, try using a service that uses a non-chemical, low-water process.
Cleaners can pose health concerns, so look for non-toxic or environmentally friendly cleaners, such as those labeled low-VOC, biodegradable, or solvent free. Some key label terms to avoid: danger/poison, corrosive, flammable/combustible, and irritating.
Products and Furnishings
When you add new items, or replace old ones, choose durable products that will not break or wear out quickly. Consider environmentally preferable products made from recycled, reclaimed, or sustainably harvested materials. Also be aware of toxins, such as VOCs, that may be present in an item and choose low- or non-toxic options.
The classic “reduce, reuse, recycle” can go beyond just printing on recycled paper. How about printing on both sides or not printing at all? Provide e-documents for meetings and e-mail memos instead. Recycling bins in break rooms can be set up for cans, paper, and printer cartridges. If you are replacing items that still can be used, such as computers or furniture, donating or selling would be a better option for getting rid of them than just throwing them out.
To conserve water, consider installing low-flow toilets and fixtures. Installing filters on tap faucets can replace purchasing bottled water and coolers. Ensure leaks are promptly found and repaired in all plumbing.
Building managers should also make sure an appropriate irrigation schedule for the landscape is in place depending on the season and vegetation type.
Look for electronics and equipment that are energy efficient, such as those with the ENERGY STAR® label. These can range from computers, copiers, and faxes to light bulbs—even the break room fridge.
Help the building use less energy by keeping the thermostat at moderate temperatures—not too hot in winter or too cool in summer. Try setting light switches to motion sensors to prevent them from being left on. Also leave as many lights as possible off at night (though some facilities have legal requirements to have certain lights running at all times).
Be efficient with your personal energy use:
- Plug your electronics into a power strip and turn off or unplug the strip when it’s not in use
- Turn out lights when you leave a room
- Screen savers do not save energy—set monitors and computers to ‘sleep’ when idling instead
Though it is not “in the office,” traveling to work is a major part of the workday. Transportation also happens to be an important part of sustainable initiatives. You can try switching to public transportation, carpooling, biking, or telecommuting, even if only for one day a week, to reduce the environmental impact of your commute.
Landscaping is often an overlooked part of the office. Sustainable practices for home landscaping can also work in the office environment. Try following the guidelines presented by the Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ program.
Consider replacing a high-maintenance lawn with tree and shrub plantings, a low-maintenance ground cover, and a mulched area with a picnic table for employee breaks.
Rain gardens can manage and drain storm water flow from parking lots. You can also reduce storm water run-off by converting parking lots and hard surfaces to gravel or permeable pavers and concrete. You might even consider installing a green roof, which can also serve as an event and employee break site.
Beautifying and diversifying an office’s landscape can provide a restorative space and view for employees, as well as potentially reduce heating and cooling costs. Enviroscaping uses landscape design to influence the amount of energy a building uses.
Putting it Together
To improve office sustainability, create a management plan. This can include designating a “green office” coordinator who takes suggestions and ideas, coordinates work requests, and promotes office sustainability.
To make your office truly green, educate and involve employees in sustainability efforts. Increase signage reminding employees to practice green habits at work, have a “green” employee of the month award, organize a landscape planting afternoon, or start an office carpool, for example.
While some of the listed options in this article may be out of your control depending on your employer, see which you can do individually or talk with your office manager to determine what can be incorporated office-wide.
Adapted and excerpted from:
“Living Room & Office,” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (12/2010).
“Climate Change—What You Can Do: At the office,” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (5/2010).
“Some Indoor Plants are Better than Others at Removing Formaldehyde,” (1.47MB pdf) Production Times vol. 18, UF/IFAS Central Florida Extension (1/2011).
D. Pettinelli, “Houseplants for Cleaner Indoor Air,” University of Connecticut Extension (retrieved 2/2011).
L. Perry, “Plants at Work, Indoors,” University of Vermont Extension (01/2007).