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Easy Ways for Your Organization to Go Green (Part 1)

Save energy for your organization (and save the planet too!)

Green, leafy forest in mid-summer
Jim Lynch, Sarah Washburn and Anna Jaeger - April 21, 2015
So we've all heard that green is good, but how can nonprofits and libraries implement greener practices given limited funds and time? Here are five easy things you can do right now to make a big impact on your organization's environmental footprint.

Editor's note: This article is part of a series on how nonprofits, libraries, and charities can do the right thing for the environment. Check out part two, in which we'll share another five easy and excellent ways to go green.

1. Use Sleep Settings on Computers to Reduce Electricity Use

What it is: All computer operating systems (like Windows) have power-management settings that allow computers to go to sleep or stand-by mode when not in use and reduce the amount of electricity they use.

Why it's green: It dramatically cuts the amount of electricity your computers uses, and it saves you on average $50 per year per computer.

Cost and difficulty: Free and easy.

How to do it: Energy Star has step-by-step directions for setting power management in several versions of Windows and Mac.

Recommended sleep settings:

  • Monitor/display sleep: Turn off after 15 minutes or less.
  • Turn off hard drives/hard disk sleep: 15 minutes or less.
  • System standby/sleep: After 30 minutes or less.

For networks, where power management is more complex, there is network power-management software like Spiceworks free Power Management Software. Also, Windows Active Directory and Group Policy can control power management and sleep settings, so it's possible for an experienced systems administrator to set network sleep settings without third-party software.

Additional resources:

2. Switch to Energy-Efficient Lighting

Lighting is the single largest electricity use in offices. One of the simplest ways to save energy and money is to switch to energy-efficient lights. These days, alternatives to traditional incandescent lighting don't require you to sacrifice lighting quality or brightness, and energy-efficient lighting costs have been steadily dropping.

What types of lighting are energy efficient: Energy-efficient lightbulbs such as halogen incandescents, compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), and light emitting diode (LED) lights are now cost-effective, use much less electricity, and last up to 25 times longer than traditional incandescent lighting.

A word about the old-style tube fluorescent lamps that are in so many offices: The most energy-efficient ones are called T5, and you can also get energy-efficient ballasts to increase their lamp life. If you have very old tube fluorescent lamps in your office, you can get retrofit kits to be able to use the newer T5-type lamps. Or better yet, switch to LED tube lights.

Why it's green: CFL and LED lights typically use 25 percent to 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescents (LEDs are by far the most energy efficient). They last much longer; for instance, LEDs last 50,000 hours, while incandescents burn out after 1,200 hours.

Recycling: all types of lighting can be recycled, but relatively few places take lights. Fortunately many Batteries Plus stores across the country accept them.

  • Both CFL and tube fluorescent lights contain toxic mercury, so recycling is essential for them.
  • LED lights are relatively benign in regard to toxics, but they contain valuable rare earth elements, and colored LEDs contain lead and arsenic.

Cost and difficulty: CFL and LED lights all fit in to standard incandescent light fixtures, so are very easy to use. LED lights have recently overtaken CFLs in cost-effectiveness. While LED bulbs are more expensive to buy, they are less expensive over time because they use much less electricity, last much longer, and are more durable.

How to do it: You can buy energy-efficient lights at pretty much any hardware store and even many drug and grocery stores. Look for Energy Star-Certified Light Bulbs.

Additional resources:

3. Change Settings on Your Printer to Print Duplex

What it is: Change a setting on your computer so that you print on both sides of the paper. You need a printer that is built to do that.

Why it's green: Paper is still an incredibly wasted resource. If you print double-sided, it significantly reduces the amount of paper you buy and also waste. In this decade, it is projected that Americans will throw away more than 4.5 million tons of office paper. Worldwide, we're deforesting an area equivalent to the size of England each year. We've already lost over half the world's forests.

Cost and difficulty: It may require buying a new printer, but setting your computer(s) to print double-sided is very easy with a printer that does duplexing.

How to do it: Typically, you can click a box in the print dialog box.

Additional resources:

4. Use an Online Fax Service

What it is: An online service that lets you fax documents and receive faxes either on the Internet or by sending them to you through your email.

Why it's green: It's largely paperless and doesn't require any additional hardware, ink, or toner. Approximately 1 billion trees worth of paper is thrown away every year in the U.S.

Cost and difficulty: Easy. TechSoup offers fax service as part of TechBridge VoIP phone service or BetterVoice Unified Communications, both of which offer access to discounted rates. Turboscan is a clever $3 mobile app that turns your phone camera into a scanner and converts captured images to PDFs for easy emailing.

5. Get in the Cloud

What it is: Cloud computing is managed IT software or services that reside on the Internet, and are available at no cost, pay-per-use, or by subscription or monthly fee to users. The services you use are provided by someone else and managed on your behalf. Examples: Google Docs, Skype, Box, and Microsoft Office 365.

Why it's green: Cloud computing is regarded as a generally green IT field because it tends to decrease the amount of IT infrastructure that an office needs; computing power is shared and concentrated more in high-efficiency datacenters and less in the millions of office computer networks.

Cost and difficulty: You may already use free cloud services like Gmail, Flickr, and more. Many cloud services are free and easy to use.

How to do it: Nonprofit staffers and patrons using public access computers may benefit from using Microsoft Office Online or Google Docs, where they can create and save their documents online. You might also try using Skype and other collaboration tools to reduce travel.

Additional resources:

Some of the information in this article originally appeared on the TechSoup for Libraries and TechSoup blogs. The information was edited and updated in March 2015.

Image: Joshua Mayer / CC BY-SA

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