Here's an inconvenient truth: U.S. businesses still use about 21 million tons of paper each year. So much for the paperless office.
But greening up at the office isn't just about saving trees. Some companies are incorporating green practices -- such as recycling office products and using energy-efficient equipment -- to attract and retain workers. Sixty percent of American employees said it is important to them that their employers are environmentally conscious, according to a recent survey by Harris Interactive and Randstad USA, a staffing firm.
Going green is also popular with bosses, because the growing arsenal of computers, printers, servers, and other digital devices has sent office electricity use soaring. Half of those employees surveyed said they did not turn off their computers or other equipment before leaving for the day, though that simple move can lower annual bills by $20 to $60 per computer.
The good news is that more eco-friendly office wares are hitting the market. From buying energy-efficient laptops to using power-sipping light bulbs, the list of steps you can take to make your office greener is long. And you may even save some money.
BEST FOR: Stylish eco-lighting
Mix Task Lamp
What it is: An LED desk lamp
What's cool: Designed by Italians Alberto Meda and Paolo Rizzatto, this very bendable aluminum lamp draws just five watts of energy yet produces light comparable to that of a 60-watt traditional bulb. Its LEDs have an average duration of 50,000 hours, compared with 2,000 for a typical halogen bulb. You can toggle a switch to give the light a warmer glow, thanks to a built-in filter.
Drawback: Even though LEDs have a longer shelf life than other light sources on the market, replacements can be hard to find once they finally do burn out.
BEST FOR: Green computing
Toshiba Portégé R500-S5002
What it is: An energy-efficient notebook computer
What's cool: This thin laptop, which has a 12-inch display and weighs just 2.4 pounds, boasts a battery life of up to seven hours. The Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool, or EPEAT, which measures computers against a list of 27 sustainability criteria -- including the use of mercury-free materials -- gives this model its highest mark, a gold rating. Another laptop of note is the energy-efficient MacBook Air, which received EPEAT's silver rating.
Drawback: Because the R500 uses Intel's energy-efficient 1.2GHz Core 2 Duo processor and comes with just 1 GB of RAM, processing speeds suffer a bit.
BEST FOR: Enforcing conservation
What it is: Software that automatically powers down all company PCs
What's cool: Many employees don't shut down their computers at night, which wastes energy and runs up the electric bill. Surveyor allows an IT administrator to shut down a whole network of computers at a specified time. It can save any open documents before shutting down. The software tracks the company's reductions in power use and greenhouse emissions.
Drawback: The minimum license is for 5,000 computers. The company plans to eventually launch a Web-based version for small and midsize businesses.
Price: $25 per computer. After the first year, there's an annual maintenance fee of 15 percent of the list price.
BEST FOR: Saving paper
What it is: Software that eliminates unnecessary pages before printing
What's cool: Print something from the Web and you're likely to wind up with extra sheets of paper that have nothing on them but a few lines or a stray banner ad. GreenPrint intercepts your print job and helps you easily remove extra pages and unwanted images before sending a document to the printer. The software tracks how many pages and how much money it saves. GreenPrint estimates that a company with 100 employees can save about 141,000 pages a year.
Drawback: So far, there's no version for Macs, but the company says it may release one by the end of the year.
Price: About $70 per license, which includes tech support for a year. Volume discounts are available.
BEST FOR: Plugging power leaks
LCG3 Smart Strip Power Strip
What it is: Most electronics continue to draw juice from an outlet even when they aren't in use. This power strip prevents your computer peripherals from siphoning power when you aren't using them.
What's cool: You don't have to crawl under your desk to unplug cables or switch off the power strip. When the Smart Strip detects that your computer is off, it will automatically shut down peripherals--monitors, scanners, and printers--that are plugged into the strip. And it keeps these devices from drawing a current.
Drawback : The power strip has been known to sometimes confuse a computer's sleep mode with a shutdown, turning off the peripherals prematurely.
BEST FOR : Keeping tabs on power use
Kill A Watt EZ
What it is: A gauge that measures energy consumption of appliances -- from microwave ovens to monitors
What's cool: It helps you find out what's hogging electricity around the office. Slip the Kill A Watt EZ into an outlet, and then plug an appliance into the device. It will calculate the kilowatts-per-hour being used. Enter what your utility charges you per kilowatt-hour, and it will project the cost of running the equipment per month and per year. The projection automatically takes into account how often the electronic gets used.
Drawback: The Kill A Watt EZ measures only one item at a time, making it a labor-intensive task to conduct a full do-it-yourself energy audit.