What's Water Got to Do With It? Nearly Everything.May 9, 2012
How can green office teams engage their co-workers in their conservation efforts? Water doesn’t seem to make a direct connection to green office goals, unless the issue is bottled water for meetings and conferences or options for improving the taste or quality of water from the tap in the office kitchen. Few of us get into the weeds about water and really think about the amount of water it takes to make a ream of paper, put electrical energy to work to run our computers and light the building, and a thousand other things.
I was surprised to learn that nearly 40,000 gallons of water are used in building a car, 1,800 gallons for a pair of jeans, and 53 gallons for ONE café latte. (courtesy of Treehugger.com). One ton of paper leaves 19,000 gallons of wastewater according to the Environmental Paper Network calculator used by the EPA. Stated another way, 3 gallons of water are used to manufacture one sheet of paper (Discover magazine). The average North American office worker uses 10,000 sheets of paper in a year, a staggering 30,000 gallons of water. And that last cup of cold coffee you toss in the morning? Spare the last cup and we could save two gallons a year for the 1.1 billion fellow humans who don’t have access to fresh water. (Discover magazine). If you’re interested in learning how much water is consumed to produce or manufacture something, check out the Water Footprint’s calculator. The link on the home page has language and lexicon options, too.
This is a long introduction for one answer to the question I raised at the outset—how to engage employees in conservation efforts. Let’s take water, for instance. Raise employee awareness about this limited resource and publicize ways that individuals can make a difference by conserving paper usage, turning off the lights when not in use, choosing public transportation, walking, or a using bicycle in lieu of a car to commute to work or attend a business meeting outside the office, etc.
How to raise awareness? I like “lunch and learn” sessions, or what some call “green baggers”. Show a documentary on a water issue that affects your region. You won’t have far to look. I found a long list on YouTube just by searching “water and climate change”. I really like the 12 minute video done by Peter McBride for Yale Environment 360. The title is “The Colorado River: Running Near Empty”. He traces the course of the Colorado River from its headwaters high in the Rocky Mountains through five states and Mexico to where the riverbed meets the Sea of Cortez. Since 1998, the river runs dry before reaching the sea. It’s a riveting video-documentary, which can easily be enhanced with information about water issues in the west, competing priorities and values, and alternative solutions. One of the groups that supported the documentary is the Sonoran Institute, a non-profit environmental think tank that forges dialogue and collaboration among communities in the western region of the US to solve issues impacting natural resources. The website is a great resource for water-wise conservationists.
Check out any of the resources from today’s blog to come up with your Info Sheet for attendees to spark follow up discussion and ideas how to reduce water waste by using office supplies and equipment more efficiently. Kudos to green teams who illuminate these issues of public interest and impact and generate steps employees can take at work and in their communities to improve their environment and conserve our precious resources.