By Planet Green
1. Find a job
Ideally, you’ll be able to talk to your employer about formatting your current job into one you can do from home-even working from home just one or two days a week can make a big impact on the environment. But if your boss is one of the many who aren’t willing to let employees telecommute, then it might be time to look for a position that’s based out of your home, or become a freelancer or consultant in your field. Even better: Find a green job you can do without leaving your house, or start your own green business.
2. Choose a workspace
Before you can start greening your office, you need an office to green. And the kind of surroundings that make someone else productive might not work best for you—just look at the differences in TreeHugger writers’ home offices, which range from urban enclaves to living room sofas to moving trains. General wisdom is that setting aside a space dedicated only to work helps you stay focused and motivated; keeping it free of distractions—kids, non-work phone calls, and the UPS guy—lets you concentrate. If you can find a space that actually inspires you—because of the view, the architecture, or any other quality—even better. Of course, fresh air, big windows, and plenty of sunlight won’t hurt either; studies have shown that pulling the curtains and opening a window to catch the breeze makes workers more productive.
3. Find a desk
This is going to be the place where you spend most of your days from now on, so think carefully about what kind of desk you want, need, and have space for. Looking for tons of drawers? A big work surface? Or something modular that you can push out of the way when company comes? No matter what your preferences are, you can find environmentally-safe desks that fits the bill. Skip the particleboard (sorry, IKEA lovers: It’s full of VOCs) and opt instead for sustainable wood or recycled metal with non-toxic finishes. Another good plan is to check antique stores, thrift shops, estate sales, yard sales, or even your attic for used desks in good condition; you can even fashion a desk out of an old door supported by filing cabinets for more character.
4. Grab a seat
Spending the majority of your day staring at a computer sounds like it wouldn’t be physically demanding, but it does take a toll on your posture, muscles, and long-term productivity. Key in an office chair: find one that’s ergonomic, with good lumbar support, and adjustable to fit you. Herman Miller, Steelcase, Haworth, and Trey all offer models made in large part from recycled materials, and in colors and fabrics that are recycled and colored with non-toxic dye. For extra sustainability, look for chairs that are Greenguard or Cradle-to-Cradle certified (we’ll get more into this in the Getting Techie section). And don’t be afraid to splurge on a high quality chair. Once you’re sitting 40 hours a week on a cheap one, you’ll find the extra money is well worth it. Check out our guide to Buy Green: Office Chairs for more info on which chair might be right for you.
5. Power up
If you’re making the switch to working from home, a computer is a non-negotiable necessity. But the kind of computer? That can be up for some debate. If all you need is an internet connection, word processing, and some basic photo editing tools, then buying the fanciest processor around is a waste—you might be able to make do with what you have, or buy a smaller version, for basic use. (It’s not a bad idea to buy a larger monitor, though; it’s easier on your eyes and lets you see twice as much with the same power.) If you are buying a new laptop or desktop, look for one that’s EPEAT-certified, so it’s made with less hazardous waste than non-certified brands, or that meets Energy Star requirements. Better yet: buy used.
6. Get connected
Along with your computer, you’ll probably need a few other gadgets to stay in touch with bosses and coworkers—especially if you want to be available no matter where and when they need you; think cell phone, Blackberry or iPhone, scanner, printer, and fax machine, depending on what kind of work you do. Our How to Go Green: Gadgets guide offers plenty of tips for finding the best product with the least environmental impact—check it out for information on energy ratings, recycled and recyclable electronics, renewable chargers, and buyback programs.
7. Stock up on supplies
In a perfectly green world, your desk needs would be minimal—you’d make do with just a pen and paper for jotting quick notes, instead of an overflowing drawer of post-its, address books, notepads, pens, pencils, highlighters, thumb tacks, staples—need we go on? But if you’re the type who can’t pass a stationery aisle without shelling out for the fanciest fine-points and a clean, new notebook, you can still choose eco-friendly options: pencils made from sustainable wood or old denim, refillable white-board markers, recycled paper, and compostable packing materials, to name a few. Though if you’re anything like we are, you likely have plenty of pens, pencils, and old notebooks in your home already; try rummaging through those junk drawers before buying new.
8. Go paperless
Using recycled paper is great, but using no paper is even better. You’re likely already using online billing for your personal life; transfer that to your professional accounts with electronically-submitted invoices and direct deposit. Investing in a good scanner lets you shred documents (try reusing them as packaging materials) and navigate them as searchable PDFs. If you have the kind of job that’s impossible to do without any printing at all, try to cut back; these free downloadable software programs let you print just what you need from websites (without all the extra formatting), while Greenprint shows you the whole document before it prints, so you can select just the pieces you’re looking for and eliminate waste.
9. Sweat the small stuff
The green factors you don’t need to think about in a corporate office still add up when you’re working at home. We’re talking light bulbs, thermostat settings, air quality—it’s up to you to stay on top of these in your home office. Luckily, the solutions are pretty simple. Recycle any paper you use, install compact fluorescent bulbs, wear a sweater in the winter to keep from cranking the heat (or consider using a space heater to keep your office comfortable), and open the windows in the summer (or, if it’s uncomfortably hot, relocate for a few hours to your local library or coffee shop with wi-fi). Turning off your computer overnight saves energy and gives you a mental break from work, while adding a plant or an air filter can help you breathe easy.
10. Stay healthy
While it’s great for the planet that you’ve cut out your commute, spending all your time in the same building can drain your energy and cut into your social interaction. Make time every day to get outside, whether it’s to run errands, go for a walk, or hit the gym, and get a free conference program like Skype to chat face-to-face with your boss and coworkers. Take a few minutes to look away from your computer every hour, and plan your meals and snacks to cut back on mindless munching. And when you are lucky enough to step away from the computer for extended periods of time, turn off your lights and gadgets to cut back on wasted energy.