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  7. Small Changes that Can Make a Difference to the Environment

Small Changes that Can Make a Difference to the Environment

Large-scale projects such as building a hydroelectric power plant will get a lot of attention, but it can often be the little things which can make a big difference to protecting the environment. Although they may not have much of an impact on their own, when thousands or even millions of people do the same, the cumulative effect can be far in excess of any benefit a large single project can provide.

Below are some examples of these changes and simple concepts:

Keep Doors Closed

Closing a door to keep the heat in

A large number of initiatives to reduce and limit any negative impact upon the environment require significant investment and long waits for construction and set-up before it can be put into practice and achieving its intended purpose. This can often prohibit the commissioning and implementation of environmental schemes and initiatives as the high expense or significant amount of effort and planning required is overlooked in favour of more short-term options which are likely to be harmful for the planet and the environment.

There are however also a large number of projects and methods which can not only have significant benefits for the environment by achieving an objective such as preventing heat loss and reducing energy consumption demands, but are relatively quick and inexpensive to set up or install. Along with these, there are simple actions too that people can introduce or perform which may even cost nothing. On their own these actions are hardly likely to make much of a difference, but over the years and if everybody else in the world did it, the benefits for the environment would be huge.

One such action is the simple closing of doors, especially ones leading to the outside. With a lot of emphasis placed on eking out every little percentage saved with regards to heat loss through tiny cracks or poorly insulated walls, it is ironic that some people forget that an open door to the outside causes a significant amount of heat loss to the cold outside, or cooled air escaping out to a hot outside. In either such case, this air will have to be replaced through heating up more or running the air conditioners again.

The simple action of keeping doors closed can not only save a household or business a lot of money over the long-term by not having to heat or cool as much air, but is also good for the environment as the power and electricity needed for the heater or air conditioning unit to operate would likely have come from a power station which burns fossil fuels that would release harmful emissions into the atmosphere.

Even better than relying upon people (which may include yourself!) to always shut doors is to install brackets which force doors to close when not held open by a person. As long as they are not propped open and forgotten about - which is also a fire hazard if they are an internal fire door - the doors will always close and prevent the loss of heated/cooled air without a person having to remember to shut it/them.

So whilst significant environmental investment in schemes such as wind farms may have a larger general benefit for the environment overall, little steps and actions such as the closing of doors can have a tremendous cumulative effect when performed all the time and by large numbers of people, much in the same way that one house switching to the use of energy efficient light bulbs is unlikely to make much of a difference, but when every house in the country does it the overall effects are tremendous.

Paint Colours and Light Levels for the Environment

We have already seen in articles such as How a Simple Action Like Cleaning a Light Bulb Can Help the Environment that extremely simple actions which may seem insignificant and inconsequential when performed singularly can have a major effect on reducing environmental damage when they are carried out on a large scale by thousands of people or more.

Another action which falls under this category is painting walls and ceilings a light colour such as white rather than black, brown or other dark colour. As well as likely having the effect of increasing the mood and general feeling of health and wellbeing that the occupants of the room feel and experience, a light colour for the walls and ceiling can have environmental benefits too. Surfaces which are painted in white or other light colours will reflect more light and require fewer bulbs or at least less powerful ones to be utilised in order to provide sufficient light levels for the task such as reading or writing. Dark, gloomy rooms will require more lighting which consequently will require greater electricity and energy consumption. Unless the power is produced through environmentally-friendly methods, this will obviously have an effect upon the environment through increased pollution from the burning of fossil fuels.

Again, a couple of extra or stronger light bulbs are not going to have any significant detrimental effect upon the environment. But over time, and when multiplied by thousands or millions of other dark rooms requiring stronger lighting levels, the cumulative effects do become significant and considerable amounts of air pollution will have been created and released as a result. By taking actions such as painting walls and ceilings in white or other light colour, along with those other small actions like shutting doors and cleaning light bulbs to provide maximum output, the overall effect of many people doing the same will produce tremendous benefits for the environment in terms of pollution prevention due to a lower energy demand.

Reflective Windows for Energy Conservation and Environmental Benefit

Along with walls and the roof, one of the other most common ways in which heat or artificially cooled air will escape from a building is through windows. Whether it be heat transference through cold glass or slight gaps which allow air to transfer between the inside and the outside, a window can provide a method for such loss. Air will then need to be re-heated or re-cooled which will, in the majority of cases, generally involve a machine which consumes electricity. As a result, poorly-fitting or thin single glazed windows are bad for the environment due to a household or business using more energy which will normally be created by the burning of fossil fuels.

Taking steps to prevent air loss will provide benefits not only to the environment but also brings about the added advantage of lowering fuel bills by negating the need to re-heat or re-cool the air. These include sealing and repairing gaps around the glass pane and window frame and installing double glazed or even triple glazed windows.

A further method for those truly serious about lowering their heating/air conditioning bills and contributing to environmental welfare is by installing reflective windows. As the name suggests, this glass will reflect heat energy on a warm day and keep it outside whilst still letting through light, and ultimately keeping the room cool, whilst on a cold day the heat produced inside by a fire or radiator for example will be kept back in the room rather than being lost to the outside. More on this can be found here including a couple of diagrams of the process. Reflective glass therefore keeps rooms cooler on a hot day and warmer on a cold day, which takes away a lot of the need to run heaters or air conditioners to bring the temperature up to a more comfortable figure.

Switching to reflective windows is just another fairly simply yet highly effective - particularly over the long term - method of lessening the detrimental environmental impact caused by consuming energy which is still primarily produced through burning fuels that generate damaging and unhealthy pollution.

Packaging and the Environment

Packaging is used to not only protect products and foodstuffs but also to allow for their easy transportation from where they are produced to where they are stored or sold to consumers.

Without packaging, items would be extremely difficult to handle in any great quantities as they would all fall out and roll around on the floor, probably becoming damaged as a result. Packaging is also necessary for many foodstuffs to prevent contamination, and can also provide the necessary container for a vacuum packed product where the air has been removed which greatly limits the growth of bacteria and so increases the shelf life of the product.

Unfortunately though all of this packaging creates a major environmental problem for society, as whilst it is extremely useful and effective at what it does, there is often little else that it can be used for once the item has been removed, at least in its present state. In times past nearly all of this would simply have been thrown out with the rest of the general rubbish and taken to landfill.

With a realisation that this consumption of materials and throw-out culture was unsustainable, there was a tremendous increase in the amount of recycling done, not to mention efforts by manufacturers to reduce the amounts of packaging in their products. This has tremendous benefits for the environment as not only do lower levels of raw materials need to be used to produce the packaging (trees cut down to make cardboard and paper, oil used to manufacture plastics etc), but less waste needs to be disposed of by sending it to landfill or burning it which can release harmful gases into the atmosphere.

This upturn in levels of recycling and reduction in packaging quantities was brought about primarily through a combination of environmental legislation regarding packaging quantities and greater awareness of the damage that was being done to the environment by increased media reporting and greater education including health and safety training courses such as the NEBOSH Environmental Certificate. This two-pronged attack of education and legislation has had a significant positive impact in the reduction of packaging materials.

Washing Machines and The Environment

Electronic washing machines have revolutionised the way we clean clothes forever, not to mention saving a tremendous amount of time and sore hands! Despite these benefits, there are also environmental issues to consider, as certain factors associated with the use of washing machines can have detrimental effects upon the environment and pollution levels.

For one thing, electronic washing machines use electricity, as their name suggests. They further add to the overall increasing demand for power, energy and electricity which is required and consumed by households across the world. Unless this electricity is provided through a renewable source, then it will need to be generated by burning fossil fuels which damages the environment through the release of pollution, especially air pollution. It is therefore important that washing machines are run at maximum efficiency through combining the two factors below:

Modern day washing machines and detergents are capable of washing clothes to the required standard using a much lower temperature than used to be necessary a decade or two ago. This means washing machines do not need to heat the water to a high temperature which would require the consumption of electricity.

Operating the machine at any water temperature will require energy. Therefore, it is far better for the environment if machines only run with full loads rather than half full (or less!), as the frequency of operation will be reduced. By waiting until there are enough dirty clothes for a full load, rather than washing a couple of items at a time as and when, a person will reduce their environmental impact as well as saving themselves money on their electricity bills.

By operating washing machines in this way, and combining it with other small and simple changes to behaviour such as giving thought to the required heating or cooling levels for a room according to its near-term use, individual households can make a tremendous difference to the environment when their efforts are totalled. For example, if everyone in the world lowered the temperature of their washing then the amount of energy saved and subsequently the benefit to the environment will be tremendous.

How are Phone and Internet Conferences Good for the Environment?

Advances in technology have enabled certain activities to be conducted via computers and the internet rather than requiring a face-to-face interaction to take place. One such endeavour is that of meetings and conferences which can now take place over the internet, with the latest technology allowing virtual reality meetings to be run, and now make the concept of teleconferences performed over a phone seem decidedly old-school. Internet phones and things like VoIP and Skype have eliminated the need for people to physically get together in the same location.

Internet conferences therefore can prove highly beneficial for the environment as when applied on a global scale the amount of travelling that has been eradicated means many tonnes of carbon emissions that would otherwise have been released into the atmosphere from vehicle exhaust has not been created. Taking away all of these car, aeroplane and train journeys has had a massive impact on reducing air pollution, benefiting the environment and of course the health and safety of people as the air which they breathe is of a higher quality and less polluted.

In a similar way, the internet and the advent of online shopping for goods and groceries has removed a lot of vehicle traffic from the roads, railway tracks and skies. Although it can be stated that an increase in online shopping has increased the amount of parcels being delivered, having one courier deliver many people's packages rather than each one having to drive a car or get a taxi into town and back again to buy it from a shop will be much more beneficial for the environment as it will reduce the total amount of pollution created, not to mention helping to ease congestion.

Although some people will argue, with some justification, that teleconferences, videoconferences and even virtual reality conferences are not "as good" or effective as a proper face-to-face get together, usually because of certain time lags in the transmission which can make conversations and arguments difficult, technology is improving all of the time. Even now it is of a good enough level in many countries and cities across the world for highly effective meetings to be conducted online, saving time, money and the environment in the process.

Evaluate Effectiveness of Insulation

Installing cavity wall or loft insulation is one of the most cost effective methods of preventing the loss of air from a building which has been deliberately heated or cooled by equipment which more than likely consumes electricity. By preventing the loss of this air to the outside world, there will not be the need to re-heat or re-cool more air, which has the beneficial effect of both saving money for the household or business concerned, not to mention being kind to the environment as less power is consumed which will often be created through burning fossil fuels which releases harmful pollutants into the atmosphere.

Once insulation has been installed and put in place, many people will think that they have exhausted and completed this particular method of reducing energy consumption and that it needs no further thought. Whilst there is no doubt that any amount cavity wall or loft insulation will make a positive contribution in terms of reducing heated or cooled air loss, it is important that it is not forgotten about and is evaluated to assess its effectiveness to determine if it could be further improved.

For example, it may be the case that a particular amount of insulation has been laid in the loft or attic but it is not as thick as it could be and there is still some air escaping which could be prevented through the laying of additional or thicker insulation. Loft insulation should also be regularly inspected to check that it has not shifted position or been damaged, in particular through animals such as squirrels or raccoons which are a common occurrence in many buildings in the countryside as they seek shelter inside and find a gap in the roofing. They can rip and damage the insulation and cause large gaps which greatly reduce the overall effectiveness of the insulation.

Putting insulation in place is just one of many relatively quick, simple and inexpensive ways in which businesses and households can reduce their environmental impact. Whilst it will not be as cheap and easy as replacing a traditional light bulb for an energy efficient one, it is compared to other methods such as installing a wind turbine or converting machinery to run on bio-fuels. Similar to health and safety procedures, it should be regularly assessed and evaluated to ensure that it is still effective and carrying out its intended purpose to a sufficient and expected level.

Environmental Training and Courses

Households and businesses alike are paying increasing attention to their legal and moral environmental responsibilities, not to mention the implications for their brand name and image if they are seen to be major polluters.

For this reason environmental training courses are gaining popularity, and along with environmental elements being included on courses like the NEBOSH General Certificate for instance, courses dedicated solely to environmental issues such as the NEBOSH Environmental Certificate are being taken by more and more people.

Not only do companies require their current staff members to be aware of how their actions or inactions can have a detrimental effect upon the environment, but more and more are requiring the NEBOSH Environmental Certificate or equivalent environmental qualification from prospective employees, just as many have required the NEBOSH General Certificate as a minimum in most cases for anyone applying for a health and safety role within the organisation.

Related Course

Please see below for more information on the NEBOSH Environmental Certificate:

NEBOSH Certificate in Environmental Management

The NEBOSH Environmental Certificate, or NEBOSH National Certificate in Environmental Management to give it its full title, is an environmental health and safety course which is intended to be taken by managers, supervisors and any other employees who are responsible for managing environmental issues at their workplace.

The NEBOSH Environmental Certificate qualification focuses on UK law, so is really only suitable for those who are based and operate within the UK.

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