Working out of a home office has been a godsend for me, especially when my daughter was growing up. I was here on snow days, when she was sick, and when she got off the bus. I’ve also been able to drop a commute, work in my PJs, and work in an indoor air quality haven—important for me because I am chemically sensitive, but something I wish was common for offices everywhere.
In today's digital world, you can make a living from a mountaintop or the beach, as long as you have a computer and Internet access. I have worked from home for over 20 years, communicating daily with people all over the country. With instant messaging, it's as if we were sitting at the same table. Even if you don't telecommute, you can apply these principles to your work space for a green and clean office that makes you feel productive and peaceful all day long.
Five Basics of a Green Office
1. Use recycled paper. Not only does this save trees, but the paper feels so soft and natural, so much more natural feeling than virgin paper. According to Conservatree (http://www.conservatree.org/), it takes about 24 trees to make 40 cartons of virgin printer/copy paper. That means that one tree yields only 1 2/3 cartons of paper!
Americans use 14 million tons of printer/copy paper for a year, about 93 pounds for each person in the United States. Reduce the demand for virgin paper by choosing a recycled kind, with as high a percentage of post-consumer content as you can find. Paper made from recycled fibers saves trees, conserves energy and water, and cuts down on air pollution.
2. Use paper sparingly. Print on both sides of the paper whenever possible, and only print things out when it's absolutely necessary. If you're printing out things only to file them, consider switching to a digital storage system, saving electronic files to a disc or external hard drive.
3. Recycle ink and toner cartridges.
Take them to your local office supply store or donate empty cartridges to support a good cause. Good places to do this include eCycle Group (http://www.ecyclegroup.com/), FreeRecycling (http://www.freerecycling.com/) and the Recycle for Breast Cancer Program (http://www.recycleforbreastcancer.org/
4. Conserve energy. Set your computer to "sleep mode" when it won't be used for a short period of time. (Screen savers use more energy than sleep mode, so don't rely on this method to save power.) According to the U.S. Department of Energy, turning off a computer when it is not in use can save $186 a year in electricity and prevent 1 1/2 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. Also, consider a laptop computer because it uses about one-quarter of the energy of a desktop computer.
5. Reduce chemical exposure. Homes and offices often contain everyday chemicals that are, in fact, neurotoxic and can affect your brain. They have a negative impact on your concentration, clarity and ability to focus. The chemicals are usually petroleum-based, and solvents found in printer ink (including copiers), markers, furniture polish, cleaning products, synthetic scents, and even the glue holding the wood together in some furniture. Your reaction to the exposure may be so subtle that you don't clearly attribute it to any one thing, you just have a general sense that it is hard to focus.
The last place you want to be exposed to neurotoxic chemicals is in your office--a place where thinking and concentrating is crucial. Start by switching to non-toxic cleaning and removing items in the office that have a chemical smell, such as synthetic scents and inks. Choose solid wood furniture and natural accessories. Keep office supplies to a minimum, and keep your choices simple--for example, choose a graphite pencil over a scented marker with a specialized plastic grip. Crack the window as often as possible. Store office supplies, such as ink and toner cartridges, away from your work area to minimize exposure to strong chemical odors.
Feng Shui Your Office
The elements are often not fully balanced in home offices; the fire element is usually very strong and the rest of the elements are quite weak. I had a feng shui expert come to my office and she said, "Annie! You are burning up with fire in here!" With all the books and papers, my passion about my subject matter, and the energy needed to manage my workload, fire was consuming much of the energy. There was so little of the water element that she advised I put a fountain in the room.
To balance out the positive ions, I bought a salt lamp. The earth element in the office becomes stronger all the time because I bring rocks into the room, and my window has a view of plants and wildlife. It's also essential to have a balance of yin and yang for a productive office environment. Yin office energy is found in fabrics, wooden furniture, textures art, creativity, conceptual thinking and a quiet atmosphere. Yang office energy includes electronic equipment, straight lines, reflective surfaces, metal, aggressive business models, deadlines and a busy atmosphere. An office with too much yin could be unproductive while an office with too much yang energy can be stressful.