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Environment and Energy

Home office

With the University of Cambridge having recently shutdown as a result of the Covid-19 virus, the vast majority of staff will be working from home for the foreseeable weeks and months. While shutting down buildings and limiting travel and commuting could result in a reduction in the University’s impacts on the environment in some areas, it’s clear that home workers will have different environmental impacts, as well as opportunities for protecting (and enjoying) the environment. With that in mind, here’s the Cambridge Green Challenge ‘guide to working from home’!

  • Cut down on heating – With many thousands of staff working from home in houses that are normally empty by day, there will be an inevitable increase in carbon emissions from home heating. One of the easiest things to be aware of is not keeping the thermostat too high –each 1 degree reduction can lead to an 8% saving on your energy bill and carbon emissions (Carbon Trust). If you have TRVs (thermostatic radiator valves, the dials on the ends of radiators), you could use these to direct heating to rooms that are in use. Curtains and blinds are also a great way to keep heat in overnight, although if the sun comes out it’s worth letting in as much as you can! Even a small draft can lead to a significant perceived reduction in thermal comfort, so consider simple draft proofing measures like draft excluders. Adhesive foam strips around ageing window seals can also be a ‘quick win’ to save energy (bearing in mind any existing condensation issues). Lastly, just wrap up warm – with no formal dress code at home it’s an opportunity for woolly fleeces and slippers! More guidance on energy saving at home can be found at https://www.simpleenergyadvice.org.uk/ or https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/cutting-your-energy-bills/article/how-to-save-on-your-energy-bill/10-ways-to-save-on-energy-bills.

  • Minimise energy use – While there’s not much you can do to cut the electricity use of your computer, you can still make sure it’s switched off when you finish for the day, and perhaps even set to ‘sleep’ or a low-power mode when on lunch breaks. If you’re carrying out a DSE of your home workstation, you may also wish to consider the brightness of your screen. A screen which is too bright not only causes eye strain, but also uses more energy! One major draw on electricity is kettles for your morning cup of tea or coffee, particularly when just making one cup at a time. By filling the kettle using your mug, rather than from the tap, you can judge how much water you really need, speed up boiling time, and put a dent in your energy use.

  • Purchasing – While you can reduce your energy use, another option to consider is switching to a green energy supplier. There are many comparison sites, a number of which will allow you to specify a green supplier only. Suppliers are required to report on their ‘energy mix’, stating where they source their energy from. If you’ve made that switch already, why not consider switching to an ethical bank? With toilet roll shortages abound, another thing to consider is opting for recycled toilet roll by delivery!

  • Promoting biodiversity – If you’re stuck at home, there is evidence that workers who have views of nature felt less frustrated and more patient, and reported better health than those who did not have visual access to the outdoors (UK Green Building Council). A simple rearrangement of your desk to view the outdoors is one thing, however even better could be spending breaks or evenings, or even your normal commuting time, getting outdoors and enjoying nature. If you have a garden or even a small outdoor space at home, why not consider taking a break to try out one of the biodiversity improvement projects in our list of 14 ‘how to’ sheets (this includes making bird feeders, bat boxes etc) on our Google drive.

  • Cutting waste and recycling – By spending more time at home you’re likely to be generating more waste, and disposing of it via your home waste collections rather than at work. It’s therefore worth using this as a chance to familiarise yourself with your local council recycling guidance (https://www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/residents/waste-and-recycling/district-council-bin-collections). It could also be a chance to cut down on disposable or takeaway packaging by making home-cooked food, ideally using up leftovers.

  • Sustainable food – On the topic of home cooking, if you have a little extra time in the evening thanks to a reduction in commuting time, you could use it as an opportunity to try out some new meals. One of the most significant actions an individual can take to minimise their carbon footprint is to reduce meat consumption, so why not explore some meat-free recipes?

  • Re-booking holidays – While many will be disappointed at having to cancel holiday and travel plans, this could be a chance to think about the carbon footprint of your trips, which for many people is one of the top contributors to their carbon footprint. Holidaying in the UK could be a lower-carbon option, but to go the extra mile if you’ve had to cancel hotel or accommodation, why not consider booking a green option? Green Tourism offers a search function for accredited accommodation (https://www.green-tourism.com/members/awards).

Let us know on our Environment & Energy Yammer page if you have any other ideas for being ‘green’ when working at home!