Thursday, February 17, 2011

12 Steps to Sustainability

The other day was probably the best day of my working company bought all of our employees coffee mugs and water bottles!

(don't mind our messy workspace...engineers at work!)

This was my company's effort to reduce the cost of buying disposable cups and "go green" (though, probably more the former). I already use my own coffee mug and water bottle because I couldn't stand using those Styrofoam cups!! Plus I'm not trying to make any more trash than is absolutely necessary. I'm all about sustainability and doing right by the environment. 

This prompted me to think about the baby steps I take to make the world a cleaner, greener place to live. I want to share them with you in the hopes that you will gather some ideas and adopt a few of the same sustainable habits that I have found to work in my life. 

There is an old Chinese proverb that says "It is possible to move a mountain by carrying away small stones." so if everyone does a little, we can make a big impact!

1. Take your own bags/containers to the grocery store. Back home on Maui, grocery stores are no longer allowed to give you plastic bags. I think that is a GREAT idea and can only hope that someday Ohio also adopts that policy. In the meantime, every time I go food shopping, I try to bring my reusable grocery totes and keep more plastic bags out of landfills. From National Geographic: "The same properties that have made plastic bags so commercially successful and ubiquitous—namely their low weight and resistance to degradation—have also contributed to their proliferation in the environment. Due to their durability, plastic bags can take up to 100 years to decompose."

2. Travel with a Nalgene. A lot like my first point, I'm just trying to keep plastic water bottles and disposable cups out of our landfills. This is an especially poignant point for me because I used to live on an island. There is only so much land to fill with trash before it starts taking over. Plus (and this is probably less relevant nowadays) but certain materials leech chemicals into the ground, and there is a very intimate connection between the quality of the soil and the quality of the food we are eating. My overarching rule; reuse as much as possible.

3. Use cold water when you do your laundry. This is both about saving the environment and saving money. I once read that about 90% of the energy used in washing clothing is from heating the water. I mean, that alone is reason to wash only in cold water. Can you imagine how much money you'll save in one year if you even just do 50% of your laundry in cold water??  

4. Invest in a programmable thermostat. Seriously, you can get a good one for like $25. Again, it's a money saver and an energy saver. You can program your heat to kick on or off depending on when you're home and when you're not. I know I always have trouble remembering to turn down the heater at night, until I wake up sweating! A programmable thermostat will definitely help save some cash, because it takes the thinking out of heating our home.

5. Turn off your computer at night/when you're not using it. Ok, I realize some of these are no-brainers, but this is something that took a while to kick the habit. When I was in college I'd leave my computer on all day and all night, in hopes that I might get some fun responses to my witty away-messages or to make sure I didn't miss any important emails. Plus, I wasn't paying the power bill! Now that I'm off my 24-hour a day IMing habit, I don't really need my computer on at all hours of the day. Neither does my electricity bill. Neither does mama earth. 

6. Sign up for e-bills and pay them online. Let's save some trees here, people!! I love this one because lord knows I get enough junk mail...sifting through the junk to find a bill can be scary. What if you accidentally throw it out?? Junk mail is another story altogether. I'm not quite there yet, but there are websites (like this one) you can sign up for that can help reduce the amount of junk mail you get, thereby reducing the amount of junk mail you toss and saving even more trees!

7. Bring a set of (microwave safe!) dishes and utensils to work. I stopped using the paper plates and plastic forks, knives and spoons in my office a long time ago. It makes me sick the sheer amount of paper and plastic that we throw away here in a day...and we barely have 50 employees!! I brought in a glass bowl, a knife, fork and spoon. I generally borrow plates from the dish drain if I need them because I'm not crazy about bringing any of my nice dishes in. Things break here pretty easily.

8. Avoid using paper towels. I try as much as possible to use dish towels and wash cloths to clean up around the kitchen instead of using paper towels. This is going to take a little more attention to laundry, but I think it's worth the effort. Less paper trash in your trash can and in our landfills. You will probably enjoy the benefits of taking the trash out less often as well!

9. Print double sided. My coworkers hate it when I do this because no one is used to reading on both sides of the paper here. Well, I could care less. You'll use half of the amount of paper you normally would by just clicking a few buttons on your printer settings (wow, am I good at math or what?!) Honestly, I can print just about everything double sided, except for maybe our 11x17 drawings of our parts. It's worth the few clicks for the number of trees you'll end up saving. Paper accounts for about half of all municipal solid waste (source) so that is also half the paper that would normally end up in a landfill. 

10. Unplug appliances and phone chargers when not in use. According to the US Department of Energy, "75% of all electricity used to power electronics is consumed by products that are switched off" (source) and only 5% of the power drawn by cell phone chargers is used to charge the phone, the other 95% is wasted when it's just plugged into the wall. I mean, I'm sold. It'll save you a bunch on your CO2 emissions too (aka your carbon footprint...let's try to reduce those!)

11. Bring a dish towel to work to dry your hands. I actually brought two; one for the bathroom, one for the kitchen. I can't tell you how many paper towels I was going through every day just to dry my hands. It was just foolish. I dry my hands on dish towels at home, why not at work too? Although if you work in the food industry, this will probably be frowned upon, I would advise against that one.

12. Grow your own herb garden, year round. For us that means, outside in the summer and a window garden in the winter. There are many wonderful reasons to grow your own food (or buy locally!) and your own herb garden can be the start of that. Between transportation, processing and packaging, the energy use of our food system puts an enormous stress on the environment. Just growing your own herbs is a step in the right direction...remember, we're taking baby steps here. If everyone did just one thing to offset our carbon emissions, we could collectively make a huge difference. Off my soapbox, there are a ton of resources (like this, or this) online as to how to start an herb garden!

What steps do you take to live sustainably?  Do you have any other easy tips to save energy, water, paper, etc.???

Peace, Love & Bagels,

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