Working Green While Making Green

Posted on October 6, 2011 by Mickey

Sadly, I’ve come to the realization through extensive experiential research that unemployment makes for a very green lifestyle. No commute, I can wear the same clothes for days on end and if it’s yellow… yep, I can just go ahead and let it mellow. Of course, all this is true if you are lucky enough to work from home, but that dream has yet to come calling.

Still, I wasn’t complaining when I got a job recently after quite the lengthy period of, ahem, very green living. Unfortunately, my new job is a forty-five minute drive away in a different county, a trip that, while technically possible using public transportation, would probably require several bus changes on two different systems and miles of walking. I’d have to leave for work as soon is I get home from work.

So now I’ve joined the other stop-and-go weekday warriors, spewing my greenhouse gases and burning fuel by the tank-full. And I’m earning a paycheck, a deal I was more than happy to make. But what can I do to reduce my workday footprint now that I’ve left my little green income-free utopia? Of course I realize that I can’t do anything to truly make up for my 36-mile daily roundtrip, but my conscience requires me to at least try. These are the admittedly miniscule actions I’ve taken so far:

1. Everybody knows this one: BRING YOUR OWN MUG! At my workplace there’s a stack of styrofoam cups by the coffee maker, but most people seem to have their own drinking vessels. So easy, even an office drone could do it.

2. Single-use items bug the crap out of me (see above) and that goes for paper towels, too. You wash your hands in the restroom (I hope) and then you dry them. Unless your workplace has hand dryers, you grab a paper towel, probably more than one because one never even comes close. Me, I keep a washcloth at my desk. I don’t dry my hands with paper at home, so why should I at work? I keep my towel dry by hanging it from a desk drawer and I just stuff it into my back pocket when I go to the john. It’s really not that weird.

3. I eat in. Everywhere I’ve ever worked I saw the majority of my coworkers leave every single day to go buy lunch from a restaurant (with the exception of my time as a park ranger where our relative isolation precluded being able to pop out for a quick anything.) Not only is eating out expensive and generally unhealthy, but unless you work in a strip mall it will require driving. Just bring your lunch.

4. When you do bring your lunch (which will be every day, I’m certain,) pack your food in reusable containers. I prefer my meals to create almost no trash, aside from maybe a banana peel. Even for foods like yogurt you’re better off buying in bulk and portioning it out into individual reusables. And don’t even think about plastic baggies or utensils.

5. Since I have to drive to work anyway, I maximize my mileage. Most people don’t realize that it’s not just the car, but how you drive it that determines your vehicle’s efficiency. Check out this article from Salon. I do everything described there and routinely get 25% better mileage. That’s the environmental and financial equivalent of teleporting one out of every four trips to work, except I still have the chance to listen to a podcast and curse at other drivers.

I’m all too aware that none of this is the impact equivalent of sitting around in my pajamas with the windows open and the plumbing idle, but I’m doing what I can (and I’m getting paid, hallelujah.) Any other ideas?


  1. Well Telecommuting has never really caught on with most companies in America these days. They are too afraid they may not be squeezing every last possible second of your time out of you to profit from. In this area, we have tons of traffic issues so there have been some enlightened policies put into place that helps out with these things that I might add to the list.

    1) Shift your work day: Instead of starting at the times that everyone else in the world does, start at a slightly offset time. This helps eliminate the stop and go aspect of the journey. Car get better gas mileage if they don’t have to get getting their mass up to full speed over and over again. Unfortunately most businesses have instituted rules that require a core number of hours to be available, So you can seldom get more than two hours of shift. But if you can find someone reasonable where you work to make it possible, then it can save you gas and stress.

    2) Work longer days: I know it sounds crazy, but some places in our area have started allowing people to work 10 hour days and only work 4 days a week. This would eliminate one 36 mile round trip for you. And all the associated gas and stress involved in that. Of course, the 10 hour day would also give you a bit of a time shift as well. Of course, 10 hours in a row is a bit of drag on the best of days. But some people swear by the 3 day weekend every week. I don’t think you can make up the time, but I work more than 10 hours a day on a regular basis, so I can’t be trusted.

    3) Car pooling: Another not very popular option for most people. But spreading the pain and associated pollution can be a pretty good deal. In our area, people got to car pooling sites to pick up enough people to get HOV lane access so they can make their commute faster. So an entire ecosystem has sprung up around making that faster and easier. We call them slug lines. I’m sure you can find some level of this going on in your area.

    4)Buy a hybrid: I know! But they are awesome for stop and go traffic. The PHEV’s are starting to come out now and your commute is almost perfect for their window of efficiency. That can be a longer term goal I guess, but you should definitely consider it. Depending on your yearly work schedule, 36 miles a day is like 30 to 40 k in mileage a year on a car. So you will likely need a new one sooner rather than later. The PHEV’s are getting 100+ miles per gallon now. So you could likely get two or three weeks with your commute without needing to get gas. Maybe over a month, depending if you could recharge at work.

    And remember most companies won’t let you do anything like time shifting, longer work days, and telecommuting until you’ve gotten past the 6 month startup period. In my office, ten years of loyal employment gets you three days a week of telecommuting, which can be revoked at will. Usually not. But most people can get 1 day a week after a year or so. Depending on their performance.

    October 6th, 2011 at 8:05 am
    Comment by Jamison
  2. Yeah, I don’t know about your schedule, but I know I’ve had a friend with a brutal commute work really weird hours to completely avoid high traffic hours.

    But I’m sorry. If I didn’t know what you were doing and saw you taking a rag into the toilet every time you went, I’d assume you were obsessive about the cleanliness of your underwear regions instead of drying your hands.

    October 6th, 2011 at 9:37 am
    Comment by Jacob
  3. Not that it makes it a bad idea. I’d just be mocking you.

    October 6th, 2011 at 9:41 am
    Comment by Jacob
  4. [...] Sadly, I’ve come to the realization through extensive experiential research that unemployment makes for a very green lifestyle. [...]

    October 21st, 2011 at 11:01 am
    Pingback by Quick Green Reads For The Weekend Volume 233 | The Good Human
  5. Public transport will never be the answer to your 36 mile daily round trip, but you don’t have to drive every day. I have a very slightly longer round trip, but two days a week I cycle. It takes me longer and it took a while to work up to it, but it was certainly worth it and now I’m trying to find ways to reorganise the rest of my life to bring that up to three days. Five days will never work as I need at least one day to bring in office clothes and such.

    October 24th, 2011 at 8:53 am
    Comment by David
  6. Great points!

    The more I read the more I realize the great differences between Europe and the U.S., one of them being the lunch at work. I am glad to have been able to work in two countries on the two opposing ends in Europe and at both places everyone had their own mug. As far as lunch is concerned, it is plain common sense to have a reusable box!

    By the way, I just read a horrified post about a Kleenex commercial in the U.S. about using paper towels at home. Really? the world must have gone crazy! Right at the time when all attention is set to reducing and recycling… How much effort will be enough to fight ignorance?

    October 28th, 2011 at 6:53 am
    Comment by Kanelstrand

Leave a comment

Tip of the Day

If It Doesn’t Smell, Don’t Wash It


According to Real Simple, if every American made an effort to launder less — cutting out just one load of laundry a week per household — we’d save enough water to fill seven million swimming pools each year.

So if it looks clean, and it smells clean, call it clean and wear it again. Consider hanging worn clothes out on your clothesline to freshen them up between wearings.

  • Stay-ad

    Support This Site