How to fix the plastic problem: An ode to Earth Day
Earth Day is on April 22nd, but what is Earth Day? What are we celebrating and what does it actually mean for participating individuals and corporations alike?
Earth day is a real thing, it is not just another made-up event dreamt up by a Public Relations consultant. In fact, Earth Day is pretty important and something that warrants more than a 1-day celebration. There are still many people who aren’t aware of why we celebrate this annual event. To begin, the event is part of the world’s largest environmental movement. The first Earth Day was 48 years ago and it has grown to such an extent that now over 1 billion people in 195 countries participate in Earth Day activities each year.
There is a theme given to every Earth Day celebration. For instance, the 2017 theme was Environmental and Climate Literacy. In 2018, the theme for Earth Day is “End Plastic Pollution.” This is important because plastic pollution is an increasingly worrisome problem, especially when plastic gets into the oceans. In oceans, plastic can do immense harm to animals along the entire length of the food chain and cause whole ecosystems to suffer – including us.
Ambius and Earth Day
As an organization, we take our environmental responsibilities seriously. At the heart of our approach is a focus on our core values that drive us to do what’s right for colleagues and customers alike. Like many large companies, a number of procedures have been established to reduce the impact that we have on the planet.
With that, it is good to take a closer look regularly to examine our efforts, the areas that make the biggest impact, and what we do each day for environmentally responsible service delivery. This practice helps us to identify where we can improve our operations to make the greatest impact benefiting the Earth. Although this is a process undertaken by a group of like-minded individuals, it is ultimately carried out by the greater corporation – a collection of individual parts working as one to achieve something great.
The plastic problem
This year we have turned our microscope towards the issue of plastics in accordance with the theme of the year, and we’ve discovered that we have a challenge to meet. And it’s not just Ambius, but the horticulture industry as a whole. As a company, we purchase hundreds of thousands of plants every year. Each one is grown in a plastic pot – and these pots have some significant benefits – including environmental benefits. The pots are often made of recycled materials, and they may, in turn, be recyclable or reusable. Furthermore, they are very lightweight, which means much less fuel is burned while moving them around the country compared to traditional terracotta. They are also clean and hygienic, which reduces the risks of plant diseases and their subsequent treatment with pesticides.
However, despite their recyclability, many end up in landfills. This is our challenge – to reduce our dependence on these products.
The easiest thing to do is to reduce the number of plants that we buy, but we do not want to reduce the amount we put into our customers’ buildings. Therefore, we must do our best to ensure that the plants we use remain in excellent condition for longer so they don’t have to be replaced as often.
This approach requires collaboration, innovative thinking across the industry, and a real understanding of the whole life of the plants we use, starting with the grower and ending when the plant has become replaceable. If we start with healthy plants, we are already halfway there. Good plants with healthy roots will have an advantage over those that are top-heavy with overgrown foliage.
Next, they must be nurtured. Skilled horticulturists will know how to look after those plants properly and ensure their long-term survival. The longer plants survive in an acceptable condition, the fewer replacements are needed. This means that fewer plastic containers are required, which improves the overall sustainability of the entire life cycle of the business, the plants, and ultimately the environment. Consider the resources used to grow the plant, fuel used to transport it, and the packaging used to protect it – they all have a measurable carbon footprint.
Beyond the plastic nursery pot, there are other issues to consider. Many of the attractive decorative containers that are used to display plants are made from plastic. Fortunately, these are durable and long-lasting, but they are also subject to the whims of fashion.
A perfectly usable plant container may find itself obsolete if it no longer fits in with the office decor. Some manufacturers have adopted the Cradle-to-Cradle approach (C2C). This means that the product has a fully traceable life cycle from the plastic’s original manufacture all way through multiple generations of reuse and recycling before it ends up as garden furniture, thence to a component in black refuse sacks and finally as fuel to generate electricity.
Looking beyond the individual components of a plant display, we should also consider other elements of sustainability and environmental responsibility, and this is how interior landscaping can help organizations achieve their green goals.
Going green with plants in the workplace
We think of plants as being inherently green. It seems to make sense that by having plants in a building, a company is doing something environmentally friendly. As discussed, this is only partly correct, yet there are some significant environmental benefits to be obtained by having greenery in and around a building – and some that might contribute towards green building credits (i.e. LEED & WELL Building) as well.
There is an increasingly robust canon of academic literature that demonstrates that having plants in workplaces can increase productivity, health, well-being, and engagement. The WELL Building standard requires a specific plant to floor space ratio and puts a premium on green walls to produce people-friendly and wellness inspired spaces. In addition, there are LEED credits to be gained by managing the landscape setting of the building.
Research has shown and continues to show that enriching work spaces with plants can lead to significant improvements in productivity, especially when compared with spaces managed along lean or unenriched office space principles.
Advocates of high density, unenriched offices may think that by removing ephemera – such as plants and art – they might save some space and reduce distractions. However, the scientific evidence suggests that they are wrong. Work spaces that are are more “homely” – those that give the users of the space some sense of ownership over it – are likely to be more productive and will improve well being too.
So, this Earth Day – we challenge you to look at your individual sustainability goals and your corporate environmental procedures and look for ways to improve. By continuing to look for ways to improve our daily operations, even in minute or incremental ways, we as individuals and the larger corporations or businesses for which we work can make a significant impact – leading to a healthier, greener planet and an environmentally-friendly way of life.
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