All the gadgets and equipment business owners use today – from computers to scanners to smart phone chargers – are driving up electric bills. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, office equipment now accounts for 7 percent of total commercial electricity use, or $1.8 billion a year collectively.
But there are several cost-effective ways businesses can substantially cut down energy use in the office and save money. Here are seven to consider:
- Switch to laptops. Laptop computers use up to 80 percent less energy  than desktop models, meaning businesses that trade in their desktops for laptops can see dramatic energy savings.
- Set sleep modes on all electronics. Most computers, copiers, fax machines and printers now offer “power save” or “sleep” mode settings by which they go into an energy-saving mode after a certain number of idle minutes. The energy-saving mode typically uses at least 70 percent less energy than full-power mode. Some office electronics now come with power-save automatically enabled, but some you may have to set manually. It’s worth checking all equipment, though: Typically you want sleep mode to kick in after 15 minutes or less.
- Shut down at night. It may seem like a no-brainer but many business owners don’t realize the financial penalty of not turning off their equipment at night.
- Use power strips. Most office equipment, consumer electronics and battery chargers use what’s called “phantom energy.” They continue to draw a trickle of electricity from the outlet even when turned off. Consider purchasing power strips and attaching clusters of electronics that can be shut off at once to them. Then at night, or when shutting down the office for the day, flick off the power strip to effectively “unplug” everything at once.
- Keep refrigerators small and new. I’ve seen plenty of small offices that think they’re saving themselves money by using an old refrigerator. But old hulking refrigerators, though they may be in fine working order, can cost more nearly $300 a year  in electricity while newer, post-2001 models of the same size cost only $75 a year. Moreover, if you don’t need a big fridge in your office, consider getting a mini-refrigerator. They use only $10 in electricity a year.
- Buy Energy Star-qualified products. The federal government’s labeling program helps consumers make energy-wise purchasing decisions. Many types of office electronics, from printers to computers to copiers, can carry the Energy Star label, which indicates they use at least 20 percent less energy than the standard model. Moreover, many Energy Star-qualified products automatically go into power-save mode after a few minutes, meaning it needn’t be manually set.
- Use plug-in timers on water coolers and coffee machines. If you have a water cooler or coffee machine that keep water hot 24-7, consider purchasing a plug-in timer  that allows you to program when these office mainstays are on and off. A water cooler with a hot-water spigot can use about $80 annually, according to the federal government’s Energy Star program. You can reduce this by only having the water cooler on when you’re open for business.