A Guide to Choosing an Eco-Friendly Office Fridge

As the CEO of an ethical, sustainable and hopefully profitable business, you’ve worked hard to ensure that your company leaves the lightest possible footprint on the planet, right? Good. Now how about the place where you do all that great work from?

If you’re a loyal reader of TriplePundit, you’ve probably already set up your office Green Team, which has doubtless deployed countless recycling bins, ensured the building is lit with LED throughout and created a composting program in the office kitchen that you boast about at conferences. But have they, and you, overlooked the biggest energy hog of them all? We’re talking about the office refrigerator.

Beyond being a repository for snide notes and the spark of many office battles, the break room fridge is also one of the largest single energy consumers in the typical office space. If you haven’t given the office fridge a second glance since you started your business, or if you are just beginning, and want to be sure the office kitchen is as green as possible, consider these tips to select the most energy-efficient fridge for your employees’ needs.

Out with the Old
If the office fridge is over ten years old, throw it out (responsibly). This is one of those rare cases where longevity is not environmentally friendly. Thanks to recent improvements in insulation and compressors, today’s refrigerators use much less energy than older models. An estimated 60 million fridges in the U.S. are over ten years old, costing consumers $4.4 billion annually in energy costs. Replacing an old refrigerator with a new Energy Star certified one can save up to $1,000 in energy costs over its lifetime.

Pick an Energy Star
It goes without saying that you’ll choose an Energy Star rated refrigerator, but did you know that those ratings are awarded in seven categories, and that each category has different criteria? This means that the most efficient member of an inefficient category is still going to be an inefficient fridge. The top-mounted freezer category is the most efficient, using 10-25 percent less energy than the other categories, making it the star of the Energy Star models.

Dispense With a Dispenser
Refrigerators with through-the-door ice/water dispensers have an entire category all to themselves in those Energy Star ratings, and it’s not a good one. Because it breaks the refrigerator’s seal, an ice and water dispenser increases energy use by up to 20 percent. Consider skipping it altogether and installing a bottle-less water cooler in the office, the eco-friendly alternative to the traditional water cooler.

Ditch the Freezer
No freezer at all could be a good option for the ultimate eco-friendly office fridge. Freezers use much more energy than standard refrigeration and, unless you run a frozen yogurt company, there’s probably not a lot of need for a freezer in your office. Plus, by opting for a freezer-less full-size refrigerator, you not only use less energy but gain more space; the key to limiting the turf wars that often occur in the office fridge.

At 18 cubic feet with an inside icemaker, this GE top freezer refrigerator is a good option for an eco-friendly office fridge.
At 18 cubic feet with an inside icemaker, this GE top freezer refrigerator is a good option for an eco-friendly office fridge.

Go Big or Go Home
Speaking of space, for an office with more than two people, a full-sized refrigerator is essential. While you may assume that smaller is better energy-wise, you’d be wrong. Mini fridges aren’t as energy-efficient as their full-size counterparts, as they usually have less insulation. Additionally, an overstuffed small fridge uses even more energy because it doesn’t have room to circulate the cold air, and must work harder to keep everything cool. Full-size refrigerators do come in a variety of sizes however, and the bigger the cubic footage, the bigger the energy use. The sweet spot energy-wise is between 16 and 20 cubic feet.

Caffeinated Workers Are Happy Workers
If your office is full of tea drinkers and the kettle is always going full boil, you might consider GE’s new Café Series refrigerator with a hot water dispenser. This highly customizable feature will let those finicky tea drinkers choose the exact temperature for their perfect brew. The dispenser also works well for that bowl of oatmeal for breakfast or cup of soup for lunch. While not ostensibly eco-friendly, if you can dispense with the need for a kettle and even a microwave by opting for a fridge with a hot water dispenser, there are definitely energy savings to be had.

Instant hot water could increase office-workers' productivity and lower energy use.
Instant hot water could increase office-workers’ productivity and lower energy use.

Stop Wasting Energy

No matter how energy-efficient a model you buy, the way your employees use it will dictate how much energy is used. Opening a fridge door to contemplate its contents accounts for 7 percent of an appliance’s total energy use in a home. Imagine how quickly that figure rises when used by ten or 15 people a day.

Fridge manufacturers have stepped up to address this problem with a few new features. The door-in-door design, pioneered by LG and recently adopted by Samsung, splits the right hand door of a French Door-style refrigerator in half, allowing you to store frequently accessed items such as drinks, coffee creamer and milk inside the door – without opening the entire fridge. An even better option for an office is Samsung’s new side-by-side refrigerator with a showcase door. This takes the French Door idea and implements it in a side-by-side refrigerator, giving you much more in-door storage space. Important when you have a lot of people using one appliance.

Samsung's showcase refrigerator provides more storage space and cuts down on energy use because less cold air escapes every time the door is opened.
Samsung’s showcase refrigerator provides more storage space and cuts down on energy use because less cold air escapes every time the door is opened.

Go With Glass
If you can convince your employees to use glass containers for their lunch and leftovers, not only are you reducing plastic waste, but the glass will keep food and beverages colder, meaning less work for the fridge. Plus, glass is an all-natural, recyclable material, which can’t always be said for plastic.

Now that you know what to look for in an eco-friendly fridge, make sure all the appliances in your office space are as efficient as possible and continue your commitment to sustainability in every facet of your business.

Jennifer Tuohy writes about energy-saving appliances for Home Depot. Jennifer focuses on sustainable advice for appliances ranging from ranges to washers and dryers to refrigerators. A complete selection of energy-efficient refrigerators can be viewed on the Home Depot website at http://www.homedepot.com/b/Appliances-Refrigeration-Refrigerators/N-5yc1vZc3pi.

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