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Does your work desk use as much energy as a refrigerator?

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Dual monitors. 

Cellphone chargers. 

Coffee makers. 

Space heaters. 

If you have one or more of them plugged in at your workspace, you're part of a growing problem in building efficiency. 

LED lighting and changes to heating and cooling systems have cut down on energy use in commercial buildings since 2003. But now, plugload — the energy it takes to power all those things plugged into your desktop power strip — is rising. 

It's largely a function of modernity. The tools we use to do our jobs today require a lot more power cords than they used to. 

"It used to be you would have an electric pencil sharpener and a light at your desk," said Thea Rozenbergs, an architectural designer at LHB Architects in Minneapolis. She led a study with colleagues from the Center for Energy and Environment and Seventhwave.

We're way beyond electric pencil sharpeners now. 

In fact, a typical office workstation uses as much electricity as a full-size refrigerator — and a third of that energy is wasted because things are left on during meetings, lunch breaks and at night.

So what can you do about it in your office? 

Gather data

What are the biggest energy hogs in your office? 

Do a walk-through, perhaps at night when no one is around, to see what's plugged in or left on at people's desks. 

Plugs fill a power strip
Plugs fill a power strip in this photo illustration.
Richard Drew | AP

A relatively inexpensive meter can show how much electricity a device is using at any given time. You can find one at a hardware store or online. Your company's IT department also likely has data to show how heavily computers contribute to power usage. 

Also identify how many shared devices — printers, coffee makers, water coolers — exist around your office, and how much they contribute to total plugload. 

Manage your computer power

IT departments can work with staff to figure out when it makes sense for computers and printers to go into low-power mode or be shut down altogether. 

Departments can also look at power usage when ordering new equipment, especially computers, servers, printers and coffee makers. 

One interesting thing the study found is that, while laptops are more efficient than desktop computers, adding a second monitor to a workstation negates that energy savings. 

As for shutting computers down completely, computers tolerate it better than they used to, and it saves the most energy. But check with your IT department first, because there are a range of opinions. Energy Star has compiled a useful list of myths about computer power modes.

Use smart power strips paired with occupancy sensors or switch buttons

A smart power strip turns off a device that goes into standby mode, eliminating what's known as "phantom power." 

In your home, you could save energy by plugging your TV, stereo or coffee maker into a smart power strip. 

In the office plugload study, researchers tried using advanced power strips connected to either an occupancy sensor or a button that an employee could turn on when they arrive to work and off when they go home. The power strip allowed computers to continuously get power while shutting off other things — monitors, lamps, phone chargers — whenever the employee was away. 

The payback on the power strips, sensors and buttons was relatively quick.

Put common-area devices on timers

Is your office water cooler plugged in 24/7/365? 

Unless you have people in the office working at all hours and using it, you're wasting energy. 

The same could be said about printers, TVs, mini-fridges or anything else that slurps up electricity at night and on weekends for no good reason. 

To tackle the problem, you could install a simple timer that goes on and off at the same time every day, or invest in a more sophisticated timer that allows you to program different weekend and weekday settings — similar to a programmable thermostat.

Educate, then reward good energy behavior

Rather than confronting that one employee with the space heater, lava lamp, hot plate and espresso machine at his desk, communicate best practices for energy use office-wide, then start rewarding those who follow it. 

During the study, researchers launched an information campaign, and followed up by leaving chocolate or gift cards at the desks of good energy stewards and a little blue reminder light for those who needed a nudge. 

The study found that a behavior campaign can prompt significant energy savings.