Five Ways to Go Green at Work

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In this week’s TIME, I wrote about a burgeoning workplace trend: green offices. Over the past year, I’d begun to hear from employers touting their various green efforts: “we’re the most environmentally correct law firm in L.A.! We use recycled printer paper! We built a tree house on the corporate campus for meetings!” (Honest to John: Capital One tells me they’ve got a tree house.)

It got me to thinking: as much as we conserve at home, we toss our green badges aside as soon as we arrive at the office. Which of us hasn’t printed out 50 pages of notes so we could read them on the bus? Or grabbed a wad of 10 napkins at the cafeteria when one would do? Or ignored the toilet with the running flush (someone from maintenance will be here soon, probably)?

It’s okay to waste resources, so long as we’re not paying for them. Right?

So wrong. As I wrote in the story:

One office worker can use a quarter ton of materials in a year–which includes 10,000 pieces of copier paper. Heating, cooling and powering office space are responsible for almost 40% of carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. and gobble more than 70% of total electricity usage. Commuters spew 1.3 billion tons of CO2 a year. Computers in the office burn $1 billion worth of electricity annually–and that’s when they’re not producing a lick of work.

Yikes! Here, then, are five small ways to be a green office worker.

1. Turn out the lights. Lighting eats up 44% of electricity used in office buildings. We’d collectively save enormous amounts by turning out all those little desk lamps and overheads. If you sit near a window, rely on natural light.

2. Don’t flush.
No, for the love of Pete, flush–just don’t use more water than you need to. Like, don’t leave the water running in the sink as you chat with your colleagues about America’s Got Talent. Urge your boss to install low-flow toilets.

3. Stop wasting office supplies. Seriously. What’s the point of having a job if you can’t plaster your wall with Post-Its, you ask? Think of it this way: it’s not about denying your access to free stationery; it’s about not being responsible for the felling of 1,000 trees. Turn your greed into guilt.

4. Turn off the computer. I know, I used to do it too: leave the computer running during mid-day Pilates class so the boss thinks you’re still toiling away through lunch. Computers are energy monsters. Just by setting your computer to power down automatically after 15 minutes of non-use, you cut the machine’s energy use by 70%. Seventy percent! That’s worth a hairy eyeball from the boss, no?

5. Bike to work. Or take the bus. Or train. Just get out of the car. Says About.com,

At an nationwide average drive-time of about 24.3 minutes, Americans now spend more than 100 hours a year commuting to work, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

That’s 100 hours of spewing noxious fumes into the air. Encourage your employer to make this a company-wide effort by rewarding workers who find alternate means of transportation; tell them Nike, Google and other companies earned props from the Environmental Protection Agency for their efforts. If not for the earth, then do it for the PR, tell them.

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