September 8, 2011 — Leaving a room? Flip the switch. Washing your hands? Try just one paper towel. Throwing away an item? Reuse if you can.
The savings seem small, but they contribute to sustainability goals at the University of Virginia, according to a recently launched promotion.
The campaign grew out of work by the President's Committee on Sustainability, with assistance from Sustainability Partners, a volunteer network of employees who promote environmentally responsible practices in the workplace.
"Flip the Switch" signs, mounted above light switches, encourage everyone to turn off the lights when leaving a room. Another sign, "Try Just One," is placed on paper towel dispensers to reduce consumption of paper products.
"Choose to Reuse" signs encourage replacing single-use items with those that can be used more than once. The message also appears on reusable shopping bags being given to new employees during orientation.
"The signage was designed to promote awareness that individual actions can make a difference," said Ida Lee Wootten, director of the University's Office of Community Relations, who chairs the outreach subcommittee of the President's Committee on Sustainability. "When we collected employee feedback, we found that many thought their individual actions did not matter. We frequently heard, for example, 'My cube mate doesn't recycle. Why should I?' We hope the prevalence of signage across Grounds will promote the idea that, together, our actions make a positive impact."
About 20,000 light switch stickers are being applied around Grounds and about 2,000 signs are being placed on paper towel dispensers, Wootten said.
Turning off lights when not in use reduces both electricity demand and the heat generated by light bulbs. It also reminds people to keep electronic devices, such as computers and printers, on power strips that can be turned off when the machines are not in use.
"Even when turned off, electronic and IT equipment often use a small amount of electricity when plugged in," Wootten said. "Stand-by or 'phantom' power load can range from a few watts to as much as 20 or even 40 watts for each piece of equipment, according to experts. Many electronics now can be turned off and still maintain features like clock displays, channel settings and remote-control functions."
The "Try Just One" campaign is designed to reduce the number of paper towels used on Grounds to save trees, money and energy and to cut waste.
"Once used, paper towels cannot be recycled," Wootten said. "Some sources indicate that, worldwide, as many as 51,000 trees per day are required to replace the number of paper towels that are discarded daily."
The "Choose to Reuse" message encourages people to use reusable containers and devices instead of single-use disposable products – for example, using a travel mug for coffee instead of cardboard cups, or reusable bags to carry groceries.
"Replacing single-use products with reusable ones helps preserve natural environments," Wootten said. "Reusing keeps waste out of landfills, reducing harmful emissions that pollute the air and contaminate the water."
Sustainability Partners meets the third Wednesday of every month from noon to 1 p.m. to discuss initiatives and network to share ideas as well as promote events. New members are always welcome.
For information, visit U.Va.'s Sustainability website.