Over the past few years, the phrase “going to the office” brings a totally different image than it did 10 years ago.  The commute is much shorter.  Maybe your home office is a dedicated room, or a corner of the living room.  For me, the office is on the table of the RV which I can get to in 1 second from anywhere in the home.

Working from a home office may be a good move, or not. Sure, we miss the connection with our co-workers beyond a Zoom call, but that can be remedied by meeting them for a stroll during your lunch hour if you live close to each other. Many of our co-workers now live wherever they choose. I see them all the time on the road.

I don’t see that changing any time soon.

One benefit of having a home office is that we can take control of our carbon footprint. The transition to a paperless office has been tackled.  Just ask the paper industry. Gone are the days of printing out every correspondence or document. The next transition was to send our documents to the cloud.  Mission accomplished.

But there are still some things we can do to “green up” our home office space. Here are a few suggestions.  I would love to hear what you are doing.

Printer Ink

Somewhere between 300 – 375 million ink cartridges and laser printer cartridges are buried in U.S. landfills each year. And that is only at the disposal end of the life cycle.

If you have followed me at all you will know that I teach to look at the entire life cycle of a product, from exploration, extraction, transportation, manufacturing and disposal.

Even thought they are in a small package, ink cartridges include many toxic materials like butyl urea, cyclohexanone, and dyes that contain Sulphur, ethoxylated acetylenic diols, Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA) and ethylene glycol. When placed in a landfill they leach out toxins for about 1,000 years, because it would take that long to break down and decompose.

If we are putting over 300 million of these in the landfill each year, imagine how many are buried since the invention of the printer.

Thankfully, the ink refill industry has come a long way.  I started using recycled cartridges about 20 years ago, but they did not work as well. If you have not tried getting recycled cartridges in the last few years, you might try again.

For me, the best option was to opt out of getting a printer all together when we went full time in the RV. I print something maybe once a month at the most. When I have the need, I take my memory stick to a printing shop. You can ask for recycled paper and if you are lucky, your town has a green printer who also uses less toxic ink.

REDUCE consumption of ink in your home office by questioning the need to push that print button. When you find that you need to replace your current printer, ask yourself if you really need one.

RECYCLE  AND REUSE cartridge’s by refilling them when they run dry.  Find out who does that in your community and then who does it with non toxic ink. Also, when the printer stops working, be sure to recycle it at your local eWaste collection site.

Create a Minimalist Home Office

A couple of months ago I hosted a 30 day minimalist challenge where participants eliminated things from their life that no longer served them. This meant donating or recycling one item on day one, two items on day two, etc.

Living in an RV you would think I have already downsized.  But the largest storage I have is for office stuffs. I found out that I am a pen hoarder!  I must have had 200 pens in a tin tucked up in the overhead compartment. Why?

Now I use one type of pen and keep two filled at all times. They are erasable ink (when using the eraser on the pen) and are easy to find refills for, which I buy in bulk. The rest were donated.

What surprises do you have hidden away in closets? Do you really need them? How about all those pens and notepads that were collected at conferences and tradeshows over the years?  Name tags? Faded invoices? Clutter can create a cluttered mind.

Take the challenge. 

REDUCE the clutter and buy only what you actually need to be productive.

RECYCLE all that paper – you know you have a few piles here and there. Donate usable good stuff to a local non-profit who may be struggling to buy office supplies. Or to the local grade school. Teachers always need supplies.

Energy Use in Your Home Office

Did you know that things plugged in still draw power?  Its known as phantom power.

As you can imagine, my options for plugins here in the RV are very limited.  To tackle three problems, I strategically placed a couple of power strips onto the wall.  They provide added outlets for my computer, phone charger, and lights; they are at desk height so I don’t need to crawl under the table to plug something in; they allow me to turn off the strip when I am done for the day.

Its also good practice to put your computer on sleep when you are going to be away for awhile. This saves power, and it can extend the life of your computer’s battery/screen/fan etc.

LED lights also greatly reduce energy consumption in the office. Lights put off heat as energy.  Ever try unscrewing an incandescent light bulb after it has been on for 5 minutes?  I can unscrew an LED light after it has been on for 8 hours. That just demonstrates how much less energy it takes when using LEDs. So if you have not switched yet, when your current bulbs burn out, replace with LEDs.

REDUCE energy use by turning electronics off when not in use and replace lighting with LED.

eWaste

You might think that someone who spends 6-8 hours per day working on a laptop, that I would have the latest version. Not the case.  I bought this laptop about six years ago.  It’s not special – typical Dell office variety. It still has Windows 10, but it works for what I need.  Last year, it was acting sluggish so I had the hard drive replaced. Boy what a difference!

I could have trashed this one and bought a new one, but the carbon footprint of a computer is quite large. Producing any electronic device involves high levels of hazardous chemicals, greenhouse gases and water drainage.

Most of the waste is not seen.  It starts at the mining of precious metals for internal electronic components, to the exploration and extraction of petroleum for the outer case.

The same goes for cell phones. It is wise to keep them as long as you can and not be swayed by savvy marketing for the newest and brightest.  A typical smartphone has 62 different metals, including gold, silver and palladium, which are mainly mined in Asia, Africa and Australia.

In a study conducted by Swedish waste management and recycling association, invisible waste generated for a single smartphone is about 190 pounds and laptop is about 2,645.

What about recycling eWaste? 

While eWaste recycling is available, only 10% – 40% actually get recycled. When they enter the landfill they become hazardous as they leach chemicals into the soil.

  • REDUCE the need to replace electronics as often by purchasing quality products.
  • Donate usable electronics to someone who can RESUSE it.
  • At the end of its useful life, be sure to RECYCLE, or in some cases, trade it in for a new model.

Gift Giving and Other Things

If you have clients you may occasionally give them a thank you gift. Or you may find yourself as a vendor at a trade show where tradition has been to give out “promo items.” Remember, that every thing has a carbon footprint.

How about giving a nice experience as gifts instead of things that may end up in a closet or landfill? This might be a gift card to a local restaurant – everyone likes to go out to lunch on occasion. Show them you listen and know what they like to do. Maybe they are a movie buff, so theater tickets might be good. Its much better than a basket of muffins – yawn.

Trade booths are usually piled high with paper, candy, and promotional items, like pens. This is an area that really needs attention. How about making some nice posters of images that show what you offer, which will give you an opportunity to start a conversation. Create a big QR code that they can open to see your website, or capture their email so you can send them something for free – like an eBook or discount code.

What else?  Have you made any changes to your work space that others might like to know about?


cookbook challenge