Telecommuting can go a long way to avoid the gridlock and stress of the daily grind.
Yet a home office is fraught with perils of its own: ozone spews silently from your
computer, poisons lurk in correction fluid, formaldehyde seeps from your credenza. And you
can't even blame your boss.
You can, however, take some simple steps to make your home office both healthy and
environmentally sound-whether you've been telecommuting for years or you're just setting
The hazards of hardware. Computers, fax machines, and copiers can be real energy hogs.
But equipment bearing the EPA's Energy Star logo uses less than half the juice of
conventional hardware. If business and residential consumers chose Energy Star products
over standard models, the agency says, the reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions would be
equal to removing 17 million cars from our highways.
But there are more immediate benefits than staving off global warming. Energy Star
computers, for example, switch to an automatic "sleep mode" during periods of
inactivity without sacrificing speed or performance. In addition to saving energy, these
systems emit less heat and reduce electromagnetic field emissions, which have been linked
to some types of cancers.
Office equipment, no matter how efficient, produces waste. Print and toner cartridges
contribute over 38,000 tons of plastic and metal to landfills each year. Using and
recycling remanufactured cartridges not only keeps these products out of landfills but
reduces the amount of petroleum needed to produce new ones. Hewlett-Packard's Planet
Partners and Inkjet Takeback programs encourage users to return their spent laser
cartridges free of charge. A Planet Partners spokesman says that 95 percent of each
returned cartridge is recycled, including the box and packaging material.
The paper trail. The average office worker discards over 100 pounds of paper every
year, most of which ends up in landfills. Yet recycled paper is available for practically
any use, and at a cost comparable to virgin paper. To save trees and eliminate
paper-related pollutants such as dioxins and furans, try treeless paper. Hemp, kenaf, and
other agriculturally based pulp sources are usually grown without pesticides, and are
chlorine- and acid-free. Whichever type of paper you use, close the recycling loop by
practicing conservation. For draft documents, print or copy on both sides of the paper, or
try to fit two pages on one. On-screen editing can help reduce hard-copy drafts, while
electronic business forms, e-mail, and faxes can help stem the tide of conventional mail.
If you must ship documents, UPS now offers a reusable, bleach-free express envelope made
from 80 percent postconsumer recycled fiber.
Space: the final frontier. Traditional office furniture not only contributes to the
depletion of forests but can emit formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) for
years after its purchase. Opt instead for furniture made from certified sustainably
harvested wood or recycled material finished with toxic-free paint and binding agents. For
a list of manufacturers, check out the Green Seal Web site at www.greenseal.org. Or go
fashionably downscale with pre-owned furniture.
Arrange your work space to take advantage of natural daylight. If you must rely on
artificial lighting, one of the easiest ways to reduce energy consumption is to replace
office lighting with compact fluorescent bulbs, which use the same fixtures but last ten
times longer than conventional lightbulbs.
The EPA reports that the air inside most homes is five times more polluted than the air
outside. But simply adding a few houseplants can help neutralize toxic indoor air. If
horticulture's not your thing, open a window or use a freestanding air-filtration system
to reduce airborne poisons.
Employing even a few of these strategies can extend the green benefits of
telecommuting, and create not just a healthier work environment but a cleaner global
Kim Erickson, who wrote about telecommuting for our November/December 1998 issue,
works at home in Las Vegas.