Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Going Green Office Tips

Happy Earth Day!

While we celebrate the environment today, any day is a good day to reduce waste and improve energy efficiency. It's not just the right thing to do, it's good for business. Let's start by finding some simple changes to make. We'll check the results and move on from there.

My own small office was almost insufferably hot during the summer and quite toasty even in Northern Illinois winters. Checking around, I could feel that a couple of computers, monitor, TV set, printers and overhead & desk lights were pumping out the BTUs like little space heaters.

The first change was to replace the 4 incandescent mini-flood lights overhead with equivalent CFLs or Compact Fluorescent Lights. These have come a long way in a few years. They only cost a few dollars now, are available in a wide variety of styles at the big box hardware stores, come in light temperatures that mimic incandescent, use dramatically less power, and are barely warm to the touch. The 4 dimmable Neptun R20 reflector bulbs I'm currently using consume 16 watts each versus 50 watts each for incandescent. That's 64 watts total versus 200 at full brightness. It's also 24 watts in heat versus 160 watts lost as heat per specs on the package. That change alone makes a huge difference in the heat you feel beating down on your head from above.

The two desk lamps are OTT-LITE fluorescents with full spectrum bulbs that make reading documents and working on the computer easy. As with the overhead reflectors, you can barely feel any heat when you put your hand near the bulb. You can feel incandescents, and worse yet halogens, from feet away.

Another change I made was to replace my tube TV with a similar size flat screen model. I could feel heat pouring out of the bookcase that held the old TV. Not any more.

My new color laser printer, a Brother HL-4070CDW, has an Energy Star sticker. That means it complies with energy standards for that type of equipment. Mostly, it sits quietly and uses little energy on standby. I intend to buy Energy Star rated equipment from now on. More and more manufacturers are complying, so it's getting easier to find. Computers and monitors are big users of power. I switched from a 17" tube monitor that was a noticeable heat generator to a 19" ViewSonic flat screen that is barely warm to the touch.

Want to know the best way to cut back on both heat and electricity? Turn things off when you aren't using them. That even means switching off the lights when you leave the room. It may seem trivial, but over the course of a month or year you can save many kilowatt hours by getting into this simple habit. Also set your monitor to go dark after 10 or 20 minutes and let your PC put itself to sleep if you don't use it for 15 to 30 minutes. It will wake up quickly enough when you need it again. If you find this too annoying to your work flow, just set the times longer. It will still make a difference when you go out for lunch or are in meetings for hours on end.

A handy tool that shows you instant results is the P3 International P4400 Kill A Watt Electricity Usage Monitor. They're available at hardware stores and online for about $25. You plug in the device you want to measure and plug the meter into the wall socket. It shows you the number of watts being consumed. If you let it run for a day, you'll get the number of KWH used per day. At 10 cents or more per KWH, the total cost of running electronic equipment is significant. Even the phantom power consumed by equipment on standby adds up when everything on the circuit is considered. Consider using a surge protected power strip with a mechanical switch to completely turn off equipment that is only infrequently used.

Can you really see the difference? You bet you can. We replaced almost every incandescent light in the house with a similarly lumen rated CFL. The change paid for itself in a matter of a few months. I was shocked by how much of a difference it made.

On the waste side, I've switched to Office Depot 100% recycled EnviroCopy paper. This product has also come a long way. It's just as bright and solid as the non-recycled paper and doesn't cost that much more by the carton. But the best way to solve the trash problem is just don't use so much. I've pretty much canceled my paper trade magazines in favor of online electronic delivery. It not only saves the wasteful cycle of printing, mailing and hauling to the street for recycling, but it's actually easier to scan for the stories you are interested in.

Another tool that is gaining favor for both cost reduction and "greener" business practice is the online meeting, versus travel for in-person get togethers. You can still do that occasionally for relationship building. For day to day needs a tool such as GoToMeeting can save a small fortune when collaborating on projects.

I know that these measures just scratch the surface, but its easy to start by taking simple steps immediately. You'll be surprised by how much of a difference you'll actually notice.

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