By Landon Schenck
April 22 is Earth Day, and for those of us in municipal parks and recreation management, it is the greatest day of the entire year. It is one day out of 365 that gives every citizen a reason to pause and consider the impact their personal carbon footprint has on their community, and the world. If your parks and recreation department is like many across the country, you offer citizens and businesses educational information and local resources throughout the year to leverage sustainable solutions and minimize waste. Still, even those of us closest to the need for environmental awareness can do more to protect our natural resources and make more significant strides toward sustainable operations.
In honor of Earth Day, local government parks and recreation departments ready to challenge themselves to take their commitment to green business to the next level should consider adopting small changes to their daily office routines, which could have a significant impact on minimizing paper, plastic and energy waste. To help you get started, we have compiled a variety of small suggestions that could make a big difference in your community.
Tips for Reducing Paper Waste
Only 54.4 percent of paper products are recycled in the United States.
- Make It Easy and Convenient to Recycle: Ensure each employee has both a trash bin and a recycling bin. Convenient access to recycling bins will help enable office paper to stay out of local landfills.
- Switch to Post-Consumer Waste Paper, Paper Products and Packaging: If you must print, print responsibly by using eco-friendly paper. The most green-conscious choice is post-consumer waste (PCW) paper. PCW paper is made entirely from recycled paper and uses 45 percent less energy and creates 50 percent less waste than traditional papermaking processes.
- Create a Culture of Digital File Sharing: Encourage employees to think before they print to minimize paper waste. Create an office culture that rewards eco-conscious decisions. Share meeting agendas and minutes and route documents for review electronically. Once employees realize that they can just as easily (or more easily) access the documents they need electronically rather than stuffed in file folders, their overall printing usage will start to decrease exponentially.
- Convert Your Printed Community Guide to Digital: If your parks and rec department is still exclusively providing your annual community guide or seasonal class registration booklet in hard copy, it is time to go digital. Not only will doing so reduce your printing and mailing costs, but it will also give today's digitally-minded citizens more convenient access to information about your local parks and rec activities. It will also help them to get registered and remit payment faster.
- Choose Eco-Friendly Printer Settings: We know you are always going to have that one employee who just won't go digital. Help them minimize their paper waste by changing your office printer's default settings to print two-sided and black and white, rather than one-sided and full color.
How to Make the Switch to Green Office Supplies and Equipment
To make one ton of paper towels, 17 trees and 20,000 gallons of water are polluted.
- Use Biodegradable Cleaning Products: Paper is not the only threat to your local environment. The cleaning supplies you use in your office, parks and community center could be just as dangerous to landfills and water systems. Stock biodegradable cleaners free of harsh toxins and chemicals.
- Choose Air Dryers Over Paper Towels: Eliminate paper towels in office and park restrooms and install automatic warm air hand dryers instead. Add hand sanitizer dispensers outside of restrooms to make germ-conscious employees and citizens feel comfortable.
- Encourage Employees to Choose Reusable Water Cups: Encourage employees to bring refillable and reusable water bottles to the office that can be refilled using the office water cooler, as an alternative to disposable water bottles.
- Replace Lights with CFLs or LEDs: Compact-fluorescent (CFL) and LED lights last longer than traditional incandescent lights, and they use less energy. While the cost of a single CFL or LED bulb is higher than a single incandescent light, since they do not need to be replaced as frequently, your department will save money over time.
- Recycle Outdated Electronics: Make sure electronics that are no longer in use are properly recycled. According to the Electronics Take Back Coalition, more than 2 million tons of e-waste is disposed of every year in the United States, and only 27 percent is recycled, Non-recycled e-waste often ends up in municipal landfills.
- Eliminate Plastic Utensils: Ask employees to bring reusable utensils to the office, rather than making disposable plastic utensils available. Encourage employees to bring their own coffee mugs, or keep washable ceramic mugs stocked to eliminate the use of disposable coffee cups.
How to Conserve Energy
The United States has 3,091 active landfills and more than 10,000 old municipal landfills, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, all of which create hazardous air emissions (methane) and eventually leach into groundwater.
- Keep Lights Off in Empty Conference Rooms: Place conference room lights on a timer, or post a reminder near the door to turn off the lights when a meeting ends and there's no one left in the room.
- Chose Energy-Efficient Office Equipment: The next time your office printer, fax machine or computer monitor needs to be replaced, select an energy-efficient model. To help guide your decisions, look for products with an Energy Star rating.
- Conserve Computer Energy: Computers set in sleep mode are still using energy. Leaving a computer on overnight for a year creates enough CO2 to fill a double-decker bus. Remind employees to power down their computers when they leave at the end of the day, rather than just allowing them to go to sleep. Remind them, too, that screen savers do not save energy.
- Encourage Green Commuting: Encourage your staff and citizens to reduce their carbon footprints by making conscientious commuting decisions. Encourage the use of local public transportation, ride sharing, carpooling or biking, and consider incentivizing green commuting employees by offering eco-friendly commuters a chance to win a prize at the end of the year or by publicly recognizing their efforts.
- Conserve Water: To mitigate water waste, ensure leaking faucets in offices and community facilities are fixed promptly and consider installing motion sensor faucets.
If these suggestions seem overwhelming, set a department goal to implement just one green solution between today and next Earth Day. We guarantee you and your staff will not only experience efficiencies from operations that produce less waste, but you will also feel even better about the role your department plays in your community's environmental advocacy.
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