Smart strategies to go green can improve your health

P2 Impact

Smart strategies to go green can improve your health

Nutrition label
ShutterstockBrian A Jackson

As 2015 begins, how about committing to resource-consumption choices that can reduce your impact on the environment while improving your health?

We have learned that food choices involve consideration of multiple attributes such as nutritional values, freshness, safety of storage and packaging, limits on specific ingredients which may cause sensitivity or be unhealthy, and accounting for point of origin. In the same fashion, product choices should consider multiple attributes.

Consider the life cycle of products you purchase — what are the impacts of material extraction and manufacturing, transportation, use and disposal. Often we make purchases in a hurry and focus on the tag price without considering the costs associated with a product's use or disposal. Buying products with recycled content reduces impact of material extraction and helps build the market for recycling. Reusing products and buying durable products reduces impacts all along the life cycle, so that is an even better choice.

It is sometimes better to pay a little more for something initially, and use less of it or reuse it. Planning purchases is important so you buy what you need but not more than you need. Little decisions made every day can add up to big changes in your eco- and healthy- lifestyle.

Some choices, such as retrofitting with LED lamps or paying for regular maintenance of equipment, may seem like money you don’t want to spend at first. However, when looking at the cost over a longer term, these choices make excellent financial sense. When re-lamping, get a redesign at the same time. Your workspace may have been modified since the original design and you may need fewer fixtures when switching to LED lamps. Along with energy savings, new lighting also provides an updated look and can contribute to higher productivity.

Similarly, better-quality and more flavorful foods can satisfy in lower quantity. If the food you eat is better quality, it may be more expensive, but planning to eat less of it allows you to stay within your budget.

Small plate, gourmet food.

Regular maintenance checks result in cost savings for HVAC, compressed air and steam systems. Maintenance of systems helps ensure that little problems don’t become big, expensive problems. It takes a little discipline and labor cost but pays big dividends.

Wellness initiatives also include “maintenance” style exercise, where little bits of exercise are built into your day. People try to put exercise into their daily routine by parking far from the door, taking the stairs, and getting up from their desk to talk to a colleague rather than use the phone or email. People are also encouraged to have a regular exercise routine of walking, jogging, cycling, aerobics or life-time sport. Studies have shown exercise improves a person’s physical and mental health, paying big benefits for small, routine efforts.

Planning is essential to healthier eating. Purchase healthy foods so junk food is not available to eat. Eat regular meals to avoid over-eating due to getting too hungry. An additional benefit to planning and purchasing for smaller meals is the reduction of food waste. Excess food constitutes about eight percent of what we throw away in this country.

Planning takes some time but saves money and resources. Planning food purchases allows you to capture sales and avoid waste. The time spent planning once per week also makes daily food preparation easier. Another strategy is to drink more water and eat more water-based soups to fill up on low-calorie foods and eat fewer high-calorie foods. By replacing our food intake with lower calorie equivalents, we can reduce our overall calorie intake.

Planning printing and paper use can help us reap the environmental benefits of using high-recycled-content paper and stay within the budget. Instead of printing so many materials, evaluate what really needs to be printed and substitute electronic communications for non-essential printing.

Piles of printed documents

Electronic communications are like soup. They help keep the message going without the calories (or in this case, without the environmental impact.) In addition, paperless transactions save money on paper used, printing and postage, while providing convenience for customers and lowering handling costs.

Likewise, limit portion size. When printing is necessary, can the size of the paper be smaller? How about the number of copies? Only print what is needed. Go through mailing lists prior to purchasing printed materials so you don’t have extras. This not only saves printing costs but postage and storage space for left-over materials. With proper planning, buying higher-quality 100 percent recycled-content paper will be within the budget. Reduce.org offers additional tips on reducing paper in an office.

Other choices for healthy lifestyles include avoiding toxics, such as BPA in food containers and hazardous chemicals in cleaning supplies. Many schools are leading the way in using green (non-toxic, biodegradable) cleaners to better manage their inventory and provide a safer environment for students and employees.

Chemicals are purchased in concentrated form and diluted to specific levels according to the surface being cleaned. Concentrated chemicals not only lessen environmental impact by reducing transportation weight, but they also reduce the size of inventory that must be stored. This healthy, environmentally conscious choice can also be cost effective. The University of North Carolina at Greensboro found that using concentrated chemicals reduced chemical cost from $3.07 per gallon to about 25 cents per gallon. The University also reduced chemical usage by 75 percent.

Engaging in a healthy lifestyle and going green requires a conscious effort, planning and systematic changes, but both can be done using similar techniques and both can yield beneficial results. Just as multiple attributes should be considered when making choices, multiple benefits are achieved. The benefits may not always be immediately obvious but will be realized over time.