Environmental Sustainability

Green Tips

Think Green

Bring Lunch from Home

A sandwich-to-go creates at least twice as much trash as food from home; sandwiches from the deli are typically wrapped in plastic, then placed in a bag or a Styrofoam container. Add a small bag of chips or a drink, and 100 percent of the lunch packaging creates waste for the environment.


  • when you're cooking dinner, add an extra handful of pasta to the pot or throw another piece of chicken on the grill
  • bring leftovers to work from home in reusable containers and eat with washable silverware stored in a desk drawer
  • instead of individual bags of chips or drinks, stock a large bag or bottle at home and bring a little to work in reusable containers
  • rinse out used sandwich bags at home and use them again the next day.

Meals made at home reduce waste and save on gas if you drive to the deli, and are typically healthier, especially since the decision of what to eat is made before you get hungry. If you need to get out of the office, take a walk around the block. Or, enjoy conversations with your colleagues by eating lunch with others in the office.

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Buy Other People’s Junk

Shoppers often don’t consider where their unwanted items go when new ones are purchased in their place. Imagine if every product had a carbon tag right next to the price tag, reminding shoppers of how much energy went into creating and transporting the product. Industrial emissions are the third-largest source of greenhouse gas, with transportation being second. American landfills are the second largest generator of methane gas, which is 20 times as effective as carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the atmosphere. Safe disposal and recycling of electronics is a rapidly growing concern worldwide.

Shopping at local secondhand stores, stopping by a Saturday-morning garage sale or accepting hand-me-downs cuts down on carbon emissions and keeps money in the local economy. America does not necessarily need to shrink the economy to shrink the carbon footprint; just consider that a new acquisition does not need to be newly manufactured. 

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Change the Margins to 0.75

Microsoft Word default margins are set at 1 inch top and bottom and 1.25 inches left and right. Printers only need .25 inches of white space to print everything on the page. Changing the margins to a moderate 0.75 inches all the way around will save 4.75 percent paper use. 

"Page savings will only be realized for approximately 50 percent of documents (a 1.5 page paper would gain no reduction in paper use for margin reductions), 50 percent of paper is used for printing or photocopying printed documents, and 19 percent more area available with 0.75” margins.  Thus, the total reduction in paper use is 0.50 x 0.50 x 0.19 = 4.75 percent.”  -- Mueller Policy Paper #1: Reduce Standard Margin Settings," 2001. Penn State Green Destiny Council.

By these calculations, Empire State College would save 315 reams of paper at the coordinating center -- 155,562 sheets. The creation of this much paper requires 1,900 trees and enough energy to supply 28 homes for one year. If this much paper was not used, it would be the same as taking 47 cars off the road a year, and saving the creation of six garbage truck loads of solid waste and three Olympic-size swimming pools of waste water. Environmental impact estimates were made using the Environmental Defense Fund Paper Calculator. Read more.

Changing Margins

Microsoft Word 2003: Go to File, Page Set Up, Margins 

Microsoft Word 2007: Go to Page Layout at the top and choose Margins. After you type in 0.75 for all four sides of paper, click Default on the bottom left to make all your documents start off this way.

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Energy-Saving Ideas

Ten energy and money-saving tips from Center for Distance Learning mentor Phil Ortiz made it onto the Oct. 6, 2010 home and garden blog of ConsumerReports.org. Ortiz described how he’s reduced his electricity bill nearly 300 percent in the last four years. His home consumed 1,021 kilowatt hours in the month of August 2006 and just 369 kilowatt hours in August 2010.

Ortiz noted that “minor, incremental things quickly added up to real savings." Replacing incandescent bulbs with CFLs was one of his earliest energy-saving measures. He then set his sights on identifying bigger energy hogs and learn which devices were wasting the most power. He found out, for example, that nearly 25 percent of his home electricity goes to his DVR. Moreover, the DVR does have energy conservation options, but they’ve been inactivated by his cable TV service provider.

Ortiz’s energy kick has included behavior modification such as dropping the heat down to 50 degrees at night and docking his daughter a quarter every time she leaves a room with the lights on.  
Here, in Ortiz's words, are some of his ideas:

  1. Line dry your clothes in the summer. In the winter, hang them inside, as this also adds moisture to the air. This makes the air feel warmer, and is healthier.
  2. Make energy more expensive. I use 100 percent wind power at my home. It costs a few more cents per kilowatt, so the incentive to conserve energy is even higher (for me, saving money is secondary to saving energy).
  3. Combine trips, coast to red traffic lights, accelerate more slowly, check your tire pressure, carpool and drive at the speed limit. You can easily save 10 to 20 percent on your yearly fuel costs.
  4. Be sure to use the bathroom fan when you shower in the summer (to get rid of warm humid air), but do not use the bathroom fan when you shower in the winter to keep that warm humid air.
  5. Ask yourself “does that kitchen lamp really need 6 bulbs?” If not, loosen a few and see if it makes much of a difference.
  6. If you routinely go past a farm stand, buy your produce there.  It will be cheaper, better and supportive of a local farmer.
  7. Time the use of your dishwasher to coincide with times when you want to add heat and humidity to your house.
  8. Unplug transformers and anything that has a power or standby light.
  9. Use coupons to reduce the prices of things you would buy anyway.  Don't use a coupon to buy something you wouldn't ordinarily buy.
  10. Ask yourself before you buy something, “Do I need this, or do I want this?”

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Leave the Leaves

Although many plants spend the fall preparing to go dormant for the long winter ahead, grass continues to grow into December. The cool nights and warm days of fall are excellent growing conditions for roots. Although mowing is not necessary as top growth has ceased, the green blades continue to gather sunlight and make food for the active roots below. Leaves fallen from the trees cover the grass and block the sun starving the grass. But this does not mean that leaves should be removed completely. Leaves are a great source of organic fertilizer and much welcomed organic matter. Chopped up into fine pieces and left on the lawn, leaves decay and return to the soil like self-spreading compost. 

As an alternative to raking, set the blades of a lawn mower to about three inches and mow the lawn, even if the grass does not need to be cut.  This is a good way to chop leaves up into a fine particle size and spread them evenly across the yard.  Raking only needs to be done if leaves lay thick enough that sunlight cannot get through.

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Making Time

“Not enough time” is often the reason given to put off implementing a new habit. But working towards environmental responsibility does not have to take time; often it’s just a thought: a flick of a light switch, the choice of a recycling bin over a trash can, “save” rather than “print,” turning off a computer at night. 

Many efforts that take less than a second to perform can make a difference that lasts a lifetime.

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Paper, Plastic, Styrofoam or Compostable?

Choosing among the numerous options of dishware comes down to considering the area of sustainability that most concerns the decision maker. Production practices that favor saving energy may not favor water quality. Adding to the landfill may save natural resources. Deciding one’s priority, then making an informed decision, is the best anyone can do for the environment. 

The attached fact sheet lists the pros and cons of tableware choices.
NOTE: You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to use this file. If you are unable to open the file, please contact Sadie Ross to have a copy sent to you.

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Programmable Thermostats

Programmable thermostats keep a consistent temperature and set the temperature back a few degrees when programmed to do so.  If the temperature at an average home is set back 10 degrees for eight hours or longer, savings of 1 percent per degree every year can be realized. That’s 10 percent off a yearly energy bill. But the settings do not have to be so drastic to save money. Energy Star thermostats can hold up to six temperatures, allowing different settings for a typical work week, nighttime and the weekend. The best way to save money on a heating bill is to get a programmable thermostat, then set it and forget it.  

For more information about programmable thermostats, visit:

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Recycle All Print Cartridges

Large or small, all printer cartridges can be recycled.

Almost every center, unit or office at SUNY Empire State College has a plan for recycling toner and inkjet cartridges. How to Recycle at Each Center and Unit  lists most locations and how to recycle materials at each. But cartridge recycling is not just for the office. Most office stores accept used ink cartridges and even pay for them. There are charities that collect cartridges as a donation to support their organization. A quick internet search for “donate ink cartridges” provides easy ways to help save the environment and donate to a worthy cause.

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Shop at Local Farmers' Markets

Everyone knows that the food sold at the farmers’ market is fresh, good for you and delicious, but here are a few other reasons to check out the farmers’ market.

  • Each dollar spent in a locally owned business returns three times more money to our local economy.
  • Produce you buy in the grocery store that’s grown in the U.S.A. is typically picked four to seven days before you buy it. Produce purchased from the farmers’ market is picked the day of the market, allowing it to ripen while still attached to the plant.
  • Produce you buy in the grocery store that’s grown in the U.S.A. travels an average of 1,500 miles before it reaches your home. Products from the farmers' market are likely to come from your hometown.
  • Farmers that sell at the markets are typically from small, diversified farms. They often do not need to use as many pesticides or fertilizers as large farms that specialize in just one crop.
  • Many farmers’ markets in New York state have it all: fruits, vegetables, breads, baked goods, cheeses, meats, milk, yogurt, value-added products (dressing and canned goods), honey and maple syrup. 
  • If you like the view of the countryside outside your town, you have a personal interest in keeping your local farmers in business.

Find a farmers’ market or farm stand near your house.

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The Waste Hierarchy: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle


The hierarchy begins with the waste-management practice that has the potential to create the biggest impact: reduce. Reducing waste goes beyond using fewer materials; it also means reducing your carbon footprint and use of natural resources. 

Here are a few selected ways to reduce:


  • turn down the thermostat
  • use fans rather than the air conditioner
  • carpool to work
  • use CFL bulbs
  • do not use multi-bulb light fixtures
  • turn off computers when not in use
  • turn the iron on only one minute before use, turn off immediately after pressing clothes


  • take shorter showers
  • water the garden with water collected from a rain barrel
  • do not run water when brushing teeth
  • wash dishes in a basin rather than under running water


  • buy items in larger packages
  • buy concentrated solutions whenever possible
  • do not use disposable items when reusable items are available, such as tableware, water bottles, coffee cups and grocery bags
  • print double-sided and reuse the back of single-sided printed paper
  • do not buy unnecessary items, especially electronics
  • consider fixing what’s broken before replacing it
  • compost food scraps
  • use cloth napkins


Reflect on ways to reuse materials.  Although "reduce" and "recycle" get the most media attention, reusing materials has great potential to reduce waste and energy use. 

A few suggestions:

  • shop at a second hand-store
  • buy a used car
  • use old gym sneakers as gardening sneakers
  • shop for furniture online or in the newspapers
  • make notepads from paper that has been printed on only one side
  • clean and reuse plastic sandwich bags from lunch
  • reuse plastic bread bags and other clean food containers instead of purchased sandwich bags
  • use sandwich platters from catered events as a greenhouse for germinating garden vegetables in the spring
  • rinse out yogurt containers to use as storage containers
  • buy pencils with refillable lead
  • fix before buying new
  • think twice before putting something in the garbage; there may be a use for it elsewhere.


Our last action in the waste hierarchy gets the most attention, but probably has the least participation. This may be because, unlike the money saved in reducing and reusing, there is not a direct personal benefit to recycling most materials. However, there are many reasons to recycle, and the benefits impact everyone personally, even if not directly. 


  • Saves energy. One aluminum can saves enough energy to power a TV for three hours. Recycling five glass bottles saves enough energy to power a conventional light bulb for 20 hours or a CFL for 100 hours. Recycling five plastic bottles creates enough fiber to create 52 T-shirts.
  • Reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Paper and other biodegradable substances give off methane when put into the landfill. Plus, using recycled products during the manufacturing of goods uses less energy during production, thereby emitting less carbon dioxide.
  • Creates jobs. Recycling in the U.S. is a $236 billion a year industry. More than 56,000 recycling and reuse enterprises employ 1.1 million workers nationwide.
  • Reduces waste. The average American discards 7.5 pounds of garbage every day. Most of this garbage goes into to landfills, where it's compacted and buried. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, every ton of recycled paper saves 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space.
  • Creates new demand. Recycling and buying recycled products creates demand for more recycled products, decreasing waste and helping our economy.
  • Creates a sense of satisfaction in taking part in a national movement.  Nationally, we recycled and composted 83 million tons of municipal solid waste. This provides an annual benefit of 182 million metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions reduced, comparable to the annual GHG emissions from more than 33 million passenger vehicles. In addition 1.3 quadrillion BTU of energy were saved, the equivalent of more than 10.2 billion gallons of gasoline.

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Vacation Green

Stay green on the road:

  • Turn the air conditioning off when not in the hotel room. Small rooms cool down quickly. Close the curtains to keep sunlight from heating up the small space while away.
  • Walk or rent bikes. This saves on gas and is the best way to appreciate the view and to feel a part of the community.
  • Only take brochures that are necessary at welcome centers, museums or other tourist attractions.
  • Don’t buy trinkets that will be thrown away the next day.
  • Ask if recycling is available. There may not be recycling bins in each hotel room, but the hotel itself may recycle.
  • Keep the same habits as when at home.
  • Opt not to have the bath towels washed every day.
  • Bring a “to-go” insulated mug for coffee.
  • Turn off the lights when not in the room.
  • Use the stairs.
  • Go camping. Connecting to the outdoors may foster a greater appreciation for natural resources and help make the connections between human behavior and environmental sustainability.

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Want to Stay Cool? Turn off the Lights

Turn off the lights or switch to compact florescent lights. CFLs use up to 75 percent less energy than standard incandescent bulbs and give off only 30 percent of the heat. But in a heat wave, even that 30 percent can be a big difference. 

Ask yourself these questions:

  • do you need the light in your office to be on even when you are using the computer?
  • are the hallways bright enough without the lights on?
  • are the lights on in the workrooms, conference rooms and bathrooms even when unoccupied? Walk around your building and turn off the lights where no one is working.

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