What more can be done to help protect the Earth besides keeping our cars off the road?
It’s been forty-six years since 20 million protesters gathered throughout the United States to cry out against pollution, oil spills, and toxic dumping which was destroying our planet. Earth Day, as we now call April 22, has since become a global awareness effort to protect the Earth from continued harm.
We know that teleworking plays a role in reducing air pollution. The fewer people driving back and forth to work each day, the less carbon dioxide, benzene, nitrogen dioxide, and other deadly poisons are released into the air.
In fact, writes Gina Williams, “The average American household produces 11.7 tons of transportation related carbon dioxide every year, according to a 2003 U.S. Energy Information Administration report.” No wonder telecommuting is so crucial to reducing pollution.
Fortunately, teleworking is a work style that’s caught on, so millions of people are doing their part by working from home or allowing their employees to work from home.
But what more can be done to help protect the Earth aside from keeping cars off the roads?
For those of us who’ve made telecommuting our primary work style, more can be done by saving energy and reducing toxins in our own home offices. Following are suggestions for ways teleworkers can take a few extra steps to further protect the Earth.
Cut down on home office energy use
We can thank technological advances for the ability to telework. Computers, smart phones, fax machines, and more help us connect with colleagues right from our home offices. So working from home, then, means the inevitable use of energy to keep those devices running.
With a little effort we can reduce the amount of energy we use. If possible, use a laptop which uses less energy than a desktop computer. In fact, laptops use 80% less electricity than desktops and function on up to a third less energy.
Plug electronics into power strips so they can be easily shut down at the end of the day with the flip of a switch. If you choose not to turn off your computer completely, put it on hibernate or even sleep mode which uses less energy than a screensaver.
Good lighting, so important to a home office, can be adjusted to use less electricity. Try switching to LED light bulbs which use 85% less energy than regular bulbs, saving you about $100.00 over the course of each bulb’s lifetime! (GE has created a “LED energy saving calculator” you can use to check out possible savings.)
Other ways to conserve energy include unplugging your office coffee pot or other items that still run because of a clock feature; and unplugging chargers as they continue to draw energy even when not being used. Finally, now that warmer weather is here dress down before cranking on the air conditioner.
Spread plants throughout your office
Even our grade school kids know that plants reduce carbon dioxide in the air and give off oxygen. Plants do much more than add a personal touch to our offices. They eat up volatile organic compounds (VOCs). According to a study by NASA,
“[M]any common houseplants and blooming potted plants help fight pollution indoors. They’re reportedly able to scrub significant amounts of harmful gases out of the air, through the everyday processes of photosynthesis. Some pollutants are also absorbed and rendered harmless in the soil.” (Emphasis mine.)
Plants can also aid in keeping our skin healthy. During the dry winter month, plants give off moisture, helping our skin cells and reducing the need to plug in yet another appliance: the humidifier.
A healthier diet is another benefit of plants. Rather than eating out, people who work from home have the option to eat homemade lunches. This is a perfect reason to grow your own edibles, such as herbs. They will be fresh and chemical free.
Bring your work outdoors
Want to increase your personal energy and productivity? Try working outside in nature. If just being surrounded by houseplants can improve mental health and productivity, imagine how much better you’ll perform by moving your work outside!
Writing on this topic for Social Media Week, Cormac Reynolds says that “some offices recognize the benefits to such a degree they encourage workers to work on rooftop lounges for a period of the day, rather than in the office itself.”
Indeed, an in depth study performed by National Center for Biotechnology Information concluded that, “Employees with more nature contact at work reported significantly less perceived stress and stress-related health complaints. These findings suggest that nature contact at work may constitute a healthy workplace exposure.”
As a teleworker you have the option to work wherever you want, so why not choose the environment that’s healthiest and helps you be most productive?
At the same time, use your outdoor time as a chance to shut down indoor energy sucking appliances and electronics. Working outside is a win-win for you and the Earth.
Conserve, Reuse, and Recycle
Not over-using or wasting is always the best choice. One of the biggest wastes in a home office is paper. To reduce the amount of paper you use, try using single spaces when you type instead of double, and print on both sides of the paper.
There are several other ways paper can be conserved, as noted by Inform.org; but paper can also be reused. One way to reuse paper is to save any paper that has been printed on only one side and staple them together to create a scrap pad. Used paper can also be shredded and turned into packing filler if you have to ship something.
Instead of stocking up on cases of water in plastic bottles, consider purchasing a water purifier and drink what comes out of the tap. Not all plastic bottles are recyclable, so thinking you’ll put your empty bottles to good use later on may not work out.
Recycle cell phones, cell phone batteries, old computer equipment, and more. Don’t toss them out in the trash or leave them on your curb. (Find out how and where to recycle almost anything by looking an item up at RecycleNation.com.)
Remove waste responsibly AND help a charity. Office supplies such as pens, printer ink cartridges, tape dispenser cores and more can be sent to TerraCycle, who will then donate cash to charities.
Reduce your pet’s carbon footprints
Working with Fido or Kitty at your feet is one of the perks of telecommuting. But remember that even pets contribute to environmental problems.
In the United States there is over 83 million pet dogs and 90 million pet cats, creating “enough pet waste to fill more than 5,000 football fields ten feet deep.”
Although dog waste isn’t a threat to the extent that lead and asbestos are, bacteria from dog feces can become airborne. Unpicked up feces near beaches or other bodies of water are especially a threat, says the EPA. In fact, “two to three days of waste from 100 dogs can contribute enough bacteria, nitrogen, and phosphorous to close 20 miles of a bay watershed to swimming and shellfishing.”
Cat waste poses a different threat. Some cats carry Toxoplasma gondii, or T. gondii, a parasite that they release in their stools. A cat let out of the house may use a child’s sandbox as a litter box, causing a disease called toxoplasmosis which can leave a child sick for weeks.
Many people believe pet waste is helpful to the environment because they view it as fertilizer. This isn’t true. According to the Department of Ecology, “Composting and burial do not kill hazardous pathogens that may be in the waste and can pollute water.”
The reason these pathogens continue to be harmful is that temperatures, even in compost bins, do not reach temperatures high enough to kill them. Even to the point of decomposure fecal matter remain hazardous.
It can be done!
If you work from home you are already doing a great deal to protect the Earth from pollution. Doing other things such as using plants, working outdoors, conserving, and cleaning up after your pets may seem insignificant to some; but collectively with millions of other teleworkers out there, they a make a long-term, positive impact on our environment.
Your turn: Are you someone who works from home and has come up with creative ways to further protect the Earth? Please share!