Green your life at home, work & play

16 easy ways to cut down on your waste stream at work February 10, 2012

Using as many of these tips as possible will cut down on costs your workplace has related to trash disposal, help your employees get in touch with their waste stream and even provide some resources for the community:

  1. Keep one–and only one–trash can in shared office space, but give everyone a recycling bin at their desks for paper, aluminum, plastic.
  2. Shred paper that has been used on both sides and use it as packing material for shipments – or offer the shreddings to the gardeners in the office to use as compostable material.
  3. Organize office staff on a rotating schedule to take the trash to the main collection area or dumpster instead of having it magically disappear each night thanks to the cleaning crew.
  4. Keep a container (with a lid) in the office kitchen/coffee area to collect used coffee grounds. Find the gardener in the office group who would love to take those spent grounds to use on their roses or tomato plants.
  5. Eliminate Styrofoam cups for hot beverages.  Give employees quality reusable mugs (with your company logo, of course) and have the same available for guests to use.  Also, provide a scrub brush and dish soap at the sink for cleaning mugs.
  6. Buy cartons of cream and bags of sugar/sweetener for beverages instead of offering individual-sized packets.
  7. Ditch the bottled water in the vending machines and provide employees with a cooler with filtered water.  Another reason to use those wonderful corporate mugs you gave out!
  8. If unnecessary printing of documents or emails is a concern, program your print command to trigger an additional popup that asks the person printing to consider the cost in trees and to the company before going ahead with the print.  Vary these messages, make them humorous and add some little graphics for greater effectiveness.
  9. Switch to refillable, recyclable, non-toxic whiteboard markers—such as AusPen—and pay less than you would for traditional ones.  AusPens are available through EcoSmartWorld and other vendors.
  10. Provide each employee with an individual dry erase board for notes and reminders, to help reduce the overuse of sticky notes in their office space.
  11. Have printers and copiers set to black ink only, draft quality and duplex mode by default since these options should be sufficient for most internally used documents.
  12. For paper that is only printed on one side, designate an area for it to be collected and reused for scrap paper (before being shredded or recycled).  Ask your local commercial printer if they will take your one-sided printed paper, cut it and make it into notepads for office use.
  13. Cancel or unsubscribe from mailed publications that your staff are not taking the time to read.
  14. Designate a cupboard or other organized area to swap used office supplies such as binder and paper clips, file folders (provide blank adhesive labels so they can be repurposed), manila envelopes (can be relabeled too), and rubber bands.
  15. Wooden pallets should never be land-filled.  Recycling contractors will often agree to collect them and then will resell them to shipping companies.  If that is not possible, tree-trimming companies may take them to shred for mulch.  There are even some entrepreneurial types who have realized the value of decorating and making furniture with them.
  16. Don’t ditch used office equipment or furniture.  Find a resale store in the area (Goodwill, Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, or Habitat for Humanity ReUse store) that will accept the items—they may even come and pick them up for free.

Washington, DC Truly LEEDs the Nation! January 26, 2012

Washington, DC has been announced as the leader in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)! In the U.S. Green Building Council’s annual list of the top 10 states with the most square feet per capita of LEED certified buildings (which actually has 11 entries since DC isn’t a state), the district came out on top with 31.5 square feet per person, bringing it to a total of almost 19 million square feet. That is an increase of 6.35 square feet per person from DC’s 2010 numbers, when it also led the nation. Colorado came in second with 2.74 ft2 and Virginia and Maryland also did well, coming in at 4th and 6th, with 2.42 and 2.07 square feet per person, respectively. Interestingly, neither Nevada nor New Mexico are on the 2011 list, even though they were 2nd and 3rd in 2010. It is important to note that some other states have a greater total number of square feet that is LEED certified, including Illinois (#3) with 34.5 million ft2, Texas (#8) with 50 million ft2, and New York (#10) with 36.5 million ft2.

DC has a large number of green buildings per capita due to efforts by the federal government (it owns or uses 30% of LEED certified buildings) and because many buildings host workers who do not live in the district, but rather commute from Virginia or Maryland. Since the Executive Order issued in 1999 on “Greening the Government through Efficient Energy Management”, many federal agencies have developed sustainability plans involving LEED for their buildings and facilities. The General Services Administration was the first government agency to adapt aim for LEED certification in their buildings (2003), and now aim for LEED Gold, and the U.S. Navy was the first government agency to certify a LEED building. 2006 was a big year for LEED, when the USDA, the EPA, NASA, and the Smithsonian all implemented policies that required LEED Silver or LEED certification for new construction and large renovations. Since then, other agencies like Department of Energy, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of the Interior, the Department of State, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Air Force and Army have all created policies requiring LEED Silver, certification or their equivalent as well.

In addition to the federal government guidelines, the district has a few policies of its own. Since 2006, all non-residential, public commercial buildings must be LEED Silver. Since 2007, all public schools and renovations on commercial buildings larger than 30,000 square feet must be LEED certified. All new or renovations of non-residential, private buildings over 50,000 square feet must develop and implement a green building checklist and next year all non-residential buildings and institutions of higher learning must receive LEED certification. Additionally, since 2008 all new and renovated metro (WMATA) facilities must be LEED certified.

LEED, pioneered by the U.S. Green Building Council headquartered in DC, has certified projects in all 50 states and 120 countries.

Photo courtesy of: The U.S. Green Building Council


Which is better for the environment-using paper or a computer? January 6, 2012

With the rise in popularity of mobile devices, such as smart phones, tablets, and e-readers, the question of whether it is better to read something on an electronic device or in print has become even more complicated. The answer is just as confounded. To truly know the environmental impact of a product, you need to assess it from production to disposal (which hopefully involves recycling!). Although a full environmental assessment of all options is not possible here, I will attempt to give an overview of the environmental impact of electronic devices and paper.


A piece of paper releases 0.03 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalents (the amount of greenhouse gases in terms of carbon dioxide impact). If the paper has 100% recycled post-consumer content, it produces a lot less-0.017 pounds of CO2 equivalents. In terms of newspapers, 1 ton of newsprint kills 12 trees. The average recycled content for newspapers in the U.S. is only 35%. Creating wood pulp out of the trees is very energy-intensive and produces large amounts of pollution. In fact, the pulp industry is the third highest polluter in the U.S.

Farming trees specifically grown to produce paper also reduces biodiversity. Some tree species provide better quality paper, so we plant more of those and cut down old-growth trees to make space. This emits carbon dioxide into the air that had been stored for hundreds or thousands of years, and which these new trees can’t hope to recapture during their short lifespan. Pesticide and herbicide use is also a problem, since these are required to maintain the monoculture of tree farms.

The moral here is, if you are going to print something, please use recycled content paper, or better yet-reuse paper by printing on the blank side (though this strategy doesn’t really work for books).

Electronic devices

Alright, so everyone probably knew that making paper kills trees. But do you know what impact computers, e-readers and other mobile devices have on the environment?

Electronic devices are usually made out of plastic, which biodegrades extremely slowly, and also often contain rare metals like coltan that require mining. They also require a lot of energy to manufacture, ship and discard, and sometimes include toxic chemicals inside. Using a computer or other mobile device also requires a lot of electricity, which in the U.S. mostly comes from coal. The energy goes towards powering the device itself, but a significant amount also goes towards powering internet servers, even more so now that the use of “cloud computing” has increased in recent years. In terms of CO2 emissions, Apple has announced that using an iPad only releases 0.004 pounds of CO2 equivalents per hour and that over its lifetime (including manufacturing, transport and recycling), an iPad will produce 231 pounds of CO2 equivalent, which is the same as 7,700 sheets of regular paper or 13,600 sheets of recycled paper. In this comparison, the iPad comes out on top if you think of the number of pages you can read on an iPad during its lifetime without killing one tree.

However, International Paper,  a world-wide printing company, argues that the large energy consumption of devices such as the iPad makes paper a better choice. Powering a computer for five months requires the same amount of energy used to produce a year’s worth of paper for the average person. It also points out that paper has a much higher recycling rate in the U.S. (60%) compared to electronic devices (18%), which are instead often shipped to third-world countries where they contaminate landfills.

To sum up, the answer is complicated. If you read thousands of pages a year on your electronic device, then it might be better than printing thousands of pages. But then in four or five years (or probably sooner), you’ll have to buy the newest iPad, so what happens to the plastics and chemicals used in your original tablet? If you don’t read quite as many pages, then paper might be a good choice, but you would still be killing trees, encouraging biodiversity loss and increasing pollution from the pulp industry. Ultimately, whether to read print or electronic versions of your favorite newspaper or book is really a personal decision. If you already use your computer or tablet often, then also use it for reading. If you prefer the feel of a newspaper or book in your hand, then make sure to plant some trees.

Photos courtesy of Minnesota Council of Nonprofits and Building Green 


A Green Company to Watch: Puma December 7, 2011

Puma, one of the world’s leading sports gear companies, is truly a company to watch because of their success but also because of their dedication to sustainability initiated by their CEO and Chairman Jochen Zeitz. After joining Puma in 1990, Zeitz completely changed the look and style of the company. Although many thought this was crazy, it eventually caught on and helped Puma reach $2.3 billion in annual sales in 2006. What is even more impressive for us green-minded people is Puma’s sustainability initiatives spearheaded by Zeitz. He has helped Puma reduce its use of hazardous chemicals, redesigned its shoeboxes to reduce packaging waste and supported solar power development. Now, after decades of research and changes to increase transparency, Puma is releasing a report that monetizes their impact on the environment through their use of environmental services, such as clean water, crops, soil formation, wildlife habitat and storm protection. Although this was no easy task, it greatly helps Puma to determine which areas are the worst-offenders and thus how to improve its overall environmental impact. From this new Environmental Profit and Loss Statement, Puma has learned that it would have to pay $133 million a year for the impact caused by its water use and greenhouse gas emissions. The report also found that the most expensive areas in terms of environmental impact are: cotton farming, natural rubber production and cattle ranching.

The next goals of the statement are to report social impacts as well as more environmental ones and to eventually also reflect the positive outcomes of Puma’s business, such as raising the level of education and health in an area. Zeitz has now moved on to become the Chief Sustainability Officer for Puma’s parent company, PPR SA, as well as head of the sport & lifestyle group. I, personally, am looking forward to seeing how Puma will use this new knowledge to decrease their environmental impact in the coming years.

To help your own business evaluate the ecosystem services it uses, check out the Guide to Corporate Ecosystem Valuation by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

Photo courtesy of Greener Package


Sustainability and the Consumer Electronics Show January 10, 2011

The world’s largest consumer technology tradeshow, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), took place last week in Las Vegas, Nevada. The tradeshow is run by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), which also produced something else of note last week: their 2010 Sustainability Report.

“CEA member companies have realized significant benefits from integrating sustainability into their business, from increased use of life cycle assessment in eco-design to further reductions of energy in the use phase of electronics, to innovative eCycling programs resulting in the recovery of millions of pounds of valuable resources.”

The 48-page report covers a range of topics in environmental and social performance, focusing on sustainable product and packaging design, sustainable facilities, sustainable transport and delivery, and eCycling. The report includes numerous case studies from member companies such as Best Buy and Apple, and these case studies bring up key questions for your consideration.

(1) What should be the focus of my business’s sustainability plan? This varies greatly for individual cases. For example, Apple completed a comprehensive life cycle analysis for every product and discovered that 97 percent of the company’s footprint is directly associated with its products and only three percent with its facilities. Therefore Apple has focused on designing its products to use less material, ship with smaller packing, and be as energy efficient and recyclable as possible. (See case study on p. 11.)

(2) How can we optimize the use of resources in our facilities? Greener buildings tend to reduce capital and operational costs and promote innovation, technological advancement and environmental protection. For example, Sony Electronics Inc. recently built a new head office building in San Diego which was awarded LEED Gold certification. Design elements included bicycle racks, dedicated parking spaces for staff who carpool to work or drive fuel-efficient vehicles, and efforts to use wood taken only from sustainably managed forests. (See case study on p. 21.)

(3) How well do we report our sustainability efforts? Many companies now publish sustainability reports in addition their annual corporate financial reports, communicating with customers, shareholders, communities and employees. All 10 of the largest CE companies issue reports that document corporate environmental and social performance. These reports are guided by the Global Reporting Initiative, and are published on their companies’ websites for convenient access.

(4) How can my business take initiative in our community? AMD, a semiconductor design company, has begun installing electric vehicle (EV) charging stations at locations in Austin, Texas, and Sunnyvale, California. The company believes that this initiative will serve as an example for other businesses in these areas, encouraging the growth of infrastructure for the EV market. It also will tip the balance for those employees and community members considering the purchase of an EV but who are concerned about the availability of charging stations nearby. (See case study on p. 28.)

The 2010 Sustainability Report can be found online at and is a good source of inspiration for many different aspects of commercial sustainability. CEA also recommends two additional reports for information on the consumer electronics industry and its sustainability efforts.

+ CEA 2010 Sustainability Report
+ The Energy and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Impact of Telecommuting and e-Commerce
+ Energy Consumption by Consumer Electronics in U.S. Residences


Federal Government is Becoming Greener October 8, 2010

A year ago, President Obama signed an executive order that set out guidelines for reducing federal government greenhouse gas emissions, decreasing energy and water consumption, reducing waste and engaging in environmentally preferable procurement.

This year, the White House organized the first external Green Gov symposium, hosted at George Washington University. The conference highlighted changes that the Federal Government and government contractors have been making and could be making to meet Executive Order  13514 requirements. At the symposium, it was announced that the White House will install solar panels on its roof, along with solar water heating, to show its commitment to environmental sustainability and the Executive Order.

It is clear from attendance at the three-day conference, which was larger than expected, and totaled over 1,200 people, over 60% of which were from Federal government agencies, that there is wide-ranging interest.  I was fortunate enough to be on a panel at the symposium with some accomplished government and non-government individuals who are very passionate about the environment and making a change at their respective organizations.  Participating in the panel as well as attending some of the sessions made it clear that, although the Federal government has had a tougher time gaining momentum on green initiatives because of its size, it is well on its way.

While many companies were represented, some are better known outside Washington circles than others. One of these is Verizon. James Gowen, Verizon’s Chief Sustainability Officer, described some of the changes Verizon has made to its supply chain, including improving its fleet management practices, increasing the amount of recycled content in its packaging, and asking its vendors (Motorola was discussed in this particular example) to conduct a life cycle assessment of their products. These changes have resulted in significant cost savings that have enabled Mr. Gowen to add more staff to focus on the sustainability initiatives. The message is clear – environmental sustainability brings cost savings, which is one of the messages that we at Eco-Coach have for our clients as well.

I could talk about quite a few other great case studies, but I will highlight one more here, and you can review some others at Planet Forward. One example within the Federal government that shows that ‘green’ is a security and risk management issue and can be bipartisan, is the US Army’s initiatives. The Army was the first Federal agency to issue a GRI, in 2007. The Global Reporting Initiative reporting standards are used by many large and medium-sized companies to report on their corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts. One of the benefits of the report that was stated at the session was that those who prepared it could then better engage senior leadership in the effort.  Reporting also enables the organization to benchmark and track progress on specific initiatives, which is very useful from a cost perspective as well as for tracking greenhouse gas emission reductions.

While various government agencies are at different points on the path to sustainability, most of them have started and are making strides. As was stated by many at the conference, this will inevitably trickle down to government contractors, who will be asked what actions they are taking to make their organizations more eco-friendly and environmentally sustainable, if they have not been asked already. This is significant since the Federal government is a large employer, and the changes could cause a positive ripple effect of sustainability throughout the local if not the national economy.


The Unexpected Green Museum July 1, 2010

The Visitor Center at Lincoln’s Cottage

Most people would not expect a hundred year old building attached to a historic home to see value in being ‘green.’  On first glance a historic house’s mission would not appear to have any correlation to environmental sustainability, but the Visitor Center at Lincoln’s Cottage, in the Old Soldier’s Home in Washington D.C. has LEED Gold certification and is proud of all the hard work it has put in to reaching this achievement. “Today, the Robert H. Smith Visitor Education Center at President Lincoln’s Cottage stands as a model for the important role historic buildings play in environmental stewardship.”

In keeping the existing visitor center building during renovations, 98% of the walls, roof and floors were saved, and all building supplied were recycled or local. Strict recycling and donating diverted 70% of construction and demolition waste from landfills.

Taking advantage of the nearby Metro and bus lines has allowed the Cottage to limit the amount of parking needed (and thus the amount of runoff caused) and encourage the use of public transportation for its approximate annual attendance of 25,000 (2008). Staff are encouraged to walk, jog or bike to work, with bike racks and low flow showers provided onsite.  Low flow plumbing and native landscaping has reduced water use by 44%.

Thanks to the reinstallation of the original windows and skylights, 75% of the office space receives direct natural light. Decentralisation of HVAC and manual windows have allowed for control by occupants meaning there are less demands on the HVAC system. Traditional brass weather-stripping retained historic integrity, increased efficiency and contributed to LEED ‘energy and atmosphere’ credits.

This ‘sustainable rehabilitation’ (as it is called by the curator) is an inspiring example of historic preservation achieving a fine balance with sustainable design, maintaining awareness of unique original features made to take advantage of climate and positioning. The passive design features originally embedded in the house have been embraced- including passive heating from retentive insulation and south facing windows, passive cooling thanks to shutters and covered porches in summer, and passive ventilation as a result of sash windows and dual-function shutters.

The first National Trust for Historic Preservation site to achieve LEED certification, the National Trust hopes to use this example as a springboard for the conversion of many more of its sites.  For more information, follow the Preservation Green Lab’s explorations and discoveries.


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