Friday, March 26, 2010

Small change adds up to big savings when "going green"


This morning, the Associated Press reported that the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay has found a simple way to cut costs and "go green". By simply changing the school's default e-mail font from Arial to Century Gothic, printing e-mails will now use 30 percent less ink. The article also states that with the price of printer ink estimated at $10,000 per gallon (yes, that's ten thousand dollars... no typos here), 30 percent savings will really start to add up.

We live in a world where "going green" is getting trendy, which makes many people ignore the problem, labeling recycling and eco-friendly policies as the work of "tree-huggers". Skeptics of global warming and other ecological problems scoff at the idea that doing little things can make a difference, and many people believe that doing their part doesn't make a real impact.

I argue quite the contrary. I believe that it is in the little things that we have the opportunity to make the greatest impact. Not everyone can afford to buy all eco-friendly products all the time, but we can all afford to recycle the packaging of whatever products we do buy. Not everyone can carpool to work or take public transportation, but we can all walk or bike more on the weekends, using our cars less. Not everyone can afford energy-efficient appliances, but we can all turn off lights and faucets and unplug electronics and appliances when they aren't in use. Small change adds up to big change, when everyone is contributing in some way.

Computers and printing are one of the biggest sources of waste in my daily life. My work computer remains on (albeit frequently "asleep") 24 hours a day, seven days a week because my employer requires it. Colleagues print multiple copies of e-mails for filing that never happens, wasting reams of paper and gallons of ink. So while I understand that there are people who will laugh and shake their heads at the idea that changing e-mail's default font is good for the earth, I'm not one of them. If changing the font saves the University of Wisconsin 30 percent more ink, it's also saving them from buying (and throwing away) more packaging and it's saving them money. If the footer of my e-mails (reading please consider the environment before printing this e-mail) prevents even one person from needlessly printing a few pages, I will have made a small difference.

This is not to say that big change isn't needed to combat our environmental problems, but in the absence of a worldwide rallying cry in favor of eco-friendly measures, the little things will have to count. As a frequently cited quotation states, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." —Margaret Mead

So change your e-mail fonts. Don't print out unnecessary e-mails. Turn off your computer when you're done for the day. Buy products with less packaging and recycle the leftovers. Ride a bike. Buy local. Do the things you can that will make an impact without convincing yourself that doing so little will never add up to much. The world (and your wallet) will thank you.

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