The most environmentally-unfriendly place you step into all day may be the one in which you spend most of your waking hours. What's that hostile environment? It's your office. Think about it. The workplace welter of electronics gobbles watts, the office copier fairly inhales paper, and the air is tainted with the toxic perfume wafting from furniture, carpeting and rubber cement. But work doesn't have to be hazardous to your health. There are a number of ways to make our offices more user-friendly.
Taming The Watt Gobblers
Watt for watt, computers, fax machines, copiers and other electronic workhorses that outfit our office spaces aren't in the same league as the real energy gobblers back home. Burning on average 150 kilowatt hours (Kwh) of energy a year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the office computer is a fuel miser compared to, say, a clothes dryer (1,060 Kwh). Fax machines and printers can use even less.
But what these lean machines may lack in pure power pull unit by unit, they make up for in sheer numbers. The nationwide fleet of high-tech office devices consumes some five percent of total commercial electricity in the U.S., at a cost to the business community of over $2 billion annually. The loss to the environment is just as dramatic: In the process of fueling the country's fleet of office machines, power plants emit as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as nearly 14 million automobiles.
In the early 1990s, the EPA began issuing efficiency standards for a range of office electronics and encouraging manufacturers to meet them. The EnergyStar program is a hit, resulting in a raft of machines that tug lightly on the plug. How lightly? For computers, it's no more than 30 watts per hour during periods of inactivity, when the computer has powered down to sleep mode. That's roughly 80 percent less than a standard computer, which runs full tilt when operating.
More than 450 computer models from both large and small manufacturers have met the EPA standards. You can get the full list of compliant brands from the EPA, or check out the nearest computer warehouse store. Certified computers are stickered with the EnergyStar logo, a star under a half moon.
Under EnergyStar, the EPA has also set energy-efficiency standards for fax machines, printers and copiers (which are particularly hard on the environment). The energy draw of high-end copiers can equal that of 20 desktop computers, and certain kinds of copiers can emit a form of ground-level ozone, a respiratory pollutant.
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Article originally published in E/The Environmental Magazine
By Mark Harris, a Pennsylvania-based freelance writer.
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