EarthTalk: I want to convince my high school
to go green. What would it cost for a school to switch to
all recycled paper products and all energy efficient lighting?
-- Danel Berman, via e-mail
should not only be encouraged to switch to recycled
paper but to cut paper usage as well. Students can
reduce paper waste significantly by printing on both
sides of a sheet and by not printing too many drafts.
© jeremyfoo, courtesy Flickr
your school is a great idea. It will not only benefit the
environment but the student body as well. According to the
“Greening America’s Schools” report, sponsored
in part by the non-profit U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC),
green buildings provide a better study and learning environment
for students. Improved lighting, air quality and acoustics
are estimated to improve learning abilities and test scores
by as much as five percent. And what better way to teach
young people about the importance of environmental stewardship
than starting right in the schools where they spend the
majority of every weekday?
every school is different, there is no universal formula
for calculating how much money going green will cost. Switching
over to recycled paper, for instance, will not necessarily
be cheap. A recent spot-check at a national office supply
chain showed that the price for a ream (500 sheets) of 30
percent recycled copy paper was 20 percent higher than a
ream with no recycled content. If you chose 100 percent
recycled content, you would pay 35 percent more per ream.
But prices can vary widely depending upon where you buy
paper, and bulk purchasers like schools may be able to negotiate
much better prices.
best way to offset the added costs of switching to recycled
paper is to cut paper usage at the same time. Start a program
to educate students about how they can reduce paper waste
by printing on both sides of a sheet and by not printing
as many drafts, for example. You can also encourage your
school to switch to e-newsletters instead of paper ones
and find other ways to reduce administrative paper use.
to recycled paper is definitely a big win for the environment.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reports that
40 cases of 30 percent recycled copy paper (400 reams) will
save more than seven trees, 2,100 gallons of water, 1,230
kilowatt-hours of electricity and 18 pounds of air pollution.
can calculate this impact for your school. Ask your school
purchaser how much printer/copier paper is purchased, and
calculate its weight in pounds or tons. Then go to the Environmental
Defense Fund’s online Paper Calculator. Enter the
weight and type of paper you use and you can determine the
amount of wood, energy, water, solid waste and greenhouse
gas emissions you’ll save by switching to recycled.
for lighting, many schools already use a lot of fluorescent
lighting. If your school still uses incandescent bulbs,
consider that for every 60-watt incandescent bulb switched
to a 13-watt compact fluorescent, the school could save
75 percent in energy use—an average of $45 over the
life of each bulb.
schools can also put in occupancy sensors that turn lights
off when rooms are vacant, or install task lighting to further
reduce energy usage. Such add-ons might seem like luxuries
for already strapped schools, but it just may be worthwhile
anyway given the energy that can be saved and the lessons
Building Council; Natural
Resources Defense Council; Green
Schools Initiative; Environmental
Defense Fund’s Paper Calculator.
EarthTalk: With all the talk of desalinization
of ocean water for drinking, what do we know about the impacts
this might have on climate, ocean salinity and other natural
-- Fred Kuepper, via e-mail
Marine biologists warn that widespread desalinization
could take a heavy toll on ocean biodiversity because
such facilities essentially vacuum up and inadvertently
kill millions of plankton, fish eggs, fish larvae
and other microbial organisms that constitute the
base layer of the marine food chain. Also, for every
gallon of fresh water produced, another gallon of
doubly concentrated salt water must be disposed of,
further wreaking havoc on marine ecosystems.
© smthns, courtesy Flickr
Due to its high
cost, energy intensiveness and overall ecological footprint,
most environmental advocates view desalinization (or desalination)—the
conversion of salty ocean water into fresh water—as
a last resort for providing fresh water to needy populations.
Sourcing fresh water from streams, rivers, lakes and underground
aquifers and adhering to strict water conservation measures
are much more viable for both economic and environmental
reasons in most situations, although some desert regions
with thirsty and growing populations may not have many such
between desalinization and climate change is complex. Global
warming has increased droughts around the world and turned
formerly verdant landscapes into near deserts. Some long
held fresh water sources are simply no longer reliably available
to hundreds of millions of people around the world.
populations in desert areas are putting intense pressure
on existing fresh water supplies, forcing communities to
turn to desalinization as the most expedient way to satisfy
their collective thirst. But the process of desalinization
burns up many more fossil fuels than sourcing the equivalent
amount of fresh water from fresh water bodies. As such,
the very proliferation of desalinization plants around the
world—some 13,000 already supply fresh water in 120
nations, primarily in the Middle East, North Africa and
Caribbean—is both a reaction to and one of many contributors
to global warming.
Beyond the links
to climate problems, marine biologists warn that widespread
desalinization could take a heavy toll on ocean biodiversity;
as such facilities’ intake pipes essentially vacuum
up and inadvertently kill millions of plankton, fish eggs,
fish larvae and other microbial organisms that constitute
the base layer of the marine food chain. And, according
to Jeffrey Graham of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography’s
Center for Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine, the salty
sludge leftover after desalinization—for every gallon
of freshwater produced, another gallon of doubly concentrated
salt water must be disposed of—can wreak havoc on
marine ecosystems if dumped willy-nilly offshore. “For
some desalinization operations,” says Graham, “it
is thought that the disappearance of some organisms from
discharge areas may be related to…the salty outflow.”
Of course, as
supplies of fresh water dwindle, the economic cost of desalinization—especially
in coastal areas with easy access to ocean water—begins
to look competitive with traditional water sourcing. To
date there are about 300 desalinization plants in the United
States, with 120 in Florida and less than 40 each in Texas
and California. Some 20 additional plants are planned for
the coast of California in the coming years, unless environmentalists
extolling the virtues of conservation and wielding low-flow
shower heads and toilets prevail.
Center for Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine.