Thursday, September 14, 2006

Green living: Know your inputs and outputs

This Tuesday at the Boston Women’s Network monthly dinner, I had the privilege of hearing Robin Chase, co-founder of ZipCar and currently with Meadow Networks, tell the story of ZipCar’s success and offer suggestions on how to start and run a business based on a commitment to social responsibility.

For those who don’t know ZipCar, it’s car rental service, available in five major metropolitan areas throughout the US, that allows members to rent cars parked in a number of easily-accessed spots throughout the city for only as long as they need them. Rates are billed either hourly or daily depending on usage, and you can rent a car easily through the website and walk to a spot within 5-10 minutes from wherever you happen to be. You hold your membership card up to the windshield, the car unlocks and the ignition engages (wirelessly and keylessly), and you’re on your way. You just park the car back in the same spot you picked it up in, and the car will send the trip data back to ZipCar with the number of hours you used it for billing. Since its founding in about 2000, ZipCar has grown to about 2,000 cars in 5 major cities, and about 20 members on average end up using each car—which means 19 fewer parking spaces needed, 19 fewer cars on the road, and huge cost savings for the members, not to mention the environmental savings.

Among other inspirational tips Robin shared with the group, the tip that resonated with me the most was this: be aware of your inputs and outputs. When you make a business decision, what are you consuming? What are you putting back out there? One of the examples that Robin mentioned was that she refused to buy disposable cups/plates/silverware/etc. for the ZipCar office—if people wanted to have coffee or tea, they would have to bring their own mugs, and the same with dishes. She also had two printers in the office—one with used paper and one with new. Anything that was printed for in-house use was printed on the used paper—information for customers would be printed on the new paper.
Hearing Robin speak about the ways that she made the ZipCar office greener got me thinking about my own inputs and outputs, how I’m trying to lessen the environmental impact of the zen kitchen’s daily operation, and how I can improve on what I’m doing and make the office even greener. Here are a few of the things on my list of outputs:

  • I always keep recycled paper in the office printer, and put one-sided waste paper in the tray when I’m finished with the document.

  • I’ve instituted a primarily PDF-based workflow in the office, sending customers digital proofs instead of printing them, which saves significant amounts of paper.

  • Since it’s primarily a home office, I don’t use disposable anything, and I use cotton towels and sponges for cleaning instead of paper towels.

  • I don’t leave water running when I’m washing my hands, brushing my teeth, or doing dishes.

  • I also try to be very conscientious about recycling, and I use shopping bags to throw away trash instead of buying new plastic bags.

  • Since I moved to Somerville and opened the zen kitchen, I’ve rarely had to drive—most of my work has been in the office, and even when I have to go onsite for a client or meeting, I can often take the T instead of driving.

  • I do almost all marketing for the studio on the Web, which means that there's much less paper to be thrown away.

While I definitely think these are good outputs, there are definitely a few places where I can improve:

  • On the days when I do have to leave the office for work, I have a tendency to eat out. A LOT. This means disposable dishes and silverware. It also means I’m not eating as healthy as I should be.

  • I have a tendency to keep too much, and convince myself that I need things I don’t. That means I end up buying things I don’t really need more often than not, and those things, once I’ve realized I don’t need them anymore, usually end up getting thrown away or donated.

  • While I don’t drive my car that often, I’m not always as mindful about maintenance as I should be. I could improve my mileage vastly if I got a tuneup.

So it looks like, while so far I’ve been doing pretty good, there’s still room to make the zen kitchen even greener—remembering to bring a travel mug with me, for example, when I feel like grabbing an iced tea, or remembering to bring reusable bags when I go shopping. After all, even using them as trash bags, with the amount I cook I still have them piled up in the bag holder!

What do you put out there? What do you take in?

1 comment:

Eric Benson said...


This is a valuable post. Provides practical tips for anyone to be more green at home. And really its not hard to do!

Eric @ renourish