Junk to gems to energy efficiency 

This post is devoted to some great green ideas I’ve come across recently, some of which can be useful to your office or home and others that provide some inspiration for just how easy it can be to go green if you just put your mind to it and get creative.

Granted the use of e-mail, various online file sharing services and electronic faxes have eliminated a great deal of the mail we receive, but junk mail is another story. It seems there are many days when the mailbox runneth over with catalogs and credit card offers.

Check out these stats from 41pounds.org, a nonprofit organization working to eliminate junk mail:
• The average adult receives 41 pounds of junk mail each year; 44% goes to the landfill unopened.
• On average, we receive 16 pieces of junk mail a week, compared to only 1.5 personal letters.
• The majority of household waste consists of junk mail.
• Junk mail inks have high concentrations of heavy metals, making the paper difficult to recycle.
• California’s state and local governments spend $500,000 a year collecting and disposing of AOL’s direct mail disks alone.
• Transporting junk mail costs $550 million a year.

Yikes! That’s a lot of junk mail. So, what can you do? Sites like 41pounds.org and YellowPagesGoesGreen.org will contact distributors on your behalf and stop the unwanted mail. 41pounds.org does charge a fee ($41 for a five-year period and does donate a portion of each new subscriber’s fee to an environmental charity of their choice).

And while you’re at it, check out Junk Mail Gems, which makes useful items from, you guessed it, junk mail. Everyone has some scratch paper next to the office phone, so why not store it in a box made from junk mail? Green Thumbs Up, Junk Mail Gems!

The city of Charleston, S.C., is assessing ways to reduce energy consumption in the city, not only making the city greener, but also creating green jobs. The city’s Boston-based consultant Serrafix recommends the city launch an organization that would give businesses and homeowners everything they need to know about energy-efficiency projects in one place.

According to this article in The Post & Courier: “From this single organization a building owner could arrange a home energy audit, find out what changes would produce the greatest savings, learn about rebates and government incentives, select an approved contractor, and have the work done with no up-front cost. The building owner would realize utility bill savings immediately, and pay off improvement costs over an extended period of time through a surcharge on their water bill.”

Charleston could become a national model for energy efficiency if it implements some of the recommended programs.

You know those entertainment books filled with retail and restaurants coupons? Well, San Diego now has something similar but with a green twist. The “Go Green Book” ($25) has coupons from eco-friendly retailers as well as tips and ideas for how to green your home, dine on organic food, get fit and exploring San Diego’s many parks and attractions. What a great way to save some green! (Employers, think about this as a good employee incentive gift.)

OK, let’s hear the cool green ideas you’ve found recently. Post a comment below.


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For Solvair, it’s about clean and green 
When the premise of your entire company is green, it’s not hard to take the office to the next level of environmental consciousness. That’s the case for Solvair Cleaning System, a green company based in Naperville, Ill. A new kind of clothing care technology, Solvair removes a wider range of dirt and stains than traditional dry cleaning and in an environmentally friendly method. Dry cleaners in about 20 cities in the United States and Canada are using the Solviar machines.

Here's how it works: Clothes are placed in the machine along with a biodegradable cleaning liquid to remove stains and dirt. Then the machine is pressurized and liquid carbon dioxide is added. That cold liquid carbon dioxide removes the cleaning solution from the clothes. The pressure is reduced, the carbon dioxide evaporates and the clothes are instantly dry. The cleaning liquid and carbon dioxide are purified and reused.


The result is less energy use and less waste. Because the Solvair cleaning process is as energy efficient as possible, the Solvair office is too.

“Our employees continuously strive to be as green as our actual business model,” says Rachel Rich, consumer communications and public relations manager. “We recycle everything – from paper to drink cans to paper cups. Whenever possible, our sales and marketing materials, as well as company business cards, are printed on recycled paper. Office lights automatically turn off when associates are not present.

“Whenever we are making business decisions, we strive to make the most eco-responsible decision since being green is what our business is all about,” Rich says.

One area in which Solvair is not only making an environmental impact, but also a financial one is through the use of hybrid vehicles for its sales team, which spends a great deal of time on the road.

“With the nature of their job responsibilities calling them from one cleaner to the next all across the U.S., sometimes seeing five to 10 cleaners a day in one city before moving to the next, the hybrids have been a great investment,” Rich notes.

Also, the dry cleaning companies Solvair works with are striving to be greener, which, in addition to using the Solvair machine, can include offering reusable garment bags and recycling hangers as well as using hybrid vehicles for their delivery services. Those cleaners also report decreased utility costs and less waste after making the switch to Solvair machines.

Even if your company’s core business service or product isn’t a green one, it’s not tough for offices to go green.

Rich offers these suggestions:
• Recycle everyday office items, such as paper, drink cans and ink cartridges. “Make small efforts and team up to do them. Alternate who takes the recycling each week if it has to be delivered, and if you live in a state like California that offers a recycling incentive, put the money into an office fund for going out to lunch.”

• Cut back on energy consumption. Rich says she opens her office window rather than using the air conditioning, plus she enjoys the fresh air.

“If you start small to make new, greener habits for yourself and your office, the changes in behavior will soon become natural, making the harder tasks seem within reach,” she says.

Keep up with Solvair’s latest green efforts by following the company on Twitter.


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Hiring green college grads  

With graduation season in full swing, millions of students will be heading to college this fall. Usually students pick a college based on the academic programs, tuition costs, location and sometimes the football team and the weekend (or weeknight) nightlife.

But more students may be adding another consideration to the mix: the school’s environmental conscience and carbon footprint. And that means a new generation of environmentally friendly workers.

This article posted on Mother Nature Network highlights the greenest colleges, which could give businesses a good pool of green workers.

According to the article: “Nearly 1,000 campuses are buying organic produce from two of the country’s biggest food suppliers, and many are taking away dining trays, saving a half-gallon of water and 30 percent food waste per student. The U.S. Green Building Council says 250 campus buildings have received its stamp of approval, a LEED certification, and another 1,600 are on the way. Wind and solar power generation is taking off; even high-tech projects like greywater reuse are finding a home on some campuses.”

Green campuses are located all over the United States, including North Carolina, Florida, Ohio and Colorado.

In California, green kudos went to the University of California at Santa Cruz for having the greenest cafeterias with its use of locally grown, organic food. Stanford University – praised for having the greenest alternative dining ware – is using utensils made of potato starch and composts the flatware along with salad bowls made from sugarcane.

With more students taking an interest in the environment, there’s sure to be a trickle down to companies that employ these students after graduation. So, give your new hires license to bring their green education to the office – you just might learn something.

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Get some green inspiration from this report published by the Environmental Defense Fund, “Innovations Review 2009: Green Advances for a New Economy.” The EDF evaluated more than 200 green business practices for environmental benefits, business benefits, replicability and innovativeness. The top 15 innovations were selected for their potential to improve the planet – and the bottom line.

Cisco Systems, Coca-Cola, Google, Wal-Mart and Verizon are some of the companies highlighted in the report. For example, Google has focused on making its data centers more energy efficient by putting the management of all data centers under the leadership of one executive while also urging employees to consider the full lifecycle costs of purchases.

According to the Uptime Institute, a nonprofit association of data center professionals, Google’s move toward efficiency has saved the company at least $500 million in capital expenditures and $17 million in annual electricity costs. Guess, that’s not too bad.

Read the full report online and get some cost-saving ideas for your business.


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Going green with Greenbaud 
Like many companies, Blackbaud Inc.’s focus on green started as a grassroots effort, spearheaded by just a couple of employees with a passion for the idea. Based in Charleston, S.C., Blackbaud is a software company that primarily develops programs for nonprofit organizations, but also environmental, health care and educational institutions among others. The company has offices around the world, including in San Diego.

Known as Greenbaud, the employee-led group has 10 team leaders, including Brian Cook, the chief green officer (great title, by the way). Greenbaud is not a formal part of the company and doesn’t have a budget, but employees do their best to share their green message. They meet during lunch and try to make meetings flexible so the commitment is manageable, Cook said.

Cook has been the “chief greenie” for about a year (another great title). With a background as a project manager, he was a likely candidate to lead the group. And Cook has an interest in being green and protecting the environment, although he wouldn’t describe himself as a “liberal, treehugger,” he said.

In fact, that’s part of the perception he’s trying to change among employees at Blackbaud. A major focus of Greenbaud is education and helping employees see how even small changes in their homes and offices can have a big impact on the environment – they don’t have to turn into treehuggers.

At home, Cook is recycling and amazed at how much less trash his family generates. He’s trying to remember to carry his reusable bags into the grocery store and is switching out light bulbs to a more energy-efficient variety.

While Cook has a personal interest in exploring rainwater technology, water management and electricity generation, such as solar power, he stresses people don’t have to take on big, expensive or time-consuming green projects.

“I’m about being smart and often being smart and green are the same thing,” Cook said. “It’s being smart about the way you do things.”


Some of Greenbaud’s accomplishments include:
• Eliminating Styrofoam cups from the break rooms. Plus, the sale of Greenbaud coffee mugs benefited local Toys for Tots and Good Cheer Fund charities.
• The company’s Educational Services department reduced the page count for workbooks its uses and ships by almost 40 percent.
• Setting up battery collection bins in break rooms.
• Hosting two cell phone recycling drives.
• Working to increase the average building temperate to 76 degrees. Blackbaud's total electrical bill can range from $40,000 to $52,000 (highest in the summer, of course), so the change in temperature saves the company about 10 percent in the peak cooling summer months.
• Hosting educational field trips, guest speakers and a Green Fair.
• Participating in a local Adopt A Beach program.
• Maintaining a Greenbaud Web site accessible to all employees via the company intranet.

Cook said he looks at this list of accomplishments when he gets discouraged about Greenbaud’s slow progress. Much of the team’s work is trial and error, but Cook is persistent and sticks to the mission – even when employees don’t show the level of interest he anticipated or management isn’t quite as supportive as he had hoped.

Cook offered the following tips for other offices on the path to green:
• Get some early wins and focus on what is feasible, such as recycling or eliminating the Styrofoam cups.
• Find a way to make it fun for people so you can get them to participate. Cook pointed to the beach cleanup, which also serves as a fun team building exercise and a good way to recruit new members to the Greenbaud team.
• Have some team leads to share the responsibility. Particularly if employees are volunteering their time, it’s important to spread the work around.
• Be creative in your approach.
• Find a sponsor at the executive level who can support your team’s efforts.

So, this month, a big Green Thumbs Up to Greenbaud and the employees who are making a difference one green step at a time.


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Free + Recyling = Great Idea! 
If you follow us on Twitter (@greenoffice), we posed a question related to our Earth Day blog post about starting small in your green office efforts: What are three green initiatives you can tackle that won’t cost the company any money?

One of the responses was freecycling in the office. That was a great suggestion that got me thinking about ways to engage your co-workers in freecyling.

• Have a book, CD or DVD exchange. Bring in the ones you no longer want and trade them for “new” items. You have new DVDs to watch this weekend and you haven’t spent any money or put trash in the landfill.

• OK, ladies, this one is for you. Just about all of us have been (or will be) invited to a baby shower for a co-worker. What if everyone brought gently used baby items instead of new baby blankets, sleepers and tiny T-shirts. It’s a great way to show the mom-to-be you care about saving the world for a new generation of little ones.

• Gather some co-workers and host a weekend yard sale. Donate the money you make to a local environmental cause or use it to launch some green initiatives in your office, such as giving each employee a reusable shopping bag or coffee mug.

• For the parents in your office, organize a toy swap. Even the most interesting toy loses its appeal after a few weeks, so trade toys with another parent for a month. The kids have something new to play with, you haven’t spent any money, and when the kids get their own toys back next month, it will be like they got something new.

• The same toy swap concept can be applied to adults. Who hasn’t, at some point, used a piece of exercise equipment as a clothing rack or wondered what to do with those roller blades buried in the back of the closet? Trade equipment with a co-worker. Tired of your treadmill? Trade it for a co-worker’s exercise bike – you’re literally freecycling.

Our society tends to have a “throw away and buy new” mentality. Freecycling is a terrific way to reuse perfectly good items while reducing our carbon footprint (just think about the packaging trash you didn’t have to throw away because you got something used instead of something new).

Please share your ideas for how to freecycle in the office. We’d love to share – or in this case, freecycle – more suggestions.

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I can’t remember the last time I used a phone book to look up a telephone number. Normally, I’m sitting at my computer, so I just pull up the Yellow Pages online. But recycling the phone books that come to your home or office takes extra work – you can’t just toss them in with the newspapers and office paper.

So, YellowPagesGoesGreen.org is a great way to eliminate the waste generated by the phone book. A college student in Missouri who was overwhelmed by the number of phone books delivered to his house started this movement. It’s a similar concept to the National No-Call Registry, allowing consumers to opt out of receiving a thick paper phone book.

According to the Web site, more than 500 million phone directories are printed each year. To produce those books, 19 million trees need to be harvested, 1.6 billion pounds of paper are used and 268,000 cubic yards of landfill are taken up with phone books.

Simply sign up (for free) at YellowPagesGoesGreen.org and the organization will contact the local telephone company with your name and address and tell them to stop delivering a phone book to you.


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