I have a friend who is a nurse at a large hospital in the Baltimore area. She is committed to environmental causes, and has an “activist” personality – when she disagrees with something, she doesn’t stand by silently and watch things unfold. So when she could no longer tolerate all the bad environmental practices at her workplace, she decided to send the president of the hospital a letter along with a copy of the movie “An Inconvenient Truth.” Eventually, after some follow-up phone calls, she was put in touch with one of the executives of the hospital and is now heading up a committee to try to change some of the less-than-environmentally-friendly practices and policies.
She is frustrated. It’s hard work, slow-going and difficult for a nurse to get buy-in from the executives and directors. She’s putting in sometimes 40 extra hours per week on this project (on top of her regular hours). She is not getting paid for the additional work. And she feels guilty about spending so much time on the project because she could be playing with her daughters.
When I saw my friend a couple of weeks ago, I asked her if it was worth it. She couldn’t really answer me because she feels like nothing has changed from her efforts. But she is hopeful. And she made a convincing argument about why she is trying so hard.
Her belief is that even though she helps her family be environmentally conscious – by recycling, using energy-efficient light bulbs and appliances, eating locally grown food, driving a hybrid car – they will never have the environmental impact that the one hospital has in a very short period of time.
I looked it up. According to the Hospitals for a Healthy Environment (H2E) Web site, “The nation’s hospitals generate approximately 6,600 tons of waste per day. Though we commonly associate hospitals with regulated medical waste generation, as much as 80 to 85% of a health care facility’s waste is non-hazardous solid waste—such as paper, cardboard, food waste, metal, glass, and plastics—similar to what you would find in other commercial facilities.”
In contrast, each individual in the U.S. generates on average 4.4 pounds of waste per day per person. Don’t get me wrong, this is still bad because over the course of a lifetime, the average American will throw away 45,000 tons of trash.
But the hospitals in the U.S. generate that much waste in 6.8 days.
This sounds like I am drawing a conclusion that one person doesn’t make a difference, that no matter what our individual efforts are, they will never be enough to combat the negative impact of big business. But I’m not saying that one person can’t change the world –one person can have a significant impact, just look at my friend – but a company has a much bigger environmental footprint than any one person, and a big company even more so. So perhaps the time of the each individual is well-spent trying to influence the people around them. Change from the bottom up.
So what can your company do? And how can you help to influence the people around you to change? Here are some ways to get things done that will make a positive environmental impact.
Let your employees telecommute. Some corporate cultures are still trying to get over the idea that employees are less efficient if they work from home. The truth of the matter is that companies that offer telecommuting enjoy improved productivity of 7% to 20% or more. And every person that works from home helps the environment. To see just how much, check out this calculator that allows you to measure the amount of emissions and gasoline that is saved through telecommuting by entering the number of workers, miles of the commute and number of days working from home. Just see how quickly the numbers add up.
Recycle. This may seem so obvious. But one company that I worked at (recently!) had no recycling at the office. None. There were not even any bins to recycle paper. When I left that job, I spent the last two weeks cleaning out my office and hauling boxes of paper and magazines to the church down the street where they have a paper recycling dumpster.
Get a paper recycling dumpster. There are probably many places you can do this, but the one that I have seen is Paper Retriever. By signing up for the program, you can get a paper recycling dumpster in your office’s parking lot, fill it with paper and then donate the proceeds to a local school or environmental charity.
Use an environmentally friendly Web host. Facilities like Affordable Internet Services Online (AISO) use solar panels to run their data center and servers that reduce energy use by 60%.
Start reading an environmental blog.
Here are 20 options. By reading an environmental blog every day, it will help keep you plugged into environmental issues and thinking about ways that you can make a difference.
There’s a lot that you can do. There’s even more that your company can do with your help
~ Surprising Green ~