Working my first “real” job post-college has been surreal, but I have realized that you give up a little to gain a lot. While I have acquired a lot of skills, great friendships with my co-workers, a better sense of time management, and a new appreciation for city life, my passion for the environment and efforts to be sustainable have taken a back seat in the concrete jungle.
Whereas in college my senior year I refused to use disposable utensils, I find myself using paper cups every day in the office for water and plastic silverware every day I take lunch to my desk. I didn’t use plastic water bottles for all of 2016 as a part of my new year’s resolution, but in the last few weeks I have purchased several because it is convenient when I am on-the-go downtown. Lately I have been looking in my office trash can at the end of each day, and I’m disappointed by the number of napkins, water cups, tissues, and stacks of paper I toss every day. As an individual, I probably produce a good number of the trash that our building staff takes to the alley dumpster each day. Imagine how much my 200 coworkers are producing as well, and how much we do combined? I’m not guilty of producing too much waste, but it is irresponsible of me to overlook how little effort I am putting in to living a more sustainable life.
I doubt that I am alone, so hopefully others have this question: how does one synthesize a sustainable life with an office life? Sitting at a desk all day in the downtown of a major city, how can you still care for the environment and stay true to your environmental roots? It’s a question I’m struggling to answer, but I have a few tricks that should help.
1. Use a thermos for your coffee. My family probably has 14 thermoses lining our kitchen counter on a given day, but my dad still hands me a paper coffee cup every morning when I’m running late to catch the bus. What’s worse is most of my co-workers use two paper cups for their coffee so it’s less hot. I wanna say “Yo, intern, that’s what thermoses are for!!!!” Every four paper cups manufactured equals one pound of CO2 emissions, and 20 million trees are cut down to make paper cups every year! So two coffees a day equals 4 cups, which equals bad for the environment. My new favorite thing is the YETI cup — it keeps your beverage either ice-cold or piping-hot, so you can use it for coffee and water during the office day! And no condensation at all from the metal tumbler; there’s nothing worse than puddles of water by your keyboard from your water cup.
2. Use a reusable water bottle. Whether you have a grungy Nalgene with national park stickers, or a preppy tumbler with your monogram on it, having a favorite container for water is not only sustainable, but you’re more likely to drink more water! During the work day it’s a great reason to get up and walk to the kitchen, maybe chat with a co-worker, and go to the bathroom eventually (lol). Twelve billion gallons of water are used in the making of paper cups annually, so your consumption of water from the office water cooler is wasting a lot of valuable, fresh water. Plus, many paper cups are coated with plastic, so they can’t be recycled. And these are just the facts assuming you’re using those little cone-shaped paper cups by your water cooler. If you’re tossing plastic water bottles every day, you’re really bad! Americans used about 50 billion plastic water bottles last year. 50 BILLION! Our nation’s demand for bottled water uses more than 17 million barrels of oil annually, which could fuel 1.3 million cars each year. Lastly, you can save money drinking from the tap: eight glasses of water a day (recommended for your health) at U.S. tap rates equals about 49 cents per year. Eight glasses a day in bottled water is about $1,400 a year! Save your hard-earned dollars, don’t spend them on Deer Parks.
3. Purchase a potted plant. One of the few things I loved in California that I can find on the East Coast is a succulent. I’m a sucker of succulents — they’re small, aesthetic, and super easy to care for. I have one on my desk that I barely have to water, and it just brings a little of the outdoors to my office. Indoors plants are also great for clean air and can have numerous benefits, such as purifying the air of indoor pollutants, cooling your office, and other things. If you have an office with a window, small orchids are also wonderful indoor plants that do well in room temperature and thrive with sunlight, just make sure you water them frequently.
4. Eat green to stay lean. My exercise regimen has definitely decreased since I started working; lots of my co-workers bike to work, take walks during lunch, or run at home after, but a lot don’t. A lot of people also work through lunch, sit at their desk for 10-12 hours a day, and are too tired to exercise when they come home. Eating healthy breakfasts, lunches, and snacks at work is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint and try to shed a few pounds or stay in shape. Salads are very popular in most work places, especially here in DC (i.e. Sweetgreen, Chop’t, et cetera), but be wary of what you add to your salad. Some foods have very high carbon footprints; one kilo of lamb emits the same amount of greenhouses gases as driving 91 miles in your car. Adding beef to your salad is 63 miles, cheese is 31, and pork is 28. But having beans, tofu, or vegetables? Equivalent to only 4.5 miles in your car! Be smart about what you put in your lunchbox or purchase during your lunch break — it has greater consequences than just the monetary cost or calories you consume.
5. Bike, walk, or bus to work. This approach is probably the most obvious, but it’s easier said than done. While a lot of professionals, especially young people, use public transportation to get to work, most of us take Ubers or taxis on days when we are running late or it is raining. One of the coolest things about living in DC is Capital Bikeshare: a bicycle transit system where you swipe your card, pick up a bike (like a vending machine almost), ride it, and drop it off at another location. For commuters who do not own bikes or worry about theirs being stolen, Capital Bikeshare is a wonderful option. Plus, you can always bike one way if you are meeting up with friends for happy hour after work or going somewhere on the weekend. I personally take the bus to and from work every day, including the DC Circulator, which literally circulates around the city and only costs $1.00 to ride. The American Public Transit Association says that public transit saves about 1.4 billion gallons of gas annually (aka about 14 million tons of CO2). So even for those so doubt the efficiency of buses, they’re definitely more sustainable.
I have been making an effort the past few weeks to not let my work schedule hinder my ability to be sustainable. The eight to ten hours that most people put into the office do consume most of your day, but they by no means define how you approach each day. Many people I know incorporate respites into their long work days: from walking to work, to taking a power walk at the end of their lunch hour, to meeting with their significant other after work for a weekly happy hour, we make time for things that bring us joy and we think can relieve us from the daily grind. So why not try to be sustainable as well? Saving some trees, water, and bits of the Ozone should bring us a little joy each day. I’m definitely trying and will keep aiming to improve.
© Rissponsible Living, 2016