One of the fun things about being a work-from-home kinda person is that you’re already making a difference from a sustainability perspective. This is because you’re (generally) one less car on the road; even if you’re still driving somewhere a few times a week, your footprint will be smaller than the average worker commuting to and from every day. Did you know the average Australian commute for city dwellers is 15.6km per day? Between my 2 metre walk from my bed to the office and my 2 km drive to and from the gym 4 times a week, I know I, at least, am well below that!
But making more ethical and sustainable choices is something everyone could be doing on a more regular basis, and it needn’t be hard, intimidating or expensive. In fact, some of these suggestions could even save you money!
- ONE: Switch the Coffee Pods
Coffee pods are generally made up of a mix of plastic and aluminum, which end up in landfill where they will take over 100 years to break down. Brings kind of a downer to your morning coffee, yeah? Well the good news is that you don’t need to stop serving your clients good coffee during your meetings or subject yourself to cheap instant.
Certain machines will accept reusable pods, which you can refill with any ground beans you like! It's a bit of an investment at the start, but depending on how much coffee you consume, you could even out quite quickly! Check out your local roasters for some seriously excellent beans, and support a local business while you’re at it.
I am also a big fan of the Moka coffee pot. Not only is it a great aesthetic prop for photos but the coffee is generally very full-bodied and intense (just how I like it). Plus, your leftover coffee grounds can be reused as a fertiliser, or a gentle body scrub - and that’s just for starters.
- TWO: Allow Electronics to run on Battery and Turn Them off at the Wall
If and when you’re able to, let your laptop and phone run on battery, only plugging it in when it needs to charge. This is a cost effective way to use your laptop, using less energy than you would if you just leave it plugged in all day and night. Plus, depending on how old and efficient your laptop battery is (and how intensive the programs you use are), it’s a great way to remind yourself to take breaks. Work for 4 hours until your laptop needs to be charged, then go for a walk or have lunch while you’re waiting for it! If your battery is better or worse than that… well you’ll figure it out!
When you’re not using electronics that have to be plugged in, turn them off at the wall if possible. This is just good advice in general, and your electricity bill will thank you for it. Same link as just used, leaving your television, your kettle, your computer monitor plugged in overnight can use way more energy than you truly realise. One time my boyfriend and I woke up in the morning to find our TV had turned itself on in the middle of the night. Creepy and a total waste of electricity! Ever since I’ve been super vigilant about making sure the TV and all our consoles are turned off at the wall when we’re not using them.
- THREE: Buy Local, Print Less and Use Recycled and Reusable Stationery
Where affordable for you, source your stationery from local shops and markets, as opposed to big corporations, like Officeworks and Kmart. You’ll probably see a lot of things in my photos that clearly have come from places like Kmart, but I assure you they were purchased before I really knew what I was doing from a sustainable / ethical point of view (nobody’s perfect). Basically the logic behind this is that whether or not the local retailer is using reusable or recycled products, it’s more likely what they’re creating isn’t mass produced. It isn’t being made in a factory somewhere where the workers aren’t paid very well and then being flown or shipped here for your consumption, which is obviously also impacting your carbon footprint.
I know sometimes you have to print things sometimes as a small business (contracts, etc) but if it’s something you can store electronically, try to make that choice more often. You can source recycled printer paper from Buy Eco Green, a great little shop where you can also get recycled and reusable or biodegradable pens, notebooks, packing tape, erasers, calculators… you name it. Another favourite of mine is Flora and Fauna, not only for sustainable stationery but for vegan and eco-friendly everything. Seriously good stuff there!
- FOUR: Switch to an Ethical Bank and Super Fund
After discovering how much money my old bank invests in fossil fuels, I switched my freelancing bank account to Bank Australia. Bank Australia is a great way to make sure your money is being used in an ethical way. They don’t lend money to companies that invest in fossil fuels, live exports, gambling, arms, or tobacco. Instead they focus on sustainable housing, renewable energy and not-for-profit organisations. Check out how your bank and Super fund stacks up here!
For non-Australian’s I encourage you to do some research into where and how your money is being invested. If your bank / pension doesn’t advertise it, write to them and ask them; voice your concerns and encourage them to make more ethical and sustainable choices. Consumers have the power to change corporations behaviour if our voices are loud and persistent enough!
- FIVE: Consider your Transportation Choices
Where you can get public transport to meet with clients, definitely try to. I have a rule for myself if the place I’m going to is less than a 30 minute walk away, then I have to walk (weather dependent, of course). You could also invest in a bicycle or hire a city council one. Try out those Lime scooters if they have them in your city! They’re a little scary at first, but totally fun and cost effective. There’s also anecdotal evidence that getting rid of the car altogether and relying on ride-share apps, public transport and your own steam for getting around is actually more cost effective. Do the maths yourself - when you factor in the cost of insurance, petrol, registration and maintenance for something that spends most of its time sitting in your garage, what is the better financial (and sustainable) choice?
When meeting with interstate and international clients, consider whether you actually need to be physically present, or if a simple Skype call will suffice. Where you do need to travel (and it is totally necessary sometimes, I know!), choose to carbon offset your flights where you can. Trains are not (yet) a viable option in Australia but if your country has good rail infrastructure, indulge in a little slow travel instead!
- SIX: Heat and Cool your House More Efficiently
Another one that should save you money off your energy bill! If you have control over what parts of your house are heated or cooled at different times of the day, localise it only to the room you’re in. I know that probably seems super obvious, but I think it needs to be said sometimes... Often the temptation is to go for the most comfortable option instead of the option that’s most cost and energy efficient. And I totally get that! When I lived in London, in a colder environment than Brisbane (obvs), I tried to only have the heaters on in the evenings and early morning when it was coldest. Some days this wasn’t possible, but the important thing is to try!
In this hotter environment, I try to only have the air con on in the afternoon during the hottest part of the day (and also when this house gets the most sun). Whether heating or cooling, try to keep internal doors closed to trap the air in, ensuring your device isn’t working harder than it needs to. Obviously this all depends on your environment, your house, your location and your tolerance for heat and cold, but try to avoid having the air on all day.
When cooling your house, the optimal temperature (the most energy efficient) is between 25-27 degrees celsius. Keep your curtains closed during the hottest part of the day to keep some of the heat out, and open them at night to get cool air flowing through again.
When heating your house, the most energy efficient temperature is between 18-20 degrees celsius. Open your curtains during the day to let the sun in where possible, but make sure you close them at night to keep the warmth in. Invest in some cosy blankets! Also good for photo aesthetics and we know I’m all about that aesthetic!
- SEVEN: Invest in Some Air Purifying Plants
I know, I know - classic Millennial, obsessed with plants. Have you seen my Instagram? You’re not wrong. BUT there are so many advantages to having plants in your office. They reduce stress, increase productivity, clean the air, and can even boost your creativity. Plus they’re aesthetic AF people!
Air purifying plants pull carbon dioxide out of the air and store it in the soil where it belongs. Co2 is actually necessary to agriculture, but the problem is that too much of it is in the air, and not in the soil. By maximising the number of air purifying plants throughout your house (and in your garden), you’re actually helping the environment a fair amount. Did you know having a bamboo plant can have a huge effect in offsetting your carbon footprint? This is why buying bamboo products is so good for the environment; it grows super fast and traps heaps of carbon which is then permanently trapped in your bamboo cutlery set. Plus you’re now one less person using single use plastic cutlery! Cutting down bamboo for sustainable products then makes more room for more carbon trapping bamboo to be planted!
Climate anxiety is absolutely a real thing, and something I personally grapple with every day. But making a difference can be as simple as changing how you make your coffee or cool your house. Remember change doesn't require anyone to do it 100% perfectly; it just needs everyone to do it as perfectly as they can! Every little bit counts.