Archive for April, 2009

The Snowball Effect

April 20, 2009

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been a big fan of cartoons. I still spend too much time watching them as an adult, but now I can blame it on my children. Speaking as a self-proclaimed cartoon expert I can say that, whether it’s Bugs Bunny or Tom & Jerry, every cartoon has featured the same scene at least once: a small snowball starts rolling down a hill and grows in size and speed with each revolution. Anything in the snowball’s path gets picked up and carried along, eventually ending up at the bottom of the hill.

While cartoons in no way reflect reality, the idea of starting small and gaining momentum holds a lot of merit when it comes to sustainability. In order to ensure success and build support for subsequent initiatives, organizations need to start with the most basic of practices and gradually move on to larger programs as awareness and enthusiasm build. The first few activities set the tone: employees realize that behaving sustainably isn’t onerous, and when you communicate the results achieved through the first few changes, more people are on board for the next iteration.

A good example of this approach is the Washburn Center for Children in Minneapolis, with whom Paydirt did some work in early 2009. Washburn started with smaller changes to their office operations, such as installing motion sensors in a few common areas and increasing the number and visibility of their recycling bins. Rather than grumble about the changes, employees have sent emails to management praising the organization’s sustainability efforts.

The small snowball is starting down the hill: as it picks up speed, Washburn will be able to leverage these first few changes and move on to bigger projects. Layers may be added to the core over time, in the form of green cleaning, power management for desktop computers, or creation of a true “green team.” Ultimately, Washburn may pursue a new, green facility, which will allow for lower operating costs and provide a healthy environment for the children. Such a facility will showcase Washburn’s commitment to environmental stewardship.

These initial changes set the tone for Washburn’s overall program, which recognizes that sustainability is central to its mission: providing a safe, supportive, and healthy environment for children. Every organization can do the same. After starting small, you’ll be amazed how quickly momentum will build!

Take the Stairs!

April 15, 2009

Most of us realize that taking the stairs is better for us than taking the elevator, since it provides some additional exercise, but how many of us stop to think about how it’s better for the environment? According to Hennepin County’s Healthy Lifestyle Center, walking up 10 flights of stairs will burn about 50 extra calories, while walking down those same 10 flights will burn about 20. This may not seem like much, but keep in mind the average office worker makes three round trips per day. Add it up, and you’d have to walk for nearly an hour on level ground to get the same benefit. Enough about the health benefits – what about the environmental impact? In a 20-story building served by 6 elevators, total elevator power consumption can approach 8,000 kilowatt-hours per month, enough to meet the needs of nearly 10 average households. Absorbing the greenhouse gases emitted when generating this much electricity requires about 150 tree seedlings growing for 10 years.

Change your habits, and prove the stats wrong! A study published in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis found that posting information for building tenants on health benefits and energy use had no effect on elevator energy consumption. It wasn’t until the elevators were slowed down, making them less convenient, that energy use dropped by 33%!