Earth Month, Air Pollution and Quarantine
April in the US is Earth Month. Typically, that means taking account of your habits and seeing where you can make environmentally-friendly improvements. Or, in schools, learning about pollution, clean air and water, and the benefits of trees and recycling.
April this year is a lot different for most people. The global Coronavirus pandemic has many people out of work, schools closed and some people working from home for the first time ever. In addition, there’s a lot of uncertainty and stress (April is also National Stress Awareness Month, in case you didn’t know).
And while we’d never call it a silver lining, the positive impacts on air quality and water pollution because of the reductions in manufacturing, travel, and transportation are real. You have the opportunity to see what cleaner air looks like in some of the worst polluted cities in the world (cities in China, India, Italy and the United States).
The World Health Organization estimates that around 7M people die every year from exposure to polluted air. Ambient air pollution alone caused 4.2M deaths in 2016. And the people most affected by air pollution are children, women, older people and outdoor workers.
According to CNBC* and an interview with Stanford University Department of Earth System Science Professor Marshall Burke, China’s air quality has improved exponentially since the country went into lock-down. In just two months the improved air quality is estimated to have saved (or prolonged the life of) nearly 50,000 people there.
In the US, it’s estimated that nearly 200,000 people die every year as a result of air pollution. But it’s a slow, silent killer, and so compared to more urgent health issues (like the current pandemic) it’s often not a focus for politicians or society.
Obviously, the costs of this epidemic are massive, and no one is suggesting that epidemics or even quarantines are the answer to pollution or climate change. But by recognizing and talking about the changes that are taking place because of the epidemic, we could perhaps think and behave differently in the future. Maybe we could manage without some of the things we thought we needed, but now realize we don’t (with the exception, of course, being toilet paper).
For example, with the ability to travel being severely restricted (both business and personal), many people have been utilizing video conferencing. Once the pandemic is over, of course many people will travel again. But perhaps we’ll be more willing to replace some travel with online video meetings?
As a Certified B Corporation®, we focus on the “triple bottom line”: people, planet and profits. This Earth Month, it’s good to look back at what we’ve accomplished in our business that benefits the planet. And what improvements we could make in the future.
Here are some of the things each of our offices is doing to support our commitment to the environment:
- Updated lighting: more environmentally friendly, lower energy usage.
- Changed packaging: using recycled paper and less bubble wrap.
- Altered catering at customer events to reduce food waste, and asked hotels and venues to consider donating leftover food to homeless shelters.
- Focus on switching off sockets, plugs, lights, etc. when not in use.
- Reuse boxes and shipping materials.
- Reduced reliance on printed materials for marketing.
- Moved to smaller, more efficient building. (And are now using less of that building.) Fun fact: with the move and eco-friendly upgrades, our utility costs have dropped from around $20K per month to between $5K and $8K per month (depending on the season).
- Most lights are on sensors, and we generally use LED lights.
- Through our participation in the Shred-It™ shredding and recycling program, in 2019 we saved over 95 trees from being made into paper, and kept 5.625 tons of paper waste out of the landfill.
- We are participating in a Food Scraps Program. Food waste diverted from the landfill is instead processed into animal food, biofuel, and compost.
And while most of our employees are currently working from home during this pandemic, caring for the environment is just as important in our personal lives as in our professional lives. What are some things you can do to reduce air pollution, even during quarantine?
- Walk or ride a bike for short distance errands instead of driving
- Organize and condense errands into one trip instead of making multiple trips
- Turn off lights around your house when you leave a room
- Turn off your computer monitors at the end of the day
- Replace incandescent lights with compact florescent or LED bulbs
- Wash laundry in cold water and air dry instead of using the dryer
- If you’re doing any gardening, try to focus on low water or native plants for your outdoor space
- Plan some “green” activities for when the pandemic is over. Think camping, biking, hiking, paddling, or climbing.