Guest post by Brian Toomey
There are industries that see a lot of scrutiny (often with just cause) from environmental authorities and campaigners, and then there are those that are 'under the radar'. Unfortunately, some of these are major offenders and action does need to be taken to reduce impacts in these fields. Here are five of the most problematic:
1. Trade Shows
Every year trade and consumer shows generate around 600,000 tons of garbage. In other words that's around a billion pounds, making trade shows the second worst waste offender compared to industry size, just after construction.
It's easy to imagine where the waste comes from: all those flyers, posters, catalogs, plastic bags and cheap samples piling up and heading towards landfill. However, the solution isn't rocket science either. Something as simple as providing good recycling opportunities within trade show venues could make a huge difference.
Technology also has a role to play. Digital catalogs, smartphone apps, QR codes can replace paper and plastic handouts and cut down on trash. Reusable, sustainably sourced green trade show display stands (I am currently working with Smash Hit Displays to promote these, and we have developed an infographic summarizing the problems in this industry), recycled tote bags, and biodegradable food and beverage containers can also go a very long way towards greening this very brown industry.
2. Data centers
We tend to think of the Internet as an intangible thing, but everything that happens online has a carbon footprint. When Google first published their energy usage stats in September 2011, they revealed emissions of about 1.5 tonnes of carbon a year. That's more than some small countries!
According to the company itself one standard Google search generates about 0.2g of carbon dioxide. Other sources put that figure much higher, but even at with this conservative estimate, we're still talking about tens of thousands of searches per second and search is just the start. Cloud computing is growing fast too. But to give Google their due, they also claim that their data centers are the most efficient in the world.
Greenpeace figures put the carbon footprint of the entire Internet somewhere between that of Japan and Russia. Apple, Facebook, HP, IBM, and Amazon were all found to be not-so-clean.
3. Movies and TV
A UCLA report on the environmental impact of the film and TV industry within the state of California put pollutant emissions at well over 120,000 tonnes. When it comes to greenhouse gases the figure is 8 million tonnes within the LA metropolitan area alone. Ouch!
Nobody can deny that hospitals are absolutely essential and provide huge social value across the world, but they are also major waste sources. The demands of hygiene make it very easy to justify throwing away everything from plastic components to clothing in huge quantities. When speaking out about the need to reduce hospital waste, Dr William Rupp of the Mayo Clinic said that wastage runs at about 30 to 40 percent.
It's estimated that the USA spends about 17 percent of GDP in the healthcare industry, so people like Dr Rupp are starting to look hard at waste for other reasons. That organization says that if 10 percent of the existing level of waste could be circumvented, the monetary saving would come in around $100 billion.
The banking and finance industry is getting a lot of flak at the moment but that's not to say it isn't justified. Not only are we talking about huge office buildings with energy bills to match, but banks and financial institutions are also major users of data centers.
Some are taking steps towards saving energy. Deutsche Bank's head office in Frankfurt has recently been renovated with efficiency in mind. They estimate that they've saved 55 percent on electrical power and more than 67 percent in heating. Massive reductions in water use have also been achieved.
The Bank of America has also undertaken a substantial office greening project. Their Manhattan building is the first commercial tower to get a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) platinum certification. HSBC and the UK's Co-operative Bank are also working on reducing their impacts.
If every major financial institution were following Deutsche Bank's lead the environmental benefits would be huge. However, there are an awful lot who aren't. Most business districts across the world are lit up like Christmas trees every night, for example. Switching lights and electronic equipment off when not in use something any company, no matter how big or small, can do to significantly reduce their energy consumption.
Brian Toomey is a search marketing and data analysis specialist who loves working with Green companies to help them leverage best practices to help decrease industry footprint.
Image credit: M2Woman