A mom at my daughter's school invited me to her office this month. I was her New Year's gift to the staff - to start off the decade by committing themselves to going green. Pretty cool boss! I spend more time greening people's homes (especially nurseries) than offices so I was thrilled for the opportunity.
My approach was two-fold. I met with the office manager first to go over everything from supplies to ventilation to cleaning products to the containers they microwave their lunches in. Then I sat down with the staff to explain why I was there and the steps that they could take to help green their office, and their lives.
There was so much to talk about and good discussion brought on by great questions from the staff. The following are five of the most important to-dos I touched on for the staff.
1. Bring your lunch
Pack good food (organic/local is preferable) in reusable containers (glass and stainless steel are preferable). Beyond contributing so much less to the already overwhelmed landfills, you will save money and your health. Don't forget to pack a (stainless steel) bottle of water, real utensils, and a cloth napkin. If you prefer to eat take out, try bringing reusable containers with you for your over-the-counter soup or salad or more.
2. Get involved
If your management isn't interested in making overall changes, you can still bring in a green cleaner for your desk, or put a bottle of eco dish detergent in the break room. Bring your own plate/cup/mug/bowl/utensils and store them in a desk drawer. People will notice and it might start a (good) trend. Start a green committee and together you can all advocate for going greener by doing gestures that will get people talking. Start a compost. If your company travels a lot, suggest people use a hybrid car service to get to the airport. Find an electronic waste recycling event and help facilitate the office to bring old stuff there. Put signs on office doors and bathroom doors reminding people to recycle and to shut off their computers at the end of the day.
3. Wash more, dry clean less
What are you wearing? Perc (perchloroethylene) the main chemical in dry cleaning solvent is an EPA classified hazardous chemical, has been linked to cancer in lab animals and neurological issues and the EPA is considering phasing it out altogether (and wants to change its classification to "likely human carcinogen" from its current status as "possible" or "probable" carcinogen). You know the smell. The chemical gets trapped in the plastic bags. Then we put those trapped items in our closets, close the door, and sleep next to the closet with the windows shut all night long. Bad idea. If you have perc-cleaned clothes you want to take the plastic out and air it out for several hours to let the chemicals evaporate some. Better alternatives to conventional dry cleaning include CO2 cleaning, wet cleaning or washing it yourself. This works, even for wool. Speaking of wool, avoid mothballs. The vapors are carcinogenic and if a kid swallows one, it can kill them. Use things like lavender, cedar, and temperature (stick sweaters in your freezer) for moths.
How do you get to work in the morning? Public transportation is preferable to driving. Carpooling can be a good option where public transportation is unavailable. Walking or biking are obviously the best options, as is telecommuting. (You'll save money on gas, too.)
5. Open Windows
Studies show indoor air to be worse than outdoor air. Ventilation is key, especially if you're sitting near a Xerox machine. And put a plant on your desk - some are known to act as air filters (aloe vera/ficus for formaldehyde; English ivy for benzene; spider plant for carbon monoxide, and several others).
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