3 Small Ways to Go Green, Even With a Busy Career

Install solar panels. Start composting. Plant a few trees.

The oft-touted suggestions for saving the planet sound great in theory, but for those of us who live in cities and have busy 9-to-5s, they can be improbable, expensive, or time-consuming. And as just one person trying to make a difference in your off hours, it’s easy to feel like an ambitious Nissan Leaf attempting to keep up with a fleet of hybrid buses.

But it’s okay to let up on the gas (er, electric). Believe it or not, it is possible to roll along in your office chair and keep pace with even the most zealous greenies.

Follow these simple, actionable suggestions that won’t only make an impact on the environment, they’ll enrich your life, boost your productivity, and even make your colleagues nicer. (Now wouldn’t that make the world a better place…)

1. Skip the Takeout

Food packaging makes up nearly a third of municipal solid waste, so hand off that takeout menu before you’re tempted. Bring meals prepared at home for your office lunch, or walk to a locally sourced café and eat food from a plate. (Bonus: fresh air, exercise, music, and people.)

But if you’re really craving Chinese when the menu comes around, opt for a single-dish meal (think Mu Shu or stir fry) over the dumplings, salad, and chicken dish—each packaged separately.

And you can take it up a notch by encouraging your company to cut back on the paper products they stock in the kitchen. Instead of having paper cups that people use once and throw away, why not ask your HR department if there is budget to gift employees with a resusable water bottle. That way they’re staying hydrated and using less paper. Which brings us to our next point.

2. Go Paper Less

Yes, you read that right. Less paper. Like, fewer pieces. If going fully paperless seems too daunting, try these small steps this week:

  • In one satisfying motion, swipe your notepads and sticky notes into a drawer—and download a note taking app. Choose Evernote and you’ll relive the thrill of discovering arrow-shaped Post-Its. Add virtual arrows to an internet article, blank out unneeded portions, annotate—then add the clipping to a “notebook” collection of related notes and memos. Remember that newfound wonder when you discovered your Trapper Keeper had it all? Here’s the grown-up version of organizational bliss.
  • What to do with those extra notepads? Save them for a rainy day. Cozy up with your favorite kid and fold animals like nobody’s business with Jo’s Origami Tutorials. Just be sure to recycle them when you’re done!
  • Moving paper from place to place takes energy and time. That’s bad for the environment—and your deadline, too. Petition your company to use form building software like Canvas, which allows you to create your own order forms, questionnaires, and training quizzes that can be sent, completed, and returned electronically. These documents stand no chance of being buried on a desk or expanding your carbon footprint. Or, invite your colleagues to use Dropbox or Google Docs to edit and chat in real time. You can stop sending, receiving, printing out, and marking up—saving hours and trees.
  • Follow the No New Paper rule: the sheets that happen to land on your desk are your only supply. Even then, better to use a scanning app to save the doc into your notes system—and reuse the paper to invite that cute tree-hugging co-worker to the local cookshop.

3. Get Mother Nature on the Team

Maybe wait until your third month on the job to mention that you’re into biophilia. Then reassure your new team that the urge, according to author and biologist Edward O. Wilson, is to form bonds with other life forms.

You may not agree on global warming, but as adult mammals you and your co-workers will find the irresistibility of the large eyes of newborn mammals impossible to argue. In fact, an at-work screensaver comprised of baby sloths smiling upside-down may make visiting team members more focused, empathetic, environmentally conscious, and downright cheery.

Among other natural happy-makers: flowers. Flowers are universally pleasing, and they signal the promise of fruit, just as plants promise—and deliver—the oxygen we breathe. We are biologically wired to settle near flora.

With just a couple of air plants dotting your desk you’ve made a global contribution, even if you can’t yet afford to outfit your house with solar panels. You’ve not only improved the mood, behavior, and productivity of everyone in the office, but according to a recent article in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, you’ve upped their inclination to “engage in environmentally sustainable behaviors.”

So what can you do right now? If making a bi-weekly trip to the compost center seems like you’re biting off more than you can chew, start with gifting your boss bamboo stalks, and before recycling that old National Geographic, clip the big-eyed baby giraffe for display on your putty gray partition wall.

It could make all the difference in the world.

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