The Big Turnoff

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Earth Day is coming up. What do you get a beloved planet that has everything? And too much of some things, such as waste and pollution? The best way to show Mother Earth that you love her is to make sure your workplace is taking concrete steps toward keeping her alive. That’s called “practicing sustainability.”

In addition to being a good steward of your planetary home, you can also help your company’s bottom line by reducing waste and expense.

The FruitGuys consulted two sustainability experts for a list of simple yet potent steps anyone can take, from rank and file to c-suite.

Reduce Electricity Use
Auriane Koster, PhD, is a sustainability manager with Pierce Energy Planning, a consulting firm based in Arizona. She works with three Arizona schools to reduce their energy consumption. Dr. Koster says that anyone in an office, institution, or at home can reduce electricity use with these four simple steps:

1. Adjust your thermostat
Keeping your office or home a few degrees warmer in the summer and cooler in the winter won’t be that noticeable, but it translates into a lot of power savings.

2. Shut down your computer at night
While computers occasionally need to be updated at night, this can be done one night a week or even once a month. Microsoft schedules their Windows updates on “Patch Tuesday”—the second, and sometimes fourth, Tuesday of each month—and this is a good standard for anyone. Unless it is a Patch Tuesday, you should completely shut down your desktop computer or laptop—not just close the lid or turn off the monitor. This will have the additional advantage of regularly rebooting your computer, which, as any computer tech will tell you, can solve 90 percent of basic computer problems.

3. Kill vampires with power strips
“Vampires” is the colorful name for the many devices that use electricity even when they’re “off.” You can often recognize them by the small colored lights they display, which may be noticeable only when overhead lights are turned off. These vampires suck electricity instead of blood, and they’re surprisingly thirsty. According to Dr. Koster, the EPA estimates that most of these devices still use 10 to 15 percent of their full energy demand when “off.” A typical television, for example, uses 77 watts of electricity while on, but still draws 6.8 watts when it isn’t.

Laptops, for instance, will keep trying to charge their batteries if they’re plugged in. Koster recommends unplugging them unless you are actively charging. Put all the appliances in each room on a power strip, and press the “off” button on the power strip when you’re not using them.

4. Green your office coffee
Some coffee machines keep a burner on after brewing each pot; this burns the coffee and also wastes power. Koster recommends turning off the machine as soon as the coffee is brewed. Better yet, buy coffee machines that brew directly into an insulated carafe instead of a glass pot; these will keep your coffee hot as well as delicious. Or simply make smaller pots more often and drink them right up.

You’re the Boss
Managers and executives can make even larger-scale changes for greater sustainability. Osvaldo “Ozzie” Gonzalez, a LEED certification and sustainability expert at Portland, Oregon’s CH2M Hill, a global engineering and design company, says scouting business locations and vendors for sustainability benefits is a good place to start. Here are three things to keep in mind:

1. Location, location, location
If you’re scouting a site for an office, consider areas near public transportation that have amenities within walking distance. That kind of location “is going to have a big impact on the environmental footprint of your overall operation,” Gonzalez says. “If you’re a tenant, look for that building that’s already designed to be energy efficient, with good windows and good insulation.”

He notes that commercial interior leases can also have LEED certification, not just the buildings themselves. (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, is a widely accepted certification for high-performance green buildings.)

2. Vote with your dollars
Gonzalez recommends that managers review their vendors. Buy supplies such as staplers and paper from vendors providing sustainable products. Use a bike delivery service for nearby deliveries. “The money you spend as a manager becomes a bargaining chip for making environmentally preferable decisions. Every purchase you make is supporting something, so being aware of it is just part of the deal.”

3. Recycle e-waste
Expand your traditional recycling program to include “e-waste,” or used technology, from old computers and phones to spent toner cartridges, batteries, and mini-fluorescent lightbulbs. Some of these products can still have a useful life for a worthy (but underfunded) charity such as an arts organization or school.

Lights out
Dr. Koster adds that managers can take individual actions that contribute to sustainability, such as shutting down your computer every night except for Patch Tuesday, and turn them into office-wide policies and guidelines.

“People think of behavior change as this scary, daunting thing,” Dr. Koster says. “But these easier changes—being more green, turning off your computer, turning off your lights when you leave your office space—these are quite simple and quite easy, yet they do create significant gains.”

Mark Saltveit writes about science and health, Taoismpalindromes, and football. He’s the author of The Tao of Chip Kelly and Controlled Chaos: Chip Kelly’s Football Revolution.

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