Small Actions Can Save the Planet

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A lightbulb illuminates the word action

Working at a University gives me the chance to work on a bunch of really big projects with big budgets. Currently the University of Ottawa is getting started on the second phase of the EcoProsperity Project, a series of deep energy retrofits that will help save uOttawa millions of dollars in utilities costs. But that's not what I want to focus on, I would rather focus on something much smaller because I think its impacts could be much bigger.

Today I want to advocate for the little things that you might not normally think of but nevertheless could be the key to unraveling our energy problems. Have you ever thought of getting rid of your screen saver, deleting the extra content in an email, or using the stairs whenever you are going down a floor or two?

Now most people`s first inclination to save energy is to cut the heat and turn off the lights. Sure, that is certainly useful but there are many emergency lights that just can`t be shut off and let`s face it, who wants to sit in a dark cold space? No I believe the solution is to change the way we interact with our computers and our buildings.

Elevators suck up a tremendous amount of energy. Think about it, you are moving a gigantic metal box weighing a couple tonnes straight up and down. Taking the stairs, even if it is only to go down stairs (with gravity doing the majority of the work for you) saves a bunch of energy.

It used to be that staircases were hidden inside a building. Desolate concrete shafts that were lit with the most brutal of fluorescent lights. Take the Lamoureux building as an example of how we used to think of staircases. Every staircase is tiny and very uninviting. Contrast that with the staircases in SITE, Desmarais, or the FSS Building. Open, well lit, extra wide, and right in the centre of the action. These staircases make you want to use them because they are convenient.

The fewer emails that exist the better! It takes energy to send an email and it takes energy for your computer to read it. Every email produces a little over a gram of CO2 which isn't much in isolation, but how many emails do you send or get sent to you every day?

So do yourself a favour and get off of any mailing list the you don't want to belong to (unsubscribe, unsubscribe, unsubscribe!). All too often we let our junk mail box fill up for no good reason. Rahter we should strive to have the smallest number of things making it to our junk mail.

Another tip for reducing energy, delete any email you have that you haven't looked at in the past year. Not only does it take energy to send an email, but it takes energy to store old emails too. Servers store your email until it is ready to be read again and those servers aren't running on pixie dust.

Pro tip: Erase long email chains inside of a message. All those extra words are usually meaningless to you and the person you are sending the email to so get rid of them. It will save a bit of energy.

When you are online you are consuming energy and that is inevitable. But changing how you surf online can have some positive benefits. First, don't open more tabs on your browser if you aren't going to look at those pages. Opening too many tabs can slow down your browser and your computer will suck up more juice. So if you aren't looking at it, close it.

And when you aren't surfing, please for God sake get rid of your screen saver. A screen saver is like running a movie on your computer when you aren't there to watch it. The visuals may look cool but they are eating up precious resources for no good reason. Set your computer's screen saver to off and do a solid for the planet.

As I said, all of these things are really small actions. They won't produce big impacts in isolation, but if they are repeated daily and done by a lot of people... well that my friends is a revolution.

~ jonathan rausseo - campus sustainability manager
photo credit - jonathan rausseo

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