These days many companies have office environmental policies around recycling, disposable water bottles, indoor air quality, and commuter policies. Now that many of us are working from home, how can we keep our eco-wits about us and stay committed to reducing our environmental footprint, even while keeping our families healthy and safe?
Of course, the lack of commute is a major positive impact on carbon emissions, as millions of Americans are now telecommuting. With changing attitudes, technology adoption, and shifting company policies, this is likely to be a lasting legacy from the pandemic. Fewer daily commuters result in fewer emissions, less traffic congestion, and potentially more mixed-use transportation opportunities (bicycles, public transit, etc.).
As we adjust to telework during the age of Covid, it is important to consider best practices for cleaning and disinfecting. While many of us reach for the most potent chemicals we could find to wipe down surfaces, phones, and common touchpoints around the home; there are ways to manage proper cleaning and disinfection without compromising our health. Many of these products could be extremely hazardous, causing asthma and other respiratory weakness, or are known to be carcinogenic. Fortunately, you don’t have to poison your family with chemicals to keep them safe from the Coronavirus.
For routine cleaning (including handwashing), it is recommended to look for products that contain a credible third-party eco-label such as GreenSeal, EPA Safer Choice, or Eco Logo. Disinfectants, however, are actually regulated as a pesticide by the EPA and therefore are not permitted to use these ecolabels. However, the list of “EPA’s Registered Antimicrobial Products for Use Against Novel Coronavirus (List N)” contains many ‘least toxic’ choices.
Avoid bleach and ammonia-based products, they are unnecessary and extremely toxic to human health and the environment. Instead, look for Hydrogen Peroxide-based, Ethyl Alcohol-based, or Thymol-based disinfectants or those that contain the active ingredients Citric acid, L-lactic acid, or Caprylic acid (octanoic acid). For further advice, see the Disinfectant guides put by our friends at GreenSeal as well as the Environmental Working Group. Of course, always follow the cleaning recommendations available from the Center for Disease Control.
As we set up our home office, we can also start thinking about energy conservation—time to replace those old light bulbs with LEDs, reducing energy consumption by 70%. Make sure your computer is set to sleep mode after 15 minutes, unplug appliances when not in use, keep your HVAC system maintained and operating efficiently, and ensure your windows and doors are well sealed. One of the biggest impacts you could have regarding energy consumption is to make sure you are purchasing the Solar Choice or Green Power options from Puget Sound Energy (for just pennies more per KwH).
Regarding minimizing waste, carefully consider what you could do to reduce, reuse, or recycle. Purchase used or repurposed equipment and furniture, minimize or even eliminate your use of single-use plastic, ensure your compostable food scraps make it to your Green Bin, and buy products from local vendors over the convenience of an online click. And a personal pet peeve of mine, please replace your Keurig or other single-use coffee pod machine with a less disposable option as these pods are becoming a surprisingly large component of the waste stream.
Finally, as the rainy season arrives in Western Washington, it is time to think about polluted runoff from our driveways, roofs, and pavement flowing into the storm drains or directly to streams and the Puget Sound. Now would be a perfect time to find out where your downspouts direct runoff and consider installing a rain garden or cistern to help rainwater infiltrate into the ground instead of polluting local waterways. Of course, Stewardship Partners’ 12,000 Rain Gardens Program is a resource to help you do this.
This “great pause” provides us a tremendous opportunity to think about our values, our actions, our community, and the kind of world we want to create. Together let’s be partners in stewarding a better future.
Written by Lawrence Nussbaum, former Program Director and early leader of Stewardship Partners who pioneered the Salmon-Safe program in Washington State. He currently works as a Senior Sustainability Consultant for the California-based consulting firm, Environmental Innovations, providing Green Business services to government and corporate clients. More information about Lawrence could be found at www.sustainable-source.com.