Computers, printers, photo-copiers, fax machines and scanners are essential equipment in the office and in many cases, the home. They are tools we rely on each day to do our jobs effectively and efficiently and it is difficult to imagine working without them. However, there is a price to be paid for the convenience offered by current office technology, and it’s a price that goes well beyond the purchase cost.
Computers and other types of office equipment represent the fastest-growing use of electricity in commercial buildings and homes in the United States today, and there is no reason to believe that the situation is any different in Canada. Twenty years ago, office equipment accounted for only about 1 percent of the total energy consumed in a typical office. Today it accounts for as much as 20 percent of office energy consumption.
With the cost of electricity on the rise, this increase in energy consumption by office equipment is no small matter. However, it can be a difficult one to pin down. Although business is aware of the purchase price of different types of equipment, ongoing energy costs—the so-called “second price tag”—often remain hidden because they are rolled into one large utility bill at the end of the month. Depending on the type and model of equipment you purchase, your electricity expenses could exceed the purchase price, over the life of the machine.
The good news is, the situation is not hopeless—in fact, it’s well within your control. By understanding how office equipment affects your utility costs and what you can do about it, you can plan today for an energy-smart, environmentally-responsible office that will be just as efficient and productive as it is today—perhaps even more so!
How Office Equipment Increases Your Utility Costs
Each machine in your office increases your electricity bill in three ways:
- uses electricity while operating or when sitting idle. Although things are changing for the better, many office machines are not built with energy efficiency in mind, which means they use more energy than is required to complete a task.
- adds to the total electricity demand in the office during peak daytime hours, when utilities charge a premium for higher demand.
- generates heat, which causes indoor temperatures to rise and increases the demand for air conditioning in the summer months. By some estimates, energy consumption by cooling systems may increase by as much as 40 percent to counteract the heat generated by office equipment.
There are other costs associated with operating office equipment:
- In older buildings, increases in power density (watts per square meter) caused by an abundance of office machines can lead to expensive upgrades of electrical systems.
- In new buildings, electrical systems are being installed with higher load capacities, at a higher cost.
- Taxes and electricity rates may rise if demand reaches the point where new electricity-generating and distribution facilities are needed.
- The cost of consumables (e.g., paper and toner for copiers and printers) will increase proportionately the more the equipment is used.
Usage Habits Also Affect Energy Consumption
How a piece of equipment is designed and manufactured has a significant impact on its overall energy consumption, but usage habits can be even more important.
The easiest way to save energy and money is to simply turn off equipment when it is not in use. Another is to adjust settings to shut off a computer, monitor, printer, and other equipment after a user-specified period of inactivity. Activating power management for your office equipment can do more than save energy, it can extend operating life.
Another key to an energy-smart office is to manage information rather than paper. Communicating electronically is fast, efficient and uses far less energy than producing text or images on paper. Storing information electronically, rather than on paper, can also save vast amounts of money and space. In short, reducing your office’s use of paper will lower your energy, operating and capital costs and increase your competitiveness, productivity, and profitability.
This may require a “culture change” within your organization. Even though e-mail, networks, and electronic data-storage devices (high-capacity hard drives, diskettes, CD-ROMs and tape backup/restore systems) have been around for years, many people still print documents as a matter of habit. In many cases, this is simply a waste of paper, energy, money, and time. Although paper can be a valuable communications tool in some situations, it is often an overused one.
Addressing the “human factor” can be difficult—old habits are hard to break. Nevertheless, it is a good idea to implement basic policies to minimize energy consumption in the office. Whatever steps you take, explain what is being proposed, why, and, most importantly, show leadership by example.
Office Equipment and the Environment
Climate change is a serious global issue, and we all need to be part of the solution. The production of greenhouse gases and pollutants that cause urban smog can be minimized by reducing our use of electricity and other forms of energy, not only in the office but in factories and institutions, at home and on the road. Also, by controlling demand for electricity, we can help avoid the environmental damage caused during construction of new generating facilities.
There are other links between office equipment and the environment. The production of paper has a direct impact on the environment, both in terms of the energy expended in the production process and in the loss of trees, which provide the fiber needed to make paper. Trees also help address the greenhouse gas problem by absorbing and storing carbon dioxide. When trees are harvested, the carbon dioxide is released back into the atmosphere.
Despite recycling programs and initiatives, a great deal of used paper goes into landfill sites. Unless you have a recycling program in place, chances are your discarded computers, monitors, printers, and other equipment also end up in a landfill at the end of their useful lives. Attention to detail can help you purchase long-lasting, energy-efficient equipment and recyclable office products.