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Setting Up Your Green Home Office


By Amy K. Townsend
E: The Environmental Magazine
August, 1994


Congratulations! You're working at home. Maybe you live in L.A. and your
company's office was hit by the quake. Or maybe your progressive employer
recognizes the higher job satisfaction--not to mention productivity levels--of
telecommuting employees. In any case, you're not alone--working at home is
becoming a megatrend of the 90s.

You're already saving energy by not driving to work. Further, you're now the one
in charge of "environmentalizing" your office. With the number of home offices
rising rapidly, there is a growing demand for greener supplies, from
energy-efficient computers to recycled paper to office equipment and furniture.

Fortunately, such products are becoming increasingly available, making it easier
for telecommuters and home businesses to find alternatives to the old
resource-intensive standbys.

The Set-Up

Whether you're retro-fitting your office or building from scratch, you may want
to first read Environmental by Design: A Sourcebook of Environmentally Aware
Material Choices. The title speaks for itself. A good first step is to look for
ways to take advantage of natural light--it's healthier, and saves on electric
bills, too. Consider installing windows, skylights or "Sun-Pipes," which use
less ceiling space than a skylight and reflect light in from outside. Even in an
existing space, you can retrofit lights with energy-efficient compact
fluorescent bulbs, which quickly pay for themselves, and increase lighting
quality to boot. Your local electric company may offer free energy audits to
identify ways to improve energy efficiency. One easy way to reduce your power
consumption, of course, is to turn off lights and office equipment when you
leave the room. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), turning
a light off and on does not waste energy, as was once believed.

If you're in the market for a computer, look for models that have earned the
EPA's "Energy Star" label (See E Magazine, March/April 1994). Then, you may want
to plug into a computer network like Econet, which focuses on environmental
issues. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy's Guide to
Energy-Efficient Office Equipment provides tips on green alternatives, like
plain-paper fax machines rather than those that rely on non-recyclable,
chemically-treated thermal paper.

The electromagnetic fields (EMFs) coming from PCs, cellular phones and other
electronic equipment may be a contributing cause of cancer in people working in
constant, close proximity to these machines. You can test for EMFs yourself with
"gaussmeters" available from several companies, including Less Gauss, a
Rhinebeck, New York-based company that markets safer computer products.
Ergonomically designed adjustable-height tables and chairs, PC mouse arm
supports and screen magnifiers, also available from Less Gauss, will keep you
even healthier.

Good Stock

Consider green office supplies such as Eberhard Faber's EcoWriter pencils, made
of graphite and 100 percent post-consumer newsprint and cardboard, or pencils
made from sustainably harvested wood, available in eco-product catalogs, such as
Ecologue and P'lovers.

The latter, also a green store in New Brunswick, Canada, offers "stapleless
staples," recycled paper and envelopes from the Domtar company, Berol 5000
odorless, water-based magic markers, nontoxic Opti correction fluid, laminated
recycled paper monthly planners, recycled clipboards and key rings... even
organic coffee.

A good rule of thumb is to avoid materials that are toxic, heavily packaged, not
recycled, or not recyclable. That goes for cleaners, pesticides, insulation,
paints, plastics, glues and carpets, which often contain dangerous substances
that can bring on the phenomenon now known as Sick Building Syndrome. As David
Pearson, author of The Natural House Book, writes, "We plan and decorate [our
homes] with meticulous care... then proceed to fill them with unnoticed chemical
vapors and electrical pollution, leaving ourselves disoriented, confused and
frustrated." Alternatives to harsh chemical cleaners for carpets, windows, walls
and other surfaces may be found in natural food stores and green catalogs like
The Living Source and National Ecological and Environmental Delivery System
(NEEDS).

Green print shops and paper products are also becoming more readily available.
The Port Washington, New York-based Lyn-Bar Enterprises uses 100 percent
post-consumer waste recycled paper and soy-based inks for its printing and
graphics. And Domtar's 100 percent post-consumer waste paper is neither deinked
nor re-bleached. It's available from P'lovers, along with recycled, gummed
labels that you can stick over old addresses to reuse envelopes. Of course,
using electronic mail (E-mail) saves trees and energy, and it's faster and
cheaper than the post office or courier services.

Here are some other easy tips:

Keep a scrap box for paper that still has one blank side, and use it for
photocopies, computer printouts or faxes. Use both sides of the paper before you
recycle it, and you'll never need to buy scratch paper again!

Use Earth-friendly packing materials such as recycled-fiber padded envelopes,
cornstarch peanuts, popcorn and shredded newspaper for shipping. The national
chain, Mailboxes, Etc., takes back styrofoam peanuts; ask whether your vendors
will do the same. Toner cartridges, aluminum, glass, all types of paper,
cardboard and telephone books can all be reused or recycled. Some companies even
make compost from their lunch scraps and use it for their plants.

Finally, when you have to make a business call, consider taking public
transportation, walking or biking--any of which are better for your health and
for connecting with your community. If you need to take a cab, look for an
innovative company like Washington, DC's Clean Air Cab Company, which features
six cabs that run on natural gas.

As with anything else, setting up a green home office can initially be met with
enthusiasm, then fall by the wayside. Getting support and help from those you
live and work with is incredibly helpful. After all, greening extends beyond
purchasing office equipment. It's a commitment integrated into the policies and
everyday practices--indeed, into the very heart of your business.

As architect William McDonough urges, "Eliminate the concept of waste. Evaluate
the full life-cycle of products and processes, to approach the state of natural
systems, in which there is no waste." Shoot for a waste-free office. While you
may not get there, chances are you'll be much greener in the end.

Helpful Resources:

* Ecologue: The Environmental Catalogue and Consumer's Guide for a Safe Earth,
by Bruce N. Anderson. $18.95 plus tax and $2.50 for postage from: Prentice Hall
Inc., Order Processing, P.O. Box 11071, Des Moines, IA 50336-1071/(800)223-1360.

* Environmental by Design: A Sourcebook of Environmentally Aware Material
Choices, by K. LeClair and D. Rousseau. $19.95 plus $3.50 for UPS from: Hartley
& Marks, 79 Tyee Drive, Point Roberts, WA 98281/(206)945-2017.

* Guide to Energy-Efficient Office Equipment, by M. Ledbetter and L.A. Smith.
$8.00 plus $2.00 for postage from: ACEEE, 2140 Shattuck Avenue, Suite 202,
Berkeley, CA 94704/(510)549-9914.

* Less Gauss, P.O. Box 5006, Rhinebeck, NY 12572/(800)872-1051.

* The Living Source, 7005 Woodway Drive, Waco, TX 76712/(817)776-4878.

* Lyn-Bar, 15 Valley Road, Port Washington, NY 11050/(516)767-8021.

* The Natural House Book, by David Pearson. $19.95 postpaid plus tax from:
Fireside Books, Simon and Schuster, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY
10020/(800)223-2348.

* NEEDS, 527 Charles Avenue, 12-A, Syracuse, NY 13209/(800)634-1380.

* SunPipe, P.O. Box 2223, Northbrook, IL 60065/(708)272-6977.

 

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