Remote jobs are becoming more and more common, and not just in the situation of our current pandemic. It’s a great way to earn your living and to stay in a comfortable home environment (for an introvert like me, this sounds like perfection). Thanks to the increasing spread and capabilities of technology, it’s a work option that has become more accessible to people.
While there certainly are a lot of benefits to working from home, it can also be easy to slip into habits that place more demand on our energy consumption. This then creates more demand for energy that draws on fossil fuels. Since you’re already minimizing your carbon footprint by not commuting every day, why not create even more environmentally friendly habits through your workday?
Below is a list of possibilities to increase the environmentally friendly activities of your workday. Take baby steps to introduce these things into your life, changing habits and forming new ones is something that takes time. So do your best not to overwhelm yourself. (Check out my post "How to make an Environmentally Friendly Lifestyle Work for You" for some tips on making the transition easier on you).
Here are a handful of ways you can make working from home more eco-friendly:
1. Use natural lighting
When you’re working during the day, why not take advantage of the natural light? Work by a window to light your way through your work tasks and to save energy.
2. Use task lighting
Sometimes natural light just isn’t enough, or a good option (does anyone else ever work from a basement office?). In these cases, it’s more energy efficient to use task lighting (like a lamp) rather than overhead lighting. I also find that the light draws you into your task more, so it helps you stay productive — a nice little side-benefit if you have an upcoming deadline.
3. Keep things unplugged (once they’re charged)
Things like cell phones, tablets, smartwatches and the many other devices that exist only take a short amount of time to charge. Rather than plugging them and walking away (or going to bed), pop them somewhere nearby so you can easily see once they’re fully charged. After this, unplug them so that they don’t continue to draw energy. I also recommend this for laptops, but I will also acknowledge that this is anxiety-provoking if you don’t trust your laptop’s battery not to suddenly die.
4. Choose locally produced and grown snacks
This helps to lower the carbon footprint associated with your food’s transportation. By choosing locally sourced food, it’s coming from somewhere closer to you, rather than from a different province or country.
5. Avoid ordering in food
When you order food, the packaging is inevitable. On top of that, it adds another line of transportation that your food goes through before it gets to you. If you do order in, aim for places where you know the packaging is recyclable or compostable, and make a point of letting the restaurant know that you have things like utensils.
6. Make your lunches from scratch
This is another way to limit food packaging. Think of most premade things you get at the grocery store. From condiments to bread, most of these come wrapped in packaging. But if you were to make these things from scratch you could remove that waste from this meal.
7. Meal prep during the evening or weekends
These tend to be off-peak hours, which means that fewer energy resources are drawn from fossil fuels. For instance, Hydro Ontario gets its energy from multiple sources, some renewable (like wind, water or sun), while others fit our more traditional idea of where power comes from. During off-peak hours the energy is drawn from renewable energy sources and then as needed is pulled from non-renewables.
This all means that the energy needed for meal prepping during off-peak hours puts (slightly) less demand out for fossil fuel use. So if you’re going to be using your stove-top or oven to prepare foods, aim to do it during off-peak times.
8. Take your lunch break outside
This allows you to reset, and to put your devices on low energy and to turn off your task lighting for a little while. If you’re a gardener this is a chance to spend an extra hour cultivating your vegetables, herbs or fruit to help bring down your food’s carbon footprint (and to eat the freshest produce possible!).
9. Put your devices in low power mode
Do this during your lunch break or when your work task is focused elsewhere. Some devices even offer an ‘eco-power’ mode, so if you don’t require the top performance your computer offers this may be a good option for you.
10. Avoid streaming videos for background noise
All streaming has some kind of eco-footprint, but some have a larger footprint than others. Videos tend to be more energy-consuming than just audio because there is more information being drawn to deliver that video from its server to your device.
There are plenty of options for background noise though! Podcasts, audiobooks, music or even the radio all use less energy and provide you with something to drown out the silence.
11. Clear out your inbox
Much like the idea of streaming videos requiring more energy both in your home and back at the servers they’re stored in, your inbox operates in the same way. Everything in your inbox is taking up space in a way that requires energy to store. So, clear out your inbox to limit your energy footprint, and to enjoy the clarity of mind that comes alongside having your online space neatly organized.
12. Use an eco-friendly search engine
This is something that I was introduced to years ago but was reminded when watching one of Shelbizleee’s YouTube videos (she also taught me about the impact of our emails!). She discusses the search engine Ecosia that uses the ad revenue to plant trees for each search to offset the carbon footprint of each search engine inquiry.
13. Avoid doing laundry during the day
When I first heard this idea on an Ontario Hydro provider's website, I was surprised. But, after reading through their explanation, it made sense and was something I could see why they were suggesting it.
At home, there are a lot more things to distract you than there would be at an office. This includes things like laundry, vacuuming, or running the dishwasher. But, getting to work on these tasks during the day draws more energy during peak times. Meaning it’s increasing the demand for fossil fuels. Instead, use this as in excuse not to clean or to only partially clean, I don’t think sweeping or dusting is going to hurt anyone. Leave those chores to off-peak hours like the evenings and weekends.
14. Don’t adjust your thermostat
This is one that is probably leaving you feeling a little confused because aren’t we supposed to adjust our thermostats to conserve energy? Yes, that is usually the case. But I’ve phrased it this way for good reason. During the day it’s not uncommon for the heat to go down a degree or two, or the AC to go up a bit—thanks to smart thermostats. (Though, I acknowledge this may not be the case for all of everyone’s ventilation systems. If this is your situation, please DO adjust your thermostat.) These are usually great features that help you save energy while no one is in the house, but it’s something you might notice while at home getting your job done.
In this case, try to avoid turning up or down your thermostat. Look for other ways to warm yourself or cool yourself. Throw on an extra sweater, wrap yourself up in a blanket, make yourself something cool to drink or open a window. The environment (and your wallet) will thank you.
15. Limit paper use
This is one that you’ve probably heard many times, but it’s worth repeating to help lower demand for paper manufacturing. Ways you can do this include using all the pages in that half-full notebook, using scrap paper and simply using both sides of the paper.
16. Avoid Online Shopping for Work Supplies
This not only encourages the production of new things, but it also adds to carbon emissions from its transportation from the factory line to your workspace. Start by looking for something second hand from stores and people near you.
17. Avoid non-recyclable and non-compostable office supplies
Things like pens, highlighters, scotch tape, staples, and sticky notes can’t be recycled or composted. This means that they will end up in landfills where they will contribute to the release of methane gas. Instead, opt for refillable pens, pencils, pencil crayons to highlight, paper tape, paper clips (which are reusable), and scrap paper.
If you still find yourself missing the more ‘traditional’ office supplies, see what your thrift store has available. Frequently there are office supplies that are still usable. While they still need to be thrown away, they will at least decrease the demand for more office supplies to be manufactured. (Thrift stores often have sections for things like binders, dividers and folders, for those of you who are obsessed with organizing like me).
Hopefully these tips will help you adopt more eco-friendly habits through out your work day, and as mentioned at the beginning, start slow and ease into new habits as it can be easy to become overwhelmed.
Let me know what you think of these ideas below! And if you try them out I'd love to hear how it goes.