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Published on December 18th, 2007 | by Stephanie Evans


Eco Office Energy Efficiency

It’s the end of the work day—you arrive home, park your bike (or Prius), and close your doors on the business world.  But be aware that while you’re kicking back and relaxing, an insidious thief  is at your office, systematically destroying your day’s work!

The thief that is voraciously devouring all of your week’s work is also sabotaging nearly every office in America, every night of the week . . .

Time magazine says that “heating, cooling and powering office space are responsible for almost 40% of carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. and gobble more than 70% of total electricity usage…[and] computers in the office burn $1 billion worth of electricity annually—and that’s when they’re not producing a lick of work.” (Going Green at the Office, June 7, 2007)

For business owner and employee alike, this saboteur is a threat to your future.  The three most significant office resource thieves are energy, water, and paper.  Many offices have containers for recycling paper next to the copy machine or printer, and containers for glass and cans in the break room.  Your office may even have developed strong “reduce, recycle, reuse” policies for all sorts of office supplies.  While this makes a huge difference, a really green office requires a wider, more systematic effort that involves everyone, especially with regard to energy and water use.

There are a number of things you can do to take action and stop the nighttime raids.  Let’s explore some of the key areas where your office can reclaim some of the resources that the energy thieves have been stealing.


Some of the easiest fixes—and ones that can bring big savings—are lighting sources.  While some changes are as simple as replacing a light bulb, others can be more intensive and may only be possible only if your company owns the building.

CFLs. It’s likely that there are numerous desk lamps, accentlighting, or fixtures in out-of-the-way areas where CFLs can be easily substituted for the energy-draining incandescent bulbs.  High demand for these bulbs has brought the prices down dramatically, and because they can last as much as 10 times longer than incandescents, you’ll save even more money in the long run.

Daylighting. The most simple and cost-effective thing you can do is to fully utilize the natural daylight that shines in through your office window each day.  Optimize the use of this free light source in any way you can, by rearranging desks and office furniture around windows and skylights, or installing new ones, if possible.  For optimal climate control, you should be able to open and close the windows, and these should also be double-paned for insulation purposes.

Exit Signs. Because these signs are never turned off, this is one area that’s worth your attention.  Some signs use regular incandescent bulbs and can be easily converted to use compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs).  Some use LED, neon, or electroluminescent technology, all of which are longer lasting and may use as little as 1 to 10 watts of power.

Exterior Lighting. Unless your business owns the building, this is one area where you may have limited ability to affect change.  Here are some tips for lowering your exterior energy expenditures:

  • use only as much lighting as is absolutely necessary to ensure the safety and security of the premises and the people who come and go
  • use photocells or timers so lighting is only used when needed
  • consider using newer technology such as CFLs or fluorescent or halide lights, especially if you’re replacing mercury vapor lights

Fluorescent Lights. Overhead fluorescent fixtures that are more than 10 years old probably use a T-12 tube.  Newer technologies use improved T-8 and T-5 tubes, though these won’t work in the older fixtures, as they require that the entire fixture be replaced.  T-8 bulbs offer better color, less flicker, and a 20% savings in energy cost over the old T-12s.  T-5s are smaller and even more efficient and should be a consideration in new construction or remodeling projects.

Occupancy Sensors. These little gems are inexpensive, easy to install, and can produce significant energy savings around the office.  Install them in store-rooms, break rooms, bathrooms, and conference rooms that are in limited use.  For larger rooms, install the sensors in the ceiling; in smaller rooms they can be installed in place of the light switch.

Of course the best thing you can do is to get everyone to turn off any and all lighting whenever it is not in use.  This is a smart policy for office equipment, too.

Consider developing a checklist of energy-saving things to do before leaving the office each day or week.  Suggest that a point person be selected to complete this checklist or that duties be shared on a rotating schedule.

Tech Tools and Appliances

“If every U.S. computer and monitor were shut off every night, we could shut down eight large power stations and decrease CO2 emissions by 7 million tons annually,” says the Office Energy Guide, developed by the city of Portland, Oregon.  Despite any lingering misconceptions, it is not true that turning off computers, monitors, or printers will damage them.  Wherever and whenever possible, shut down all office equipment each night.  At a minimum, shut off monitors, which are the heaviest energy users.  To facilitate the process:

  • Use power strips with switches for added convenience.
  • Designate someone to be the “switcher,” or ask maintenance or cleaning personnel to shut down designated equipment each evening.
  • Be sure to clearly label any switches or equipment that must be left on, and then turn everything else off.

Most computers have a “sleep” function that powers down the system when it is not in use for a specified period of time.  This function should be enabled and set to engage after two hours of inactivity or less.  Other office machines may also have sleep and/or power saver modes—use them.  Also consider using your computer’s fax modem to send, receive, and store files electronically.  Fax machines can use as much as ten times more energy just sitting than when in use!

Additionally, many offices have refrigerators and vending machines that run constantly.  Consider using a Vending Mi$er ™, which is an occupancy-based control that powers down these appliances overnight when they’re not in use.

Anytime you are buying new equipment or appliances for your office, buy Energy Star-rated and approved items.  Keep in mind that flat-screen monitors use considerably less energy than older, cathode ray monitors and that an Energy Star printer can cut your electrical use by as much as 65% over non-Energy Star models.

Temperature Control

Climate control probably accounts for 40% of an office’s total energy use.  The opportunity for big savings can be found in your heating, cooling, and ventilation (HVAC) systems, even for businesses that don’t own the buildings and are limited in the scope of changes within their control.

If you own the building…

  • Start by buying the best Energy Star-rated system for your building.  Bigger isn’t necessarily better—be sure to choose the system that best fits your specific conditions.
  • Consider buying systems that include outside air economizers, which bring in cooler outside air when the temperature inside is warmer.  These systems are especially good for offices with non-operable windows and are an excellent way to “flush” clean, cool air through a building in the early morning hours, before the heat—and the office workers—arrive.
  • HVAC systems should come with timer-based thermostats that can be programmed to turn down the system when no one is in the building.
  • Be sure the building is well-insulated and caulked to maintain even temperatures.
  • Solar shading can be achieved by using roof coatings, window shades and awnings, and planting trees and vegetation that keep the heat out.  Deciduous trees are optimal, since they lose their leaves in winter just when the extra sunlight is welcome for warming and lighting the interior spaces.

If you lease the building…

  • Be sure to monitor the efficiency of your HVAC system and report any malfunctions promptly so your landlord can make repairs and adjustments quickly.
  • Make sure office personnel understand the proper operation of the HVAC system and train everyone to turn the system off when not needed.
  • Adjust the temperature settings.  Changing the temperature by even one or two degrees can yield savings of up to 3% of your energy costs.  Make small, incremental adjustments and ask employees to dress appropriately without making it uncomfortably cold or warm.

Heating water accounts for about 9% of an office energy load and, like the HVAC system, much of the adjustments here will need to be made by the building’s owner.

  • Buy a water heater that is appropriately sized for the facility—large, home-sized tanks are usually unnecessary.  Tankless systems are optimal but they can be pricey.  Re-set the temperature to 120 degrees maximum.
  • Use low-flow fixtures and install aerators on all faucets.  Consider installing a solar pre-heating collector which will cut energy costs by as much as one-half.  And though toilets do not require heated water, installing low-water units can save a bundle since flushing accounts for one-third of all water use in U.S. buildings.
  • Outside, be sure to employ watering controls for landscaping, and use native plants as much as possible to reduce watering needs.
  • Fix all leaks promptly.

Make it Fun

To encourage active participation, make it fun and provide incentives:

  • Engage everyone in the office in some fun activities to educate and motivate their cooperation.
  • Form an employee Green Team.  Get the whole office involved by dividing up the green tasks.
  • Make fun signs to prompt green living practices.  Set goals and offer small token rewards, like free movie passes, to team members who help reach those goals.
  • Think about other incentives, like purchasing a group reward with the money you save through more efficient energy-use practices.  Install a monitoring system that lets you track your energy savings; then, split the savings with employees as a bonus system to reward them for making your office green.

Once you’ve implemented your “go green” strategies, you’ll never again have to worry about that energy thief lurking in the shadows…

Get the Green Living Ideas book in softcover or PDF for as low as $2.99!

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