Ever get gift that’s too nice just to toss in the trash, but not something you would ever use? Most people have, that’s why regifting is so popular. This holiday season be prepared to receive plenty of regift-worthy gifts. AZNow.Biz created an infographic to let you know that you’re not alone when you regift that fruitcake or hideous sweater from grandma. What we found is quite interesting, including what region and what age group regift the most.
A couple of months back I got on a call with members of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter to discuss ways the company I work for, Jawa, could do its part to go green. We are fortunate here at Jawa, getting meals catered daily and unlimited snacks (yes, I’ve gained weight since working here); but with that fully-stocked kitchen comes trash cans full of otherwise recyclable waste including plastic bottles, aluminum cans, candy wrappers and cardboard. All this, in the trash. Cringe worthy, I know. Clearly an eco-intervention was in order, hence my call to the Sierra Club.
For those not familiar with Arizona’s Sierra Club, it is a grassroots environmental organization that strives to protect the environment, promote renewable energy and educate people about sustainability. During our phone call it struck me how the simplest change in action by a company’s staff can have a tangible effect on the environment and, with a little effort on everyone’s part, how recyclable an office really is.
This brings me to Jawa’s first order of business: implementing a recycling program and encouraging employee participation. The latter had me nervous. Would employees feel forced? Would they take the time to separate paper from plastic? Would they make the effort to break down bulky items? I had a few days to prepare my “the company is going to be recycling and it requires active participation from the staff” speech while we waited on paper and plastic bins, courtesy of Arizona Center for the Blind’s Recycling Program.
The bins arrived within a few days as did the rundown of what in our office could be recycled (which, according to the Center for the Blind’s recycling rep, was about 97% of our office). From cardboard boxes to plastic cutlery; plastic food containers to Styrofoam cups; scrap paper to paper plates, just about everything could be recycled!
Once the bins were in place it was time to let the staff know. I’ll spare you the details of my speech, but I think I received something close to a standing ovation (this could be due to the fact that most people were standing already, but who’s counting).
Within hours of the recycling announcement, most bins were full and I was bombarded with suggestions from employees on how else we could make a difference, like creating custom JAWA reusable water bottles to eliminate the need for bottled water, putting signs next to electronics reminding people to turn them off when not in use and starting a carpooling program.
In the weeks since the recycling started we’ve made headway with more green initiatives including providing employees with ceramic coffee mugs to replace the Styrofoam cups (it’s working too—I haven’t seen a Styrofoam cup in hand in days). We’ve also started using biodegradable plates and silverware made out of natural fibers that breakdown easily in water or a landfill. A few days ago the site of someone scraping food off their plate in order to recycle it properly brought tears to my eyes. But I digress.
It’s amazing how the opportunities for a company to reduce its carbon footprint are endless and with resources like the Sierra Club, there will always be direction on how to do so. For Jawa, it will be an ongoing process as we continue to implement eco-friendly changes around the office; making it easy as possible on employees. Do I want to get rid of our plastic water bottles in favor of reusable ones? Yes. I am afraid of employee backlash when I tell people they have to part with their bottled Arrowhead? Yes. I’m confident we’ll get there though, one step at a time.
Each month Jawa chooses a local charity to donate to as part of our employee-driven philanthropy program “Jawa Gives”. This July the Sierra Club, nominated by an employee who’s been active with the organization for 15 years and shares its passion for environmental sustainability, was chosen to receive a $5,000 donation. The donation is Jawa’s way of saying thanks for the Sierra Club’s impressive efforts to keep Arizona’s environment healthy and also represents a commitment from Jawa to continue with green initiatives.
Last Wednesday the entire Jawa staff gathered as members from Arizona’s Sierra Club were presented with our check and then took a few moments to speak about upcoming hikes, service outings and workshops offered. Shortly after their departure, my inbox was filled with suggestions on how else Jawa could help with the Sierra Club’s mission. My favorite? Starting a hiking club that picks up trash along the way, and then sorts through it to see what’s recyclable.
Adolph Coors of Coors Brewing Co. famously said, “All waste is lost profit.” I doubt he said that solely because he cared for the environment, but it’s the truth: Waste is a waste. You pay for it on both ends — to get it and to get rid of it.
Not many of us think of our waste this way. We think of it as something of little value that we throw away and forget about. Yet what we are throwing away could be an opportunity to save or even make money.
In the market today, there is a lot of buzz about “zero waste.” I have been involved in a number of these programs and the definition itself has many believing that “zero waste” means you can never get rid of anything. Not so, zero waste is about utilization of 100 percent of what you don’t want by recycling, reusing or diverting it from landfill (which can both make and save you money).
My grandmother stood by the philosophy that “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Zero waste epitomizes that. Find out what excess materials you have and get someone to take it off your hands. This isn’t selling ice to Eskimos; there are many businesses across the U.S. scrambling to get access to the kind of resources you are getting rid of — be it cardboard, paper, pallets, plastic, electronics, chemicals, metal, wood, textiles, stone or just about any other byproduct. It is likely that someone out there somewhere wants what you have.
So the questions are: What do you have? How do you find someone that wants it? And what’s it worth to you to divert it instead of trashing it?
First, one of the best ways to learn what it is you’re wasting is to get up close and personal with your waste: Climb into your dumpster and see what you have. But don’t go it alone — take your staff along with you. Companies are using dumpster dives as an annual exercise in which staff sift through the company garbage to understand what and how much they are wasting. It is a great way to access risk, understand your impact, educate about lost profit and find financial opportunities.
In an office setting, you will likely find that most of your waste is paper. Actually, about 72 percent of it is, according to the New York State Department of Labor. The average office prints 31 pages per employee per day, a 2010 study by Ipsos and Lexmark found in the U.K.
In your dumpster dive, you might be stunned by the amount of paper and realize that much of it was printed frivolously. In that case, recycling what you produce might be a good way to reduce your impact on the environment. Though, in some cases, a recycling company might actually charge you to recycle it. There is a silver lining to this problem: Show your employees — now huddled around your dumpster —how much waste is created and empower your people to use less. Printing less paper and consuming less ink means more money in your company coffer and a smaller dumpster out back.
A great example of this is from a company here in Phoenix. Park Howell from Park&Co. has recently created an initiative in which each employee receives a ream of paper to use for printing purposes for the year. When the paper is gone, the employee must campaign and make a case to the office as to why they should receive another package of paper. In your office, one ream per year might not be possible so figure out an appropriate ration. I can guarantee over at Park&Co. this disruptive change is making employees more aware of their impact and waste and the company is going to save some money.
If you are not in a conventional office setting (maybe you are a manufacturer, warehouse or a restaurant), you might find a diverse blend of waste that you produce when performing a dumpster dive. Categorize the resources and call local recycling, asset recovery companies or use an online resource like RecycleMatch, which is an online marketplace that connects companies to purchase/swap resources that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill. In these instances, not only do you have the opportunity to recover money from a waste stream, you will likely reduce your waste hauling costs as well by downsizing your dumpsters or pickup frequency.
Take it from my grandmother: Get out your pirate eye patch and hat, grab your staff and head out to your dumpster for a treasure hunt.
It’s time to swap out your old clunker computer for a fast, new one. You discuss your needs with your systems manager, she buys a new machine and makes the swap. Where does that old computer go after it leaves your desk? Do you need to care?
Electronics waste, or e-waste, is getting increasing attention from environmentalists and policy makers around the world. There are a number of reasons why. One is that computers and IT equipment contain heavy metals, in particular lead, which could pose a health concern. While you’re using the computer these metals are safely stuck inside the machine. The concern is that after the computer is disposed of those metals could get out and cause harm.
Policy makers around the world are developing regulations that aim to make sure electronics are designed more safely and are collected and recycled at the end of their usefulness. Europe has a region-wide mandate for both design and recycling of electronics. While there is no federal e-waste recycling law in the U.S., 19 states have mandated systems to collect and recycle electronics. Arizona has yet to enact e-waste legislation, but it would not be surprising if a national law is developed in the next few years.
From the standpoint of complying with current laws, businesses in Arizona need to be aware of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules relating to cathode ray tubes (CRTs). Due to their lead content, CRTs are considered hazardous waste, and above a certain threshold there are regulations on how they are to be disposed. There also are rules relating to exporting used CRTs for reuse or recycling.
The notion of corporate social responsibility, increasingly part of business strategy, calls on businesses to move beyond environmental compliance to tackle proactive action so as to “do the right thing.” But what is the right thing to do with e-waste?
It turns out that manufacturing computers and other IT hardware is surprisingly environmentally intensive. For example, if you replace your office desktop computer every four years, the energy to make the computer is about equal to the amount you used while it was plugged into to wall. This means that extending the lifespan of computers can have a big effect on reducing energy use and other environmental impacts by cutting down the number of new computers purchased. Extending lifespan also reduces the amount of e-waste generated.
One way to extend lifespan is to use computers longer. Obviously it doesn’t make sense to sacrifice productivity with sluggish computers, but on the other hand, a new computer doesn’t always mean better job performance. Upgrading CPUs (central processing units) and memory are strategies to squeeze more performance. It’s also important to keep in mind the labor and hassle associated with swapping machines.
Even if a machine is deemed too slow to be appropriate for your firm, there are others who might be able to use it. There are organizations such as AZStrUT, a partnership between local schools and businesses, that accept donations of used computers, and refurbish and provide them to schools and students.
The export of e-waste abroad is an important issue to be aware of, as well. A lot of e-waste in the U.S. gets shipped to China, India and other countries for reuse, which is good. But the e-waste also ends up in backyard recycling, which is bad. In backyard recycling, primitive methods are used to recover materials, processes that cause significant harm to the environment. For example, to recover copper from wires, wires are pulled and piled up and then set on fire to remove the insulation. The emissions from this type of fire are very harmful. While the export of used equipment has the benefit of making IT more accessible abroad, it’s important to export usable equipment instead of junk intended for recycling. Whether your firm sells a computer for reuse, contracts recycling or throws it in the trash, data security also is something to be careful about. Deleting a file doesn’t mean the data is completely wiped from a hard drive; there are tricks people can play to recover the file. You could be shipping your firm’s confidential data right out in the bin. There are special software tools that rewrite over hard drives, so as to destroy all previous stored data.
To sum up, my advice on managing IT hardware in a greener way is:
- Extract maximum use from the equipment while it’s in the firm.
- Donate or sell usable old machines when possible.
- Selling abroad is fine, but make sure it’s usable.
- Contract recycling for junk equipment.
- Finally, before letting a machine leave a business, make sure data is properly erased or that the contractor will do this.