Wednesday, 23 January 2013

How to Go Green at Work

Much like going green at school, going green at work can sometimes have a larger impact than going green at home due to the number of people that can be involved. By helping your office make better eco-choices, you can also encourage your colleagues to make similar changes in the rest of their lives!

Encourage your company to develop a greenhouse gas inventory

An inventory includes a list of emission sources as well as the amount of standardized accompanying emissions. The majority of a company’s emissions tend to come from building heating and cooling, fleet vehicles, electricity use, and employee travel. Small companies can calculate their emissions and carbon footprint here. The EPA’s Center for Corporate Climate Leadership is a resource center to help organizations identify and achieve cost-effective GHG emission reductions. Environment Canada also has resources for businesses about sustainable development planning, reporting, and programs.

Use renewable and sustainable power

Though some regions generate their grid power from cleaner energy sources such as hydropower other regions source their grid power from emission-heavy fossil fuel powered plants. Consequently, emissions from electricity generated from fossil fuels can have a significant impact the environment and your organization's carbon footprint. Green power is electricity that is generated from renewable energy sources such as wind, sun, geothermal, and biomass. Purchasing your power from renewable energy sources is an effective way for your organization to reduce its carbon footprint and environmental impact. Visit the EPA's Green Power Partnership for information on how to purchase green power in the United States. In Canada your business can purchase green power from Bullfrog Power.

Use public transportation, bike, walk, or carpool to work

Instead of using your car, why not save your gas money and get a little exercise at the same time by biking or walking to work! If you do need to drive, organize a carpool or take public transit to limit the number of cars on the road. A smaller number of cars on the road mean less carbon emissions. Leaving your car at home just two days a week can reduce your greenhouse gas emissions by an average of two tons per year.

Telecommunicate instead of travelling on a plane to meet clients

Flying is resource intensive and produces large carbon emissions; you can prevent the need to fly by phone, audio and video conferencing instead. You can also save money, time, and reduce stress by teleconferencing. If you must travel consider alternate less carbon intensive modes of transport such as trains. Train travel is estimated to produce 90 percent fewer emissions than flying. You could also consider telecommuting for your everyday work if possible; this could also reduce your emissions and save you waiting in traffic every day.

(Learn more about airplane emissions in our article about The Green Passport Initiative!)

Install smart power strips to turn off electronics completely

The energy used to power electronics in offices can be greatly reduced if they are turned off when not needed instead of left on standby to continuously suck up energy. For example did you know that a 600-watt photocopier left on standby for 24 hours a day uses about $750 of electricity in a year? If it is turned on only during normal working hours, two thirds of this electricity could be saved.

Smart strips turn off devices and prevent phantom energy from continuously flowing through them. Electronics such as computers, printers, scanners and copiers should be plugged into smart strips which stop drawing power when your gadgets are on standby or are turned off. For example, when a printer plugged into a basic smart strip goes into standby mode, its power consumption drops. Consequently, the circuitry detects the change and cuts the power to that outlet but the rest of the outlets in use stay on. As a result both energy associated emissions and costs will be reduced.

Switch to energy efficient lighting and turn lights off when not in use

Refit your workplace with energy saving light bulbs labelled ENERGY STAR® to help the environment as well as help your company save money on the electricity bill! Compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs use 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs and can last up to 10 times longer. Light emitting diode (LED) lights are an emerging technology and are also 75% more efficient than incandescent bulbs. LEDs can last even longer than CFLs—lasting 15 to 20 times longer than incandescent bulbs.

If your workplace occupants are having difficulty regularly turning off the lights you can install motion or occupant sensors, which automatically turn off lighting when no one is present and come back on when they return.

Recycle everything you can

Recycling reduces the size and affect of landfills, helps conserve natural resources, decreases pollution, and saves energy. Ensure that your company recycles paper products, batteries, and printer cartridges. Additionally, make sure the office’s old electronics (e.g., computers, monitors, cell phones, TVs) are recycled. There are many different programs including leasing programs, manufacturer and retailer take-back programs and municipal programs your company can utilize to ensure the reuse and/or recycling of your electronics. In the US your company can participate in the EPA’s WasteWise program which helps its participants meet goals to reduce and recycle municipal solid waste and selected industrial wastes.

Go paperless

  • Go a step further than just recycling your paper; avoid initially using it whenever possible. 
  • Set 'double sided' as the default setting on your printer.
  • Go electronic instead of using hard copies: phone and email, use overheads and power point presentations, get e-subscriptions, and use web resources.
  • Replace paper towels with hand dryers in the bathrooms.
  • Switch to cloth towels and napkins in kitchens.
  • Use reusable mugs and plates in the company kitchen.
  • Switch to a metal mesh reusable coffee filter in the company kitchen so you do not need disposable paper ones.

Use non-toxic green cleaning products in your work area or office

Using green products for cleaning your workplace can be better for the health of the planet, yourself, and your employees. Green products are typically made with natural ingredients and can reduce the amount of harmful toxins you inhale each day. Green products are also often packaged in recycled or biodegradable materials and offer bulk options to reduce waste. Research and read the labels of your green products, looking for words such as biodegradable, 100% recycled, certified organic, and green certified, to chose the ones that are right for you.

Choose foods that are local, organic and sustainable for lunches, meetings and catered events

Produce that is grown in your area requires lower inputs to get to the store/farmers’ market/restaurant, and by buying seasonal produce you’re more likely to get produce that’s local. A good way to know if your food is sustainably produced is to talk to the farmer!  Buy farm-gate produce or shop at farmers’ markets whenever it’s possible.  Ask the farmer how they grow their crops. The farmers that are passionate about sustainable practices will enthusiastically share their knowledge.
(You can read more about sustainable agriculture on our blog here!)

Choosing food that is organic ensures that it is pesticide and GMO free and thus that there are no negative impacts on the surrounding soil, water, air, or organisms. Eating organic also may prevent a number of negative human health problems linked to pesticide use.

Pack waste-free lunches

Through packing a waste-free lunch at home (and not getting take-out) your energy emissions, meal costs, and the waste you produce are all reduced. The average child is said to produce 67 pounds of trash at lunch a year and you are creating the same if not more at work!  Switch to reusable utensils, containers, napkins, water bottles and lunch boxes to avoid trash generation. When shopping for reusable lunch wares remember that some may actually contain lead and/or PVC which are not safe to be in contact with food. Reusable containers made of glass, stainless, and lead-free ceramic are the safest options.

(Read specific examples on how other companies have gone green on our Green Companies from the Ground Up and Going Green in Business pages!)

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

A Year In Review

This past year saw many changes and newsworthy stories in regards to environmentalism and the green movement. Sustainability was front and centre as new environmental initiatives were announced, however, the green aspects of 2012 were most defined by the environmental stories that made the news. The Keystone pipeline dominated the airwaves in North America and throughout the globe, while environmentalism was a large part of other events such as the London Summer Olympics and the largest Earth Day celebrations yet. The United States saw their year culminate in their national and presidential elections where the environment was a hot topic, and  Canada had its own environmental showdown as provinces pulled away from the federal government to pursue their own options as Canada decided on its own future.  There are many noteworthy stories and events that could make up our list, however, here are a few that caught our attention:

The US State Department announced that it would not approve the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline between Canada and the United States. TransCanada, the entity applying for the deal, was told that they can re-apply once they submit a new route that ensures protection of vulnerable ecosystems. TransCanada has begun to re-examine their proposal and plans to re-apply by 2014. 

The Government of Ontario released the now infamous Drummond Report, a 668 report outlining recommendations to reduce Ontario’s growing debt. Several key recommendations involved environmental legislation, including the increase of environmental protection stewardship, and a more accurate system to value environmental protection projects. It also advocated for the creation of a national transit strategy where all provinces and territories actively work together towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions in vehicles.

Swedish car manufacturer, Volvo, introduced the first ever hands free driving technology. This was hailed as the first step in true road train technology, where roads are able to function as trains for individual travelling cars, removing the need for fossil fuels and lessening the occurrence of accidents due to long distance travel.

The TEEB Conference 2012 – Mainstreaming the Economics of Nature: Challenges for Science and Implementation conference happened in Leipzig, Germany. More than 250 scientists and economic experts from all over the world met to discuss the importance of biodiversity and its economic value. The main focus of the conference was on how to get international environmental agreements implemented at the national level. 

Earth Day, held on April 22, was special this year. The celebrations were used to mark the increases in awareness and the pieces of legislation passed since the first one in 1970, including the Clean Air Act. However, this party also occurred as a precarious time as Congress debated whether the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should all be dismantled.

Nike International created a new way to choose factories to conduct business with.  The Source & Manufacturing Sustainability Index is now used to measure labour and environmental sustainability standards in choosing where they will have their goods manufactured.

Nike also announced a partnership with Dutch company DyeCoo Textile Systems, who have created the first commercially viable waterless textile dyeing machines. They use recycled carbon dioxide instead of water, thereby greatly reducing the amount of pollution placed into waterways.

The EPA had its mandate upheld by the US Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia over how they regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The judicial vote was unanimously in favour of the EPA regulating all emissions that if finds harmful as per the Clean Air Act. This included vehicles and all stationary sources, such as buildings.

UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon announced that three of the 2015 Millennium Development Goals have been achieved three years ahead of schedule; those in regards to poverty, slums, and water.  The levels of drinkable water have increased drastically due to environmental initiatives to clean up required water sources. The portion of people with access to clean water has now risen to 89%, up from 76% in 1990.

The 2012 London Olympic Summer Games brought athletes, dignitaries, and supporters from all over the world. The Games were hailed as the “greenest ever” due to sustainability efforts in place. The Olympic Games required 35 million kilowatt hours of energy to run, the same amount of electricity required to power a city of 150,000 for a year. Energy requirements were able to be reduced by 20% and the Games achieved their goal of zero waste to landfills and over 70% of waste being re-used, recycled, or composted.

Arctic sea ice shrank to its lowest levels ever recorded. At the time of recording, it was not even finished as it shrunk an additional 500,000 sq. km beyond this point. Scientists have begun to push even more adamantly for climate control conditions as there were no erroneous weather patterns or unusual conditions that could explain the drastic shift other than unprecedented climate change.

The United Nations Biodiversity Conference and its member states pledged to double the amount of resources available for biodiversity protection by 2015. Among areas queued for special protection are the Saragasso Sea, the Tonga archipelago, and certain coral sites off the Brazilian coast. The conference also created new measures for how to gauge levels of biodiversity protection. India, the country with the second highest population and many areas in need of biodiversity protection, was targeted to lead the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity for the next two years.

The United States Presidential election occurred with Barack Obama winning a second term. His first term included executive orders that increased fuel efficiency standards for vehicles and regulatory initiatives to control air pollution from coal power plants. The second term looks to be more of the same. Obama’s victory speech stated a goal to be “free from foreign oil,” a long-standing desire of both political parties. To make this desire closer to a reality, President Obama has outlined a plan that includes increasing shale gas output and tax credits for alternative energy projects. Other initiatives that have been discussed are a carbon tax and ending subsidies corporations that extract, refine, and distribute fossil fuels; however, these two may be difficult as the Republican controlled Congress has spoken out against them.

Canada became the first nation to formally pull out of the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol was originally passed in 1997 and asked for developed nations to reduce their carbon emissions by 5% lower than 1990 levels, which was to occur by 2012. Canada’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol occurred as recent polls showed Canadians in favour of British Columbia’s new carbon tax and with the majority stating that the Canadian government should be showing leadership on environmental issues.

This past year can be marked as one of transition; the majority of people are seeing a world worth protecting and finally, governments are slowly coming to the same realization. While some governments are more proactive than others, the shift has been noticeable, from small municipalities right up to the United Nations.

It is important to note that not all of these stories were able drastic change or new technologies that will change the world; they are about perceptions, how people are changing the way they think. The swell of people from around the world who are demanding global action for a better and greener future and beginning are showing their influence and governments are beginning to realize the economic value of environmentalism. We hope that you continue to join us in 2013 to see what the New Year brings for environmental action, green technology, and global awareness!