As someone who has spent over a third of her work life so far in an office, I’ve had to find ways to balance my health- and environment-conscious living habits with the not-so-healthy nature of office work. Here are a few tips and tricks that will help you adapt your own work space into a greener place that you might actually want to be.

1. Seek alternative transportation

That is, alternative to the typical one-person vehicle commute. If you’re fortunate to live close enough to your workplace, consider walking or biking to work. If not, check out the public bus schedule, or inquire about carpooling opportunities with other coworkers. The benefits of alternative transportation can include reduced driving/traffic-related stress, a cheaper monthly gas bill, less environmental pollution from exhaust, and, if biking or walking, improved physical fitness!

2. Ask about work-from-home or flex schedule opportunities

Many employers are now offering their employees the opportunity to work from home or work a flexible schedule that does not adhere strictly to the wretched five-day-a-week, eight-hour-a-day model. Research has shown that this decades-old model is not necessarily the most effective. Further, working remotely reduces the need for transportation to and from the office, as well as saves on energy at the office, which can be more costly than working at home, where you have more control over your environment. A flex schedule can mean fewer days in the office and more hours of productivity on the days spent in the office. If you need some help convincing your boss, the Huffington Post cites the top 10 benefits of adopting a more flexible work schedule.

3. Clean your air

Office buildings are not known for having the purest air. Depending on the age of your building, you could be breathing in toxins from decades-old paint, flooring adhesives, and wall fibers, not to mention dust and mold. And while you likely can’t demand a newer, healthier office building, you can do something to help clean the air around you. An air purifier is one way to go, but another, natural method–which doesn’t use any electricity and which has the added bonus of incorporating beauty into your environment–is to keep a plant or plants in your office. A Berkeley College study found that some of the best plants to keep (and maintain) in the office are the Peace Lily, the Chinese Evergreen, the Golden Pothos, and the Spider Plant.

4. Consider your product use and waste

If you have any say in which office supplies are ordered (or if you purchase your own), whenever possible purchase recycled and non-toxic products. If your office does not already recycle paper, tell your management that 1970 is calling, and it’s past time to answer the call! Also, printing and copying documents on both sides of the paper reduces your paper use by half. Not having to turn the page over is a luxury we can’t afford. Another major effort you can implement is an e-filing system. Rather than creating and maintaining paper files, use electronic files on your computer as a zero-waste and modern-day method.

5. Be mindful of your food and drink consumption

If you bring your own food and drink to work, let’s hope you’re not still bringing a paper bag with several plastic snack baggies inside and a sandwich with the crusts cut off. Made by your mom. Alternatively, try making some of these vegan lunch recipes and pack them in one of many different eco-friendly lunch box options now available. And in case you didn’t know, using plastic bottles of water for daily consumption is pretty much an environmental sin. So opt for a reusable, non-BPA thermos that you can bring from home and refill. If your workplace has a cafeteria or other eating establishment that does not already offer organic and vegan options, kindly urge them to do so. Your voice may go a longer way than you think.

6. Adjust your lighting

If you’re fortunate enough to have a window in or near your office, take full advantage of that natural light and let in flow into your work space. But if you’re office is instead subjected to incandescent lighting or the old fluorescent lighting of yesteryear, try flipping the switch and bringing in your own lamp with the longer-lasting and more energy-efficient CFL (compact fluorescent light) or LED (light emitting diode) bulbs. Just remember to turn it off when you’re not using it.

7. Modify your energy use

As a kid, I remember when my parents would offer my sisters and me a nickel for every light we turned off in the house. The three of us would jump up and scurry in an out of all the rooms, upstairs and down, racing to switch off the most lights. My parents were onto something (other than effective bribery parenting). While turning off lights and other office equipment does save energy, thereby saving money, unplugging your office appliances is even better. The easiest way to unplug is to use power strip that all, or many, of your appliances plug into, so at the end of the day, after you’ve powered everything down, you can just turn the strip off or unplug it.

8. Take a walk break

Stepping outside into the natural world is always a good reminder that (1) there is a natural world outside of the office and (2) we must all make efforts to maintain the integrity of that world throughout our daily lives–whether at home or at work.

While we may not be able to tackle all of these issues because of a lack of authority or control over our space, every little effort in the direction of a healthier workplace is an effort toward a better environment for all of us to enjoy when we’re not in the office.

Image source: Kidlark / Creative Commons