Author Archive

Ed Avis

Ed Avis is a writer and editor in Chicago. His specialties include green technology, large-format imaging, and architecture. His work has appeared in Crain's Chicago Business, the Chicago Tribune, Your Money magazine, and many other publications.

Green paint providing form and function

Time to repaint the office? Don’t use normal paint and expect your employees to breathe those fumes for weeks later! The EPA claims indoor air is three times more polluted than outside air; reduce some of that by using paint with low quantities of volatile organic compounds (VOC).

Like many green ideas, using low-VOC paint has more than one advantage. Of course the air will be cleaner, but you’ll also be able to easily dispose of unused paint, since it’s not a hazardous waste.

There are actually three categories of environmentally smart paint: natural, zero-VOC, and low-VOC.

Natural paints are made from natural raw ingredients, such as plant oils, clay, and beeswax. These have virtually no emissions and are completely safe for your employees and the environment.

Paint with less than five grams of VOC per liter can be called “zero- VOC,” according to the EPA.

The amount of VOCs in low-VOC paints varies – the amount is written on the label – but they’re all below 300grams per liter, and many are under 50 grams per liter.

All low-VOC paints use water as the solvent rather than petroleum-based solvents. That in itself is a major advantage. Low-VOC paints also contain no, or very low levels of, heavy metals and formaldehyde.

Start 2011 by saving up to 30% on office energy & resource costs

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates as much as 30 percent of the energy used in a typical office is wasted. Imagine if you could put 30 percent of your energy bill in your bottom line instead of the utility’s pocket! If you pay $2500 a month for power now, you would save $750 per month if you could cut out the waste.

One of the first energy draining culprits to consider is your office hardware. Your PCs and peripherals, printers, and copiers need only be turned on during office hours. In addition, even when these units are off, they still can be drawing energy. This is called the “vampire effect,” because your equipment sucks energy and savings. Plug your equipment into Eco-surges to truly turn them off and kill the vampire effect.

As with homes, ensure that your office space is properly insulated. Consider turning down the thermostat a few more degrees in winter–everyone looks good in a sweater, after all–and up a degree or two in summer. There are more intricate ways to save. Energy audits are a quick and long-lasting means of obtaining verifiable savings. Try contacting your local utility for an audit.

If you rent, talk to your landlord about saving energy. It’s in his best interest to keep costs to a minimum and retain you as a tenant.

Do you provide bottled water for your employees? Time to get back to the tap. Invest in a 4-stage or higher reverse osmosis system. Bottled water is expensive, and there is no proof that it is any safer than tap. Transporting it via dirty diesel and unsterilized plastic is not a cost-effective nor environmentally friendly solution. Within a few months, the new water filtration system will pay for itself.

Don’t overlook the energy saving potential in your company fleet or vehicles. With the average price of gasoline now over $3.00 per gallon and heading ever higher, it’s time to outwit and outmaneuver that oligarchy called OPEC. Experiment by using a trial version of fleet software to help manage, maintain, and cut your fuel costs. We’ve all heard of carpooling, but what about delivery- pooling? How many times have you sent just a single box/pallet or two on a delivery?  Consider halving your delivery schedule and pass the costs savings on to your customers. At a time when everyone else is being surcharged for fuel, your customers can receive rebates.

For 2011, let’s implement conservation solutions and benefit from the savings.

What is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, (LEED)?

This is a program run by the U.S. Green Building Council. The USGBC is non-governmental organization, with over 20,000 members and 79 chapters. Its sole purpose, to promote green buildings.

Here’s a simplified look at how LEED works. Architects, developers and builders who want their buildings to be green work towards getting LEED certification. LEED certification comes when they earn a certain number of points. Points are awarded when they meet certain goals in six areas:

Sustainable Sites – that means they choose the right place to build their building, and work to make sure their building fits the site. Frank Lloyd Wright would have approved of this one – he was known for making his structures fit into the site, rather than changing the site to fit the structure.

Water Efficiency – obviously, that they take into consideration water usage of the building. Using landscaping that doesn’t need too much water, planning ways for rainwater to be efficiently taken care of, maybe even finding ways to use “brown” water for plantings.

Energy and Atmosphere – that the building is energy efficient, doesn’t create of lot of air pollution, maybe uses solar panels.

Materials and Resources – LEED emphasizes using recycled materials and sustainable materials – such as bamboo floors instead of regular hardwood floors, kitchen countertops made from recycled glass rather than granite, and carpets made from recycled plastic pop bottles rather than from virgin petroleum, etc.

Indoor Environmental Quality – this means the air the occupants breathe is fresh, so they use paints with low volatile organic compounds, they use adhesives that don’t release noxious fumes, they put in more hard floors than carpets, and when they do put in carpets, they’re the kind that don’t have a lot of fumes.

Innovation and Design Process – this is a category that allows LEED points to be earned for going above and beyond the other requirements.
To learn more:

Forest Stewardship Council

The Forest Stewardship Council is a non-profit organization that makes sure wood products bearing its logo come from properly managed forests and ecologically sensitive logging practices. The Council works with third-party auditors who track the wood products – including paper– from the forest to the consumer to make sure they are properly handled the whole way. Learn more about FSC’s paper certification process at:

Your Employees Want to be Green

You might think your employees do their best because they need the paycheck. They probably DO need the paycheck, but an awful lot of slackers collect a paycheck and don’t care a lick about the work they do to earn it. Those aren’t the kind of employees you want. You want employees who care about your mission, and who come to work because they believe it’s a great place to work. How do you get your employees to focus on more than greenbacks? By focusing your business on the other kind of green – environmentalism.

A recent survey of over 4,000 people by the recruitment job site MonsterTRAK found that 80 percent of young professionals are interested in securing a job that has a positive impact on the environment. And 90 percent of the respondents said they would rather work for an environmentally friendly employer.

Consider how those statistics affect your recruitment. If 90 percent of your prospective employees would rather work for a green company, being green is going to make filling your openings much easier. If you’re competing with the other reprographics shop in town for the latest computer school graduate – or the experienced sign maker who just moved to town – you want every advantage you can have. Being green is a big one.

Why do your employees care? Because they want to feel that their work – even if it has nothing directly to do with the environment – is helping in some small way. If your firm is green, your employees will be proud to be part of the organization.

“Your company may produce widgets, but if you are socially responsible and contribute to the community, and you’re environmentally responsible and among the leaders in your industry at helping or protecting the environment, then people identify with that. It makes them want to stay a part of the company,” wrote Frank Alix, CEO of Powerspan Corp., in an essay titled Better Business Practices for a Better Environment.

A 2007 survey by Kenexa Research Institute backed up this idea. The survey looked at companies with strong “corporate social responsibility” (CSR) initiatives, which include environmental aspects, and found that employees were happier and stayed longer at companies with those programs.

“An organization’s CSR efforts also positively affect an employee’s personal outlook of the future, satisfaction with their job and confidence in the company’s future,” Kenexa reports.“Employees who rate their organization as having a strong CSR culture outscored those who view their company’s CSR activities as weak on each of these key indicators. Furthermore, employees who work in a strong CSR culture are more favorable toward their colleagues’ willingness to do the very best for the organization, and have more favorable views of their company’s ability to motivate people to work hard and put in extra effort.”

Energy Audit

An energy audit is a great way to discover places for you to save energy – and money. The first step in an energy audit is to talk to your power company. Many offer free audits that attempt to weed out energy wasting habits. Second, consider energy management software. These programs track your usage and help you identify areas of waste. Take a demo of the Energy Lens program at:

If neither of those steps satisfy you, you may want to call in a pro. Many consultants these days conduct energy audits that identify air leaks, wasteful equipment, places that need more insulation,and such. Look online under “energy consultants” to find one near you.


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