How to set up an eco-friendly work from home office

BY RYAN ONG, 11 NOV 2021

Water cooler and staff canteen not included

Covid-19 has changed many working situations, and work-from-home (WFH) arrangements may be here to stay. In fact, companies like DBS have introduced flexible work arrangements to better support employees. The good news is, this already reduces our carbon footprint through less travelling. The key now is to ensure we don’t lose these gains, through unsustainable or ecologically unfriendly set-ups. Here’s how to make your WFH office a green space:

1. Use energy-efficient home office equipment

One of the main drawbacks of WFH is that you’ll consume more electricity, which results in a higher carbon footprint. 

There might be a slight loss of efficiency, depending on your office size and setup. For example: in an office, only one set of lights need to be turned on, for everyone in the same room to benefit. With home offices, each worker needs to turn on their own set of lights at home.

To mitigate the impact, try to use equipment with higher energy efficiency. A good way to check this is through the National Environment Agency (NEA) Energy Label.

Try to keep to devices with four or five ticks; this lowers your energy consumption, as well as your power bill.

2. Don’t go overboard with the initial set-up

You may be tempted to set up “the ultimate home office”, with a mini-fridge, multiple yet unnecessary computer screens, printers and reams of paper.

This has two negative effects on the environment: first, these appliances end up drawing more power for often unnecessary utility (do you really need to power a desktop and a laptop and tablet at the same time?)

Second, the need to maintain such equipment could have an environmental cost. For example, you need to replace dried out ink cartridges eventually, even if you don’t print things very often.

When picking your appliances, try to go for “dual purpose” items. You can, for instance, have a single monitor that serves as both a TV screen and computer screen.

3. Pick a room with a good source of natural light

Avoid setting up home offices in darker corners, or far from windows and balconies.

These spots tend to require more electrical lighting, thus consuming more power. Ventilation may also be poorer, and you’ll end up turning on the fan or air-conditioner, instead of being able to just open a window.

Do think outside the box – while the instinct is often to make a bedroom or study nook the office, consider areas like a kitchen island (if you have an open plan kitchen), or even a corner of the living room.

4. Get healthy with your home office snacks / foods

Now that your kitchen is within walking distance, consider doing away with heavily packaged food products. It’s also a good idea to skip the mini-bar.

There’s no need for canned and packet drinks, when you can pour yourself a beverage from a single one or two-liter drink bottle. You can also consider making a quick sandwich, rather than buying food in “chip bags” (the plastic and foil containers are harmful to the environment), or fruit that has to be packaged.

Food made from fresh ingredients also tend to be healthier.

5. Turn off / unplug devices when you’re not using them

Home offices tend to have more devices plugged in and running, compared to other rooms. This can drain power even when the devices aren’t in actual use.

Make a habit of turning off the devices – such as your laptop – altogether, rather than leaving it to run with the screensaver. For devices like printers, consider turning them on only when you need them.

Another common habit is to leave phones, tablets, and laptops plugged in all the time; even if there’re no plans to leave the house. This wastes electricity, and can be bad for the battery life of some devices. Remember to unplug these devices when they’re fully charged. 

Also, outlets left in the “on” position still drain power, even if nothing is plugged in.

6. Reuse, instead of buying new furniture and appliances

Researchers from the University of Manchester found that, in 2020, the sale of office chairs and desks increased by 300% and 438% respectively. Laptop sales rose by over 10% across the globe, with around 11 million shipments required to deliver them.

We may not travel as much, but we are likely ordering and buying more things online. Coupled with delivery needs, our carbon footprint can end up increasing.

So as far as possible, try to re-use furniture and older appliances.

7. If you must have new furniture, use sustainable materials

To minimise ecological impact, use salvaged or reclaimed wood furniture. This is made from wood salvaged from fallen tree branches or dead trees, or from recycled wood products.

Wood is generally better for the environment than non-biodegradable products, such as plastic. It also has a lower carbon footprint than metal production.

Thanks to the many skilled carpenters in Singapore and across the causeway, it’s also easy to get custom-built, reclaimed wood furniture. 

Some carpenters can even create eco-friendly versions of furniture you see in magazines or websites. You can bring this up to your interior designer or contractor, if you’re currently renovating.

For other items like fabrics, stick to natural products like linen or cotton, instead of plastics, nylon, or rayon.

8. Use electrical trackers to identify power guzzlers

An example of this would be a smart plug, which will soon be available to Singaporean homes. Future housing estates may also have trackers built-in, whilst one estate – Punggol – already has around 1,400 flats with this ability.

With smart plugs or related power monitoring, you can identify which pieces of equipment are draining the most electricity. Do note that some equipment can start to drain more power as they get older or get damaged and might need to be replaced.

Besides this, smart plugs may have other abilities – such as acting as a dimmer, or even allowing you to shut off the power from your phone (this makes point 5 easier).

A sustainable home office is better for both the planet, and your wallet

A green home office will require less power, and less expenditure to set up. While the savings may seem small at first, they can accumulate to a significant sum, after months or years of WFH.

Given that many employers are now making it an indefinite arrangement, it’s a good time to start thinking of a more permanent, and eco-friendly, set up.

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