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How to Save the Planet on Your Lunch Break

With Earth Day being celebrated on the 22nd of this month, I thought I’d put a nice green spin on the “tips” part of our “tech tips.” Many of the suggestions here aren’t new, but if you put them all together, you can make a pretty decent change in just an hour. Why not make it an organization-wide initiative this Earth Day?

As a nonprofit professional, you know that doing business requires the use of energy, water, and other natural resources. Time has also become a scarce resource in pretty much every nonprofit organization. With meetings to attend, goals to reach, and phone calls to return (not to mention the inevitable paperwork that follows each), the need to take action grows, while the time to do so shrinks.

So, how can you improve the state of the planet without giving up your job and becoming a full-time (and probably unpaid) environmental lobbyist? Here's a step-by-step plan to make a difference over the course of one lunch hour:

12:00 noon:
Open the lunch you've brought from home. Congratulate yourself for packing each item in a washable, reusable container. Marvel at your ability to pack an entire meal-to-go without using one plastic baggie or piece of cling wrap.

Point your web browser to www.directmail.com/directory/mail_preference and get your address removed from thousands of mailing lists designed to send you junk mail you didn't want in the first place. According to Oberlin College (Ohio), for each 100,000 people who stop their junk mail, 150,000 trees could be saved annually. They also note that the average American spends eight years of her life opening junk mail, so this step also gives you more time.

Place a folder of blank labels in one of your desk drawers. You can place these over existing addresses on manila envelopes and use them repeatedly. They might not look great, but it doesn't really matter for in-house correspondence. You can also turn manila file folders inside out for reuse, rather than throwing them away. Get started right now on any you might have tossed aside or put in the trash already this morning.

Now that you've finished your homemade lunch, it's time to wander down the hall. Don't forget to turn out the light when you leave. Many people believe that turning the light back on uses more energy than letting it burn, when in fact, that difference is made up in one second! If your organization has a community kitchen area, fill a pitcher with water and place it in the fridge. The Academy of Natural Sciences estimates that two gallons of water are wasted each time a person lets the water run to get cold.

Rummage around in the stock room, mail center, or wherever empty boxes are found and neatly tape on labels designating one for used magazines and one for scratch copier paper. One ton of the coated virgin paper used for magazines uses 15 trees, according to the Oberlin recycling facts web page. Meanwhile, battered women's shelters eagerly accept donations of outdated magazines for their clients to enjoy. A single ream of copy paper uses 6% of a tree, so by simply printing rough drafts or in-house memos on the back of paper that would otherwise be discarded, a single office can save hundreds of trees every year. If you're using new paper for this type of work, print on both sides.

Returning to your office, you should find that your light bulb has cooled enough to touch. Replace your incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents. The Environmental Protection Agency states that these bulbs use 40% less energy than their counterparts.

Just enough time to make a quick list of some other useful tips that you can pass on to whomever handles the administrative (ordering, inventory, etc.) tasks, or to route to your employer. These might include turning down your company's hot water heaters if they're above 120 degrees Fahrenheit, switching to unbleached coffee filters in the employee lounge, combining departmental orders from one company to reduce packaging, and buying office supplies with the highest amount of post-consumer recycled content.

Taking one lunch break to make a few changes is not going to save the world, but if each nonprofit organization in American took these steps, the impact would be astronomical. Your involvement can help other people recognize the power of one person. Most importantly, even if you leave at the end of the day without returning all of your emails, you will feel a sense of accomplishment in knowing that you have made a difference.

If you would like to learn more ways to protect the environment, check out these organizations: The Earth Works Group, the Environmental Protection Agency, American Water and Energy Savers, Container Recycling Institute and the Environmental Defense Fund.

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