What follows are ten tips for small companies, based on how a handful of theaters — from Mo’olelo in San Diego to Stagecrafters in Philadelphia — have made efforts to go green, as well as some of my own thoughts.
1. Make Zero Waste your goal. What, you say, how can that be? Well, strictly speaking, it isn’t wholly possible. But you can make it a goal, and get closer and closer, until, perhaps one day you arrive.
2. The three R’s go along way in the office, as they do elsewhere in the small company: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. And there is a reason that recycle is last on the list: it should be the last resort, and not assumed to be the best you can do to green up. While recycling is better (in most cases) than the landfill, it’s better yet to avoid either. So, the best bet in the front office is to stop using so much paper, stop printing so many forms and unneccessary items. If you find yourself printing unwanted pages, try using GreenPrint, free software that will help you reduce the number of unwanted pages being printed.
3. For those areas where you must use paper and other resources, find greener ways to do it: use 100% post-consumer paper for all your paper needs, including scripts, programs, flyers, post cards, et cetera. Another option is using non-tree based paper, such as hemp, for some or all of these items. Will this increase cost? Not much. And the added cost can be offset by reducing and reusing. An easy step taken by Furious Theatre Company in Pasadena is simply placing a basket by the door where patrons can deposit their used programs so that they can be reused (if people know that they can return programs for future use, most of them will). By encouraging such action, you can reduce the number of programs you need to print for each production. Warehouses could be filled with unused production programs across the globe.
Also, try to print on two sides of paper whenever possible — the math is easy there.
Another consideration in the use of paper is using Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-Certified products, so that you know that paper you are using is coming from responsibly managed forests throughout the world.
Better yet, go paperless wherever possible. The Internet age has allowed us to go electronic in so many ways: sharing calendars online, sending memos and other official paperwork via email, and do all kinds of tedious paperwork (from tracking budgets to creating lighting paperwork) on our computers, printing only when absolutely necessary.
4. Reducing and reusing goes beyond paper, too. Where I work, we are gradually taking on green ideas. One that has come up recently is the toner for our copier. I suggested a company called Think! which is centered on remanufacturing used toner and ink jet cartridges — it’s cheaper than buying new, and reduces the number of new petroleum-based thingamajigs that need to be created and thrown away.
Another area of non-paper reduction and reuse is the ubiquitous to-go coffee cup. I am a coffee addict (though it’s pretty mild at one cup a day), and I have an old ceramic mug on my desk. So, when I get to work, the first thing I do is grab my mug and walk down the street to the closest coffee shop and get it filled up — they charge me less too!
5. Turn off the lights. I was really pleased recently when I realized that Pat, our office manager at Children’s Theater of Madison simply does not turn the lights on in the office on sunny days. Of course, our office is small, and blessed with an entire wall of northish-facing windows that face the street on the second floor. This means that our light is not obstructed by any close-by neighbors, and it doesn’t heat up too much in the summer. Because of the number of windows the fact that it faces mostly north doesn’t matter either. It’s still plenty of light to work in.
If this isn’t possible in your work space, then install sensor or timer switches for your lights so that you’ll be sure NO ONE leaves them on inadvertently.
6. (When you DO turn the lights on) Use Compact Flourescent Light bulbs. My mother-in-law is one of the few people I know who simply refuses to get on the CFL bandwagon. Why? People are concerned about the mercury in the bulbs, and the effect it will have on the environment as well as the potential threat to human health when and if the bulbs break, releasing their mercury content.
With all due respect to my mother-in-law (I love her dearly, and she’s been great to me), the fear over mercury is not only nonsense, it’s horribly misguided. Two things to consider: the amount of mercury found in CFLs is tiny — one hundred times less than is found in a single amalgam filling, which most of us have (I know I do, and I’m sure my mother-in-law does!)– which means that the threat to human health is essentially nonexistent; second, we can consider the following statistic if we’re concerned about mercury in the environment: the Earth Policy Institute (EPI) has conducted a study on CFLs and concluded that more than 270 coal-fired power plants could be eliminated worldwide by switching from standard incandescent bulbs to CFLs — how’s that for keeping mercury out of the environment?
So make the switch. And when the bulbs die (when does that happen? my wife and I have CFLs that we’ve been using for over three years in our house) be sure to seek out how to recycle and properly dispose of them — up to 95% of the mercury they contain can be eliminated if disposed of properly.
7. Don’t drive to work. There are so many better ways to get there — both for the environment and for your body! If you don’t live close enough to your primary place of work (be it the office, the theater, or a shop) to bike, walk, or ride public transit to get there, then you should seriously consider relocating. Really, there is nothing better than biking or walking home from work and watching all the schlubs backed up in traffic to get to the suburbs or (gawd forbid) the exurbs.
As a side note, encouraging your staff to carpool if they must drive (winter, for instance), and giving them incentives to ride or walk can go a long way in giving folks the nudge they need to make an important lifestyle change. Driving is stressful, after all, and having stress-free time to walk or ride the bus can add a much needed shot of peacefulness into your life.
Such incentives are also a great idea to pass along to your audience (witness Mo’olelo’s ticket discounts), which will help the overall sustainability of your operations.
8. Switch to laptops for your staff. Even the big ones use less energy than desktops.
9. Dispose Responsibly. When you do have to get rid of something, do everything you can to recycle or otherwise save the item from the landfill. At my office, our copier/fax machine died and we had to get rid of it. We found a local guy who has made a business of picking up such large appliances from homes and businesses and either recycling them bit by bit, or fixing them and donating them to folks in need.
10. Check out The Green Office, or another eco-friendly office supply vendor (Green Earth Office Supply, Green Light Office, Green Office Store, and Dolphin Blue are just a few out there) and start using them as your primary supplier. Better yet, find local office supply vendors that provide the same kind of products and services.