Maintaining Green Motivation in the Workplace

 Recently I posted about the changes to our family’s life, which led to some changes for Greening Families. With the launch of my husband’s business, we have made the switch to complete self-employment, something we have been working toward for years. We are already reaping benefits in terms of flexible schedules (we both attended our daughters’ Valentine’s Day parties at school with zero guilt – amazing!) but the change has also meant longer-than-normal hours for me over the last few months as Rich’s business – and income – got off the ground.


When I am racing a deadline, I sometimes have a hard time maintaining my motivation for green habits, especially the ones that take a little extra time. Since I know many others are starting or growing their own businesses these days, I wanted to share some tips to maintaining green motivation in the workplace. (I also wanted to encourage myself to keep following the green path so this article itself is a form of self-motivation!) Here are my top twelve tips for greening your home office:

1) Buy only what you need. When starting a business, it is easy to be tempted into buying items that might come in handy since you don’t know exactly what you will need yet. Hold off on making any purchase until you absolutely know you need it.

As an example, I started my business more than 10 years ago thinking that I would need a monitor stand since I spend so much time working at my computer. Money was tight so other things – like a computer! – came first, leaving me no money for a monitor stand. I had to get creative and came up with a homemade monitor stand – a stack of several reams of paper. Here I am, more than a decade later, still perfectly functional with my homemade version.

2) Reuse everything possible. Along with stacks of paper serving as a monitor stand, in the early days my kitchen table was my desk and an old milk carton from college was my file cabinet. I still look for ways to reuse items. Folders from meetings, name badges and pens from presentations, and paper clips from handouts all get multiple uses in my work.

3) Consider used furniture. My current desk is a beautiful solid wood desk that we found in the used section of a local furniture store for about $100. Both my husband and I also found solid wood bookcases for our offices at equally low prices. We don’t have to breathe in the chemicals released by pressed wood, we have lovely pieces that will last our lifetime and beyond, and we saved a bunch of money.

4) Be thoughtful about work processes. This is where I really have a tough time when stress mounts. I’m a grant writer so I pour over Requests for Proposals as I’m working with clients on grant applications. These RFPs are often long – one hundred plus pages of densely worded text is typical – and most grant applications go through multiple iterations before they are finalized. I could easily burn through lots of paper in my work.

I’ve been focusing on limiting my printing in a couple of ways. I’m keeping more many more items electronic (thanks in part to the handy comments feature in Adobe). When I do print, I double-up pages whenever possible. I then recycle everything printed once the project is complete. My daughters are big artists so they find lots of uses for used paper!

Everyone’s work is different so think what you do and where you could easily make changes to green your work.

5) Utilize the Power Save options on electronic devices. One of the downsides of working at home is that I’m responsible for paying the utility bill. I work to keep it low by taking advantage of the Power Save options on my computer. Rich is a techie so he helped me figure out all the choices but there is a handy tool, called EZ Wizard, that will do the same thing if you need a hand (although you won’t get your fill of Star Wars humor with the software). ; )

6) Utilize renewable energy where possible. One of the advantages to working at home is that I have more control over the source of the energy I am using. We switched to renewable energy as soon as it was an option in our area. These days many utility companies now give their customers the option to purchase at least some of their energy from renewable sources. Check out the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency to learn about alternatives in your area.

7) Delete unused files and emails – even from the deleted folder. It takes energy to store information, even when it is in the deleted file. While it is hard to get a measure of how much energy it takes to store files and emails (see One Green Generation and Treehugger for two attempts), why use up energy on things you know you don’t need? I have also been (slowly) learning that keeping only necessary items makes the work environment more pleasant so the benefits to this action go beyond energy reduction.

8) Maintain equipment so it won’t have to be replaced. A little time here can save a lot of money – and headaches since equipment always seems to die right before a deadline. Helpful primers on maintaining computers and computer accessories are available here and here. If you utilize other forms of equipment in your business, ask how to care for them properly when you purchase them or seek out guidelines online.

9) Select office supplies carefully. When buying supplies for work, check to see if eco-friendly options are available. I’ve found paper with recycled content, pens made out of recycled plastic, and remanufactured printer cartridges, among other items.

10) Keep plants near your work space. Plants don’t only look good, some also help clean the air of toxic chemicals. And caring for a plant has been shown to increase people’s level of happiness so you could get two benefits for the price of one.

11) Store office supplies where kids can’t reach them. OK, this one may be unique to my family but, from what I have seen of kids and Post Its, I don’t think it is. After fartoo many fine-tip dry erase markers were mashed into oblivion by my preschool daughters, who were used to the fat-tipped markers at school, I moved my office supplies to a location they couldn’t reach. It saved a bunch of supplies and was much less frustrating since I always knew what I had, and where it was.

12) All the stuff you do in the rest of your house. Use power strips for your electronic items. Clean with non-toxic cleaners. Use CFLs. Dress appropriately for the weather. You know the drill.

What suggestions do you have for maintaining green motivation in the workplace?

This was originally posted on Greening Families as a submission to the Affluent Persons Living Sustainably Blog Carnival, which convenes monthly to address a variety of topics on how to live sustainably once basic needs are met. Visit Going Green Mama for the carnival round-up and lots of great ideas to keep your motivation levels high.


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