Wrapped in green 
This week we kick off the holiday season with food, family and friends – and shopping. Well, from a retail standpoint, shopping started just before Halloween, but you get the point.

You may find yourself drawing a name for the office gift exchange or spearheading a toy drive or canned food collection to benefit local charities. All those are terrific endeavors, but there are also some ways to green your office celebrations and add a spirit of environmentalism.

• Thanks in part to this year’s recession we’ve been reminded that less is more. Forego the gift exchange and give employees an opportunity to volunteer at the local homeless shelter or food bank – preferably somewhere within walking distance or encourage carpooling. You can’t possibly need one more bobblehead for your desk or word-a-day calendar, so skip the gifts. You save on gas from shopping trips and generate less trash (gift wrap, packaging, etc.).

• Employees will inevitably do some shopping, but there's no reason it can't be green. Give employees a list of local vendors and those who support fair trade. Buying local not only supports your neighbors but reduces the amount of energy, gas and resources used to ship products.

• Instead of giving gifts, ask each employee to contribute $5 or $10. Donate the money to a local environmental organization or use the funds to green the office – replace light bulbs, purchase recycled paper or buy reusable coffee mugs so you can eliminate the use of paper or Styrofoam ones.

• With company budgets already spread thin, it may be tough for employers to give holiday bonuses or gifts. Instead consider giving employees a set number of free telecommuting days so they can work from home, which helps the environment and gives the employee a chance to work in their PJs.

• If your company is having a holiday party, give it a green theme. Send invitations via e-mail or with an evite. Work with eco-friendly vendors, such as caterers and rental space. Ask employees to carpool to the party.

Let’s hear your suggestions for greening your office during the holiday season. Post a comment and share!

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Green buildings = Worker productivity  
We all know a green office building can save energy costs, uses fewer resources and gives employees a reason to feel good about going to work each day. But a new study finds there may be yet another reason for companies to locate their business in a green building.

In May, a team from large commercial real estate firm CB Richard Ellis and the University of San Diego’s Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate embarked on a study as to whether green buildings would actually increase worker productivity. The results were published earlier this month and show environment can actually play a role in worker productivity.

While management is still the largest factor in employee productivity, more than half the tenants surveyed agreed employees were more productive after they moved to a green building. About 45 percent agreed workers took fewer sick days (on average, 2.88 days less sick time).

These results have financial implications for businesses. For tenants who reported greater productivity, the impact would be $20.82 per square foot, per year (based on salary and average productivity increase). For tenants who claimed fewer sick days, the net impact per worker is $4.91 per square foot, per year. Overall, that means the average impact per worker when it comes to increased productivity is $5,204 and $1,228 in terms of fewer sick days. (Read the full study online.)

Those numbers can add up and is just one more reason for companies to embrace environmentally conscious business practices – from recycling to the kind of materials used in the building’s physical structure, the paint on the walls and the furniture in the cubicles.

This also provides another argument for business owners and managers who argue going green is too costly and not financially feasible. Yes, going for LEED certification or leasing a green or energy-efficient building may add to the expenses column in the budget – but with savings from higher productivity and fewer sick days, plus savings on energy costs, businesses may find themselves saving money in the long run.

Let’s hear your thoughts. Do you work in a green office building and find it ups your overall health and productivity? Is your business considering a move to a green building?

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Reduce, Reuse and eCycle! 
In our last post, we looked at some ways to green your computer, particularly on the software and server sides. But there are other ways to make your electronic and computing life a little greener.

First and foremost is proper recycling of your computer and other electronic devices. Computers, batteries, cell phones, televisions and other electronics can – and certainly should – be recycled. As more companies and communities work to eliminate e-waste, it’s becoming increasingly easier to recycle electronics. That means you have no excuse.

The Environmental Protection Agency has a partnership with leading electronics manufacturers – called Plug-In To eCycling – that fosters opportunities for consumers to donate or recycle their electronics. In 2008, this program recycled more than 66.5 million pounds of used electronics – a 30 percent jump from the previous year. According to the EPA, those recycled items prevented the release of greenhouse gases equal to the annual emissions from about 15,500 cars.

Information from the EPA indicates consumer electronics – including televisions and video equipment, computers and phones – make up about 2 percent of the municipal solid waste stream. Now, that might not sounds like much in the grand scheme of things, but that number increases with our dependency on electronics and our need for the latest iPhone, laptop and gaming machine.

This eCycling Resources page from the EPA Web site has plenty of information on how and where to recycle your items. Businesses, especially those that upgrade computers every year or two, may be able to donate their items to a local nonprofit or school. They may also be able to receive a tax deduction for a contribution.

Another way take your computing green, as it relates to energy use, is through energy monitoring. Just this week, President Obama announced that projects in most U.S. states, D.C. and Guam would receive federal money for smart-grid projects. According to the New York Times, “The money will go toward deploying more smart meters, which use digital technology to deliver detailed usage data to the customer and the utility, as well as adding displays in homes that tell customers about their electricity use and improving technology in substations, transformers and other parts of the grid.”

If you want to get a taste of the concept of monitoring, check out Google’s PowerMeter in your small business or home office. It’s a free electricity usage monitoring tool so you can see just how much energy you’re consuming. You’ll be able to see whether turning off and unplugging your computer at night is really making a difference (I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised.)

Finally, if you need more convincing on the importance of green computing, take a look at these 48 clean-tech facts compiled by PC Magazine. (Wow! The energy saved by recycling one plastic bottle can power a computer for 25 minutes!)

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The power behind green computing  
When it comes to creating a green office, you have to turn your attention to the devices that use a great deal of energy – the computers and servers. Even if you make a conscious effort to turn off your computer – or at least the monitor – after hours, computers are still the company workhorses and demand a lot of power.

Millions of Americans are tethered to their computers daily, so what can a business do to create greener software and computer solutions?

A good first step to look at how your company is using its software programs – on-site versus something calls SaaS or Software as a Service. Taking a green perspective on this topic, your business could be saving a great deal of energy by using SaaS or Web-based applications that run through the vender’s data center and are accessed online. On-site software means you pop in the CD, install the software and run it on your own server or computer hard drive.

Chris Thorman on SoftwareAdvice.com, offers an extensive comparison of the two and which one is more green. In his example, SaaS uses significantly less energy, in part because a vendor can accommodate multiple customers on one server, and off-site software requires less power meaning employees can switch to more energy-efficient personal computers, such as laptops.

Another benefit to using online software or shared downloads is the savings on packaging (no CD, no boxes) as well as the energy savings from not having those items delivered to your office via a delivery truck.

Here are a couple of other green computing options:

• Canadian-based computer Userful has created Userful Multiplier, which uses Linux-based software and allows 10 users to run off the juice of one computer. The company boasts a savings of 90% on electricity use with its product.

Faronics Power Save analyzes your computer’s activities and powers down the computer when it’s inactive. The computer claims an average savings of $50 per computer per year when using this software solution.

But if you’re still thinking, “OK, what’s all the hype? How much energy can my computer really use?”, check out this article on the power consumption of computers. It gives good evidence for switching to a laptop (15-60 watts) from a desktop (60-500 watts) for energy efficiency and turning off your monitor when it’s not in use (0-15 watts versus up to 150 watts when a monitor is running).

In the end these extra efforts can ultimately save your business money as energy consumption drops and you can afford to upgrade to more energy-efficient computers for your employees. And that kind of green savings is something just about any business can get behind.

Let’s hear your ideas! What green computing solutions are you using?

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Greening your home office 
By its very nature, working from home is a greener option. The commute involves simply walking from the kitchen with coffee mug in hand to your home office space – no vehicle emissions needed.

People who work from home also have more control over how they can green their space, such as opting for natural lighting instead of harsh fluorescent overhead lights or purchasing eco-friendly products, such as recycled paper or refilled ink cartridges.

A downside to working from home is not being around co-workers who (hopefully) would share your desire to make the workplace a little greener. But there are still some ways you can be part of a green community, even if your only office-mates are a cat and a dog.

• Be part of the green online community. Twitter, for example, is a great “water cooler” for people who work from home. If you need a five-minute break, join in the Twitter conversation and connect with other people with a passion for green. (The Green Office Blog is on Twitter too.)

• Join a local environment or conservation organization. A local nonprofit would welcome your interest and involvement and it’s a great way to meet new people who share your eco interest. Plus, you might find it’s good for business networking.

• If you happen to telecommute or work for a company in which a large number of employees work from home, create a virtual green team. Share resources and ideas for making each home office greener.

Here are some more good tips for a green home office from www.BestGreenHomeTips.com, including investing in a programmable thermostat. This means you have control of the office temperature, so no need to have the A/C cranked when it’s only 60 degrees outside.

Finally, think about the equipment you’re using at home. You have the freedom to select energy-efficient products, including your computer. An excellent resource is the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT). A product of the Green Electronic Council, this program evaluates computer desktops, laptops and monitors based on 51 environmental criteria developed through an extensive process supported by the U.S. EPA.

Do you work at home? What are your suggestions for making your home office green?

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