Thoughts on Earth Day 2015: Why We Do (and don't) Reduce, Reuse and Recycle

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I have to admit that we are guilty of not always doing the right thing when it comes to the 3Rs: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

earth day 2015

I think our experience can be informative for other businesses in Hawaii and perhaps even provide some ideas how to reduce the impact business has the environment.

Here’s what we have learned:

  1. All you can eat is a horrible model. At our old location, we had a huge dumpster, and since the building was mostly empty, the dumpster was seldom full. That meant, there was always space to throw things away and there was no direct cost to consuming and discarding. There was no incentive to reduce waste, as twice a week, the dumpster was empty and we could fill it up again.
  2. Shared cost is a horrible model. Our previous building had no separate electric meters for the first floor; the electric costs were divided amongst all the first floor tenants. As a result, we paid approximately 1/7th the electric cost no matter how much electricity we used. Consequently, our cost for electricity was not directly tied to our use, as we were subsidized by the other tenants. This, of course, led to a lot of waste by us and other tenants.
  3. Recycling has a cost. We now have a big office that allows us to have ample space for cardboard boxes, which we have a lot of because a lot our supplies come in boxes. We now have a large stack of boxes and take them to the county recycling location periodically. Our old location did not have any extra space, so it was much more convenient to take them out the dumpster right away. Bad choice for the environment, but a rational choice for us. When it’s convenient to recycle, we do it; if not, we’ll take the easiest alternative: the dumpster.
  4. Incentives matter…a lot. I’d like to think we’re all conscious of our decisions and the environmental consequences of what we do. Perhaps we are, but we are also very aware of the costs of actions or inaction. We are separately metered at our new location. As a result, every second of air conditioning and a light being on is a cost for my business. I see a direct correlation between use and cost. Since I would rather have the money in my pocket instead of the power company’s I don’t turn the A/C on until we need it. Lights are off if we’re not in the room. Computers and monitors are turned off every night. Money matters. If you want some pro-environment action, make sure it makes sense financially.
  5. It’s not all about the money. We often propose sign solutions for our clients that result in less revenue for us. This might include suggesting that we reuse an existing material or that we use the back side some foam core displays. For banners for yearly events, we’ll often suggest changing the date only instead of making a new banner. These suggestions make us less money, but they do less the environmental impact. We’re ok with that.

After over eight years in business, we have learned that we, like many others, often take the easy, expedient option instead of making a better, more environmentally friendly choice. As I always tell our clients, business (as is life) is a process of becoming, a journey instead of a destination. We try to learn, reflect and become better every day.

So, on this Earth Day 2015, we acknowledge our weaknesses and strive to do better with how we affect the environment every day.