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Editorial: Take Earth Day challenge with these 10 steps

Sometimes an issue can seem so complex and all encompassing that people give up trying to do anything about it.

“It’s such a huge topic,” the reasoning goes, what I do doesn’t really matter.”

But it can matter, especially when enough hands join together in a common, united cause.

Take Earth Day, for example. Helping the environment, while grand in scope, is something everyday citizens and businesses can do by focusing on simple, doable tasks.

In honor of Earth Day, April 22, a Minnesota property management company, Cities Management and an environmental think-tank, Dovetail Partners, are encouraging all businesses to take the “Earth Day Challenge” by pledging to do at least one of the following 10 simple steps:

  1. Plant some green. Something as simple as plants in the office can add color and life to a room, while also cleaning the air. Green options include bamboo and areca palms, the Boston fern or peace lilies. Spider plants are the best indoor air cleaners, and azaleas can remove chemicals and perfume from the office. A note of caution: over-watering any plant can cause mold growth and create an unhealthy situation, so hydrate plants with care.
  2. Set up a recycling center. Convenience is the key to get employees recycling. Place paper recycling receptacles at every desk, as well as central recycling cans in the copy and mailroom. Provide bottle, can and plastic recycling near vending machines and in lunchrooms. Recycling printer cartridges is often free, and recycled replacement cartridges are often less expensive than buying new.
  3. Do more virtual travel. Make greater use of teleconferencing technologies in order to reduce long distance travel. Whether driving or flying, trips of just a few hundred miles can result in hundreds of pounds of emissions.
  4. Stop phantom power loss. Computers left on overnight can eat up to $100/year in wasted electricity. Use power strips, so employees easily turn off all equipment, including idle chargers for cell phones and laptops, with one button at the end of the workday. Anything with a power light on is using energy when it is not being used.
  5. Choose green office supplies. Look for materials that can be repurposed or that have recycled content, including office supplies or break room items. Replace any Styrofoam or plastic cups in the break room with paper or with reusable glass mugs. Choose rechargeable batteries and look for products that are made without polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics.
  6. Go “green” when you clean. Cleaning products can give office workers a big headache (or worse problems for those with chemical sensitivities). There are “spit and shine” alternatives widely available from cleaning companies that specialize in environmentally safe cleaning. Copy, fax and imaging machines can also impact indoor air quality. A strategically placed air purifier in the copy room can help staff breathe easier.
  7. Make conservation a priority. On average, one office employee uses $300 worth of office supplies annually. You can reduce environmental impacts and costs through the use of duplexing, centralized office supply storage, and, most importantly, only buying what you know you will use.
  8. Use body language. Reduce energy use and water consumption by installing motion activated technologies to control lights and water faucets.
  9. Join the fun. Look for volunteer opportunities where employees can join with others to benefit the environment. Many communities plan events around Earth Day, and if you can’t find one to join, start your own annual Earth Day celebration.
  10. Assign a “green guru.” Give an employee responsibility for conducting quarterly “green audits,” including reviewing your energy costs (and hopefully celebrating your energy savings after implementing some of these tips). Ask your Green Guru (or a green committee) to research and recommend new initiatives for your workplace, whether it’s joining a car pooling program or recommending energy efficient office equipment. Encourage familiarity with life cycle assessment tools and life-cycle thinking that can inform environmental decisions. — Alexandria Echo Press