Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Reporter's Notebook

-Megan Patrick-Vaughn can be reached at


Happy Earth Day, everyone.
On a drive back from a visit to the Port of Camas-Washougal this afternoon, I was pondering how Earth Day has changed since I was a child. Growing up, my mom would dress me up in an ‘Every Day is Earth Day’ T-shirt embroidered with endangered, albeit happy looking, animals and send me off to school, where we would inevitably plant a seed or learn about owl digestion.
That was pretty much the extent of it.
Today, however, green is a movement, despite the trendiness of it all. We hear and speak words like “conservation,” “sustainable” and “renewable” daily in the business community. The cynical view is that promoting green is a way for businesses to capitalize on the fad to make a buck. But I think being green and reducing our impact on the earth personally and professionally is a good way to save money and the environment.
Below are a few tips to greenify your workplace, but it doesn’t include my favorite sustainable tip – doing business in your community with locally owned businesses.
• Place a recycling center in a prominent location in your office. If a complete set of recycling containers would take too much room, put a waste paper recycling box near the printers and a general recycling box in the staffroom. Empty the recycling boxes regularly.
• Use "real" mugs, glasses, dishes and cutlery instead of disposables. It takes just seconds to wash a mug.
• Use coffee filters that are made of recycled paper, or even better, get a coffee maker that doesn't require paper filters. Compost coffee grounds if possible.
• Make sure your office has at least one large plant in it. They're not only green and pretty but great for recycling the air.
• Make sure that your office is being cleaned using green products that are not damaging the environment.
• Use email rather than faxing whenever possible to cut down on paper waste.
• Print one copy of memos and other inter-office documents and circulate them rather than printing off a separate copy for everyone.
• Use whiteboards and/or overhead projectors to display meeting agendas rather than printing and distributing them.
• Get and use a battery charger - using rechargeable batteries in equipment will save money over time and help reduce the amount of toxic materials sent to landfills.
• Set a company policy to shut off all lights, machinery and equipment when not in use, particularly on nights and weekends. Much equipment is idle and unused for up to 90 percent of its life. Simple inexpensive timer devices can be used to accomplish this task easily.
• Install low-cost energy monitors that can provide an accurate display of the cost and energy use of individual equipment. Research shows that this step alone can lead to energy savings of up to 40 percent. See, for example,
• Lighting can account for up to 40 percent of energy costs for many businesses. Install motion-sensor and/or automatic dimming switches for all lighting to be certain that you are not inefficiently lighting areas when no one is present.
• Upgrade the energy efficiency of your older equipment. Modern equipment is much more energy efficient, often with less than half the energy use of older equipment. High-efficiency upgrades for motors and drives for equipment, air compressors, lighting, and other energy-consuming equipment generally have rapid payback periods, often less than one year.
• Always buy Energy Star qualified products for your business.
• Travel and transportation costs have been rising rapidly as fuel costs increase. Efficiency in transportation is often an effective way to lower your energy costs. If your business has company-owned cars or a fleet of vehicles, consider purchasing vehicles that are hybrid whenever possible. Check for the latest information on hybrid vehicles.
• If your company ships products or is a truck or rail company that delivers these products, look into the EPA SmartWay Transport Partnership, a collaboration between EPA and the freight industry to increase energy efficiency while significantly reducing greenhouse gases and air pollution. See
• Develop a company-wide policy to eliminate unnecessary idling of truck engines. One way is by installing auxiliary power units that will heat or cool the truck when stopped, allowing the main engine to be shut down.
• Computers and their peripherals consume a surprising amount of power. Consider using laptops as desktop computers. Laptops are far more energy efficient and can consume up to 80 percent less energy than equivalent desktops. Inkjet printers use 75 percent to 90 percent less energy than laser printers.
• Turn your computers off when they are not needed. It does not harm modern computers to be turned on and off repeatedly. Enable power management modes on your computer. These features allow computers to go into lower-energy modes after a certain amount of time. Sleep modes can save up to 90 percent of the energy consumed.
• Examine all waste generated by your business and look for ways any current waste products can be reused on-site or by other businesses,eliminated or radically reduced. Brainstorm with the employees who are involved in the generation of the waste for fresh ideas. Look for ways to alter your waste generation so that the waste produced can be reused.
• Consider developing a comprehensive green business plan for your business that encompasses energy and water efficiency, waste reduction, transportation, computing and equipment efficiency, building design and the design and actual operation of your business.


Anonymous said...

Don't forget that using remanufactured toner cartridges is a great way to be green and save money.

Western Construction Services said...

Vancouver Waste Connections has a cardboard plus recycling program; if you already have their cardboard recycling it's free to upgrade. They also have a new compost program that's farely inexpensive. Both programs save on the cost of garbage and help the landfill. I can say it's significantly reduced the amount of garbage from our office. H&H Wood Recyclers is also a great place to take wood/yard debris.

Rob said...

Good Earth Day article, Megan, lots of good suggestions! I'd add one more: trade locally whenever possible, with businesses you know and trust, businesses you want to continue to be your neighbors. Let's help sustain each other in our efforts to be sustainable.