Many of us want to reduce our footprint on the planet, and there are lots of ways to do so. Yet our scholarly and work practices aren’t the first ones we turn to when looking to green up our lives. That may partly be due to academic culture, which doesn’t particularly encourage self-reflection when it comes to sustainability and green practices. While important conversations about diversity and social justice are taking place on campuses across the nation, environmental concerns have, by and large, fallen through the cracks. Think about it: When was the last time someone in your department encouraged you to think about your work decisions and find opportunities to reduce your climate impact?
Luckily, many green practices are not only friendly on the environment but your budget too, not to mention that they are easy to implement as well. Early on, you might have to compile a mental checklist of all the small things you can do in your day-to-day work life to lighten your carbon footprint, although soon enough, they will become habit and you will start seeing opportunities to reduce your footprint on the planet at every turn!
To get you started greening up your work life, here are some eco-friendly tips:
Green up your commute
To minimize carbon emissions, bike or walk to school when possible. Carpooling and public transportation drastically reduce CO2 emissions by spreading them out over many riders. But there are also ways to reduce your carbon footprint from driving, as the COTAP points out. For instance, speeding and unnecessary acceleration reduce mileage by up to 33%, while properly inflated tires improve your gas mileage by up to 3%. It also helps to use the correct grade of motor oil, and to keep your engine tuned, because some maintenance fixes, like fixing faulty oxygen sensors, can increase fuel efficiency by up to 40%. Avoiding traffic also reduces CO2 emissions. In fact, according to the 2015 Urban Mobility Scorecard, US workers spend an average of 47 hours per year stuck in traffic, which adds up to 3.7 billion hours and 23 billion gallons of gas wasted in traffic each year. And, last but not least, optimize! Have all your appointments on a day or two, don’t drive in for a single errand and offer virtual meetings to people who don’t fit neatly into your schedule.
Assess research travel (if you have a choice)
For some, a particular research topic or question dictates the location of their field site. Others are part of larger teams and don’t have a say in where the project takes them. If it is up to you, consider the nature of your project and frequency of travel it necessitates. Moving to India for six months is one thing but flying back and forth between Boston and San Francisco every few weeks is a different story. Consider if a local site can yield equally strong, if not stronger, data. If your research involves a lot of individual interviews, you might want to prioritize and conduct some of them in person and some virtually.
Assess conference travel
This is tough one because attending and presenting at conferences is a big part of the Ph.D. process. You really can’t afford not to go to the top conferences in your field, especially when you’re not an established scholar and can use all the networking you can get. But I see some colleagues wear conference travel like a badge of honor – without thinking for a moment about the impact these trips are having on the environment. If you’re planning on flying to more than 3 or 4 conferences over the next year, pause for a moment and consider whether you could drop any of them or replace it with a local event. If that sounds impossible, check out the #flyingless movement that scholars from around the world are joining. Or if you’re organizing a conference, try to incorporate virtual participation!
Keep an eye on paper
One of the easiest things you can do to reduce waste is to watch your paper usage. Print double-sided and only print what absolutely needs to be printed. If you’re teaching, post handouts and other materials online rather than distributing hard copies and allow virtual submission.
Turn off the lights
If you work in an office or lab, only use the lights you need. If you teach, make sure to turn off all lights when you leave the room. In our school I often see lights burning in unused classrooms – it’s a small thing that can easily make a big difference.
Enable your power save mode
Notebook computers are some of the worst energy vampires and many of us spend the majority of our day glued to them. TreeHugger recommends enabling your power management, so that your computer shuts down when you’re not using it. If you’re using a whole desktop setup, consider plugging several devices into a single power strip and then turning it off when you leave for the day. Electronics such as printers and scanners that are only used occasionally can be unplugged until they're needed.
Green up your lunch
Many of us pack our own lunch because it’s just cheaper, healthier and tastier than the old cafeteria food. We also tend to carry our reusable coffee mugs, water bottles, fruit infusers, etc. So, to a certain extent, our lunch habits are greener than those of many office workers who regularly order takeout that comes wrapped in mountains of plastic. But something we think less about are the utensils, napkins and other ‘peripheral’ equipment we use when we eat. Reusable utensils, napkins and straws are worth checking out if you want to cut back on wasteful disposables (Amazon has a host of options like this one, this one and this one). Eating local, cutting back on meat, and eating more seasonal fruits and vegetables also makes a big difference.
Keep your bibliophilic itch in check
Some graduate students (myself included) buy way more books than they need or will ever read. Everything isn’t available at the library and sometimes you simply can’t wait for a book to be recalled. Consider, however, that every time you buy a new book you will add 2.7 kg of CO2 to your carbon footprint. Even if you buy a book used, there are still shipping emissions to consider. So before you click purchase on Amazon, check whether you can borrow a book from a colleague, advisor, or friend.
Obviously there’s always more you can do, but the most important thing is to start somewhere!
What are you doing to reduce your carbon footprint at work? Let us know in the comments below!
[Image provided by Flickr user Chris Potter and used under a Creative Commons license]