Before the phrase “novel coronavirus” entered the public vernacular, the option to work from home was somewhat of a novelty to much of the U.S. workforce. Post-COVID, however, working from home has become the norm, and we must acknowledge the effect this trend is having on the environment.
Staying safe during a pandemic requires both vigilance and precautionary measures, such as working remotely and sheltering in place. Yet those necessary precautions may be causing irreparable harm to the planet. The most notable example of this phenomenon is the resurgence of disposable packaging.
After falling out of favor over the years, single-use packaging has made a dramatic comeback in the wake of COVID. In the name of public health, the world has seen a significant increase in plastic waste production, from medical waste such as masks and gloves to takeaway food containers. Further, as more and more homes now double as offices, household carbon emissions numbers are climbing.
If you’re concerned about your environmental footprint while working from home, you’re not alone. The good news for sustainably-minded remote workers is that you can still do your part to save energy and conserve resources, now and into the future.
Make Recycling a Top Priority
The renewed ubiquity of disposable packaging effectively undermines global sustainability efforts, yet it’s a necessary evil in these unprecedented times. The good news is that you may be able to counteract some of the negative effects of increased plastic waste, even as you work from home. For instance, by recycling as much of your household waste as possible, fewer plastic containers and packaging will reach the landfill.
While the bulk of your household waste likely comes from your kitchen, your home office is a culprit as well. Consider how your work habits might be harming the environment and take steps to change those behaviors. If you tend to consume an abundance of pre-packaged drinks throughout your workday, for example, that waste can add up.
To maintain sustainability in your home office, always make sure that empty containers are discarded in the recycling bin rather than the garbage can. And depending on where you live, your home recycling efforts can be much more comprehensive, including paper and cardboard, and even electronic waste. Take the time to research the recycling programs available in your area, as well as the best practices for recycling efficiency.
Become an Energy Conservation Whiz
It’s alright if you’re unsure where to begin in regards to sustainability in your home office. After all, when you’re working at an office away from home, you likely don’t put much thought into your energy consumption, as energy costs are the responsibility of your employer. But as a remote worker, that responsibility falls to you, and those energy costs can add up.
The environmental cost can be just as detrimental; even if you’ve diligently worked to reduce your carbon footprint over the years, the increased energy consumption from your home office can bring your personal emissions production right back up.
Thus, to save money on your electricity bills while also cultivating greater sustainability, you must conserve energy wherever possible. Start by outfitting your home office (as well as the rest of the house) with LED or CFL bulbs, and replace any outdated appliances with contemporary, energy-efficient models. Mindfulness is also key in the realm of energy conservation: Make sure to unplug your electronic devices if they are fully charged, and when not in use.
As you cultivate a more sustainable mindset, you may also want to consider peak energy usage times in your area. Peak energy demand refers to those times when sustained power levels exceed average supply. Various factors determine peak energy consumption in any given area or individual household, including weather, the season, the overall economy, and even the day of the week. You may find that, by working from home during off-peak times, your energy bills are reduced, and you help reduce the risk of an overloaded grid, which may result in power outages.
And make no mistake: a power outage, especially one that occurs over a prolonged period of time, can bring your remote workday to a standstill. Climate change has already led to an increase in the prevalence of blackouts across the U.S., and COVID is only serving to exacerbate the problem. As the nation’s homes continue to transform into makeshift offices, classrooms, and studios, municipal power grids are more likely to get bogged down.
Advocate for the Natural World
For all of the inherent challenges of working from home for an extended period of time, it at least has its perks. For instance, the lack of a daily commute gives you more free time, which can be devoted to your interests, hobbies, and causes you believe in. In this way, from the safety of your home office, you can advocate for greater sustainability, both at home and in the workplace.
When you commit to increasing your recycling efforts and conserving electricity whenever possible, you’ll find that it’s remarkably easy to stay on top of sustainability as you work from home.
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