The images most commonly associated with pollution—the smoke stacks billowing noxious exhaust into the atmosphere, unmonitored pipes gushing chemicals into a stream—are no longer the largest pollution problems in the United States. In reality, most such point sources are well monitored. Yet industries in the United States still release over 4 billion pounds of pollutants into the environment each year, 72 million pounds of which are known carcinogens. Unfortunately, many of these industries produce the goods used every day in offices around the world. This massive amount of pollution comes in two main forms: air pollution and water pollution. Air pollution includes chemicals and particulates that cause smog, acid rain, health problems, global warming and ozone layer depletion. Water pollution releases chemicals and debris that render water unusable for natural habitat, human consumption, and recreation.
There are several key criteria to keep in mind to make purchases that prevent pollution. Most importantly, consider how products are made. Products made from recycled content use less virgin materials and generally require less energy inputs, resulting in less pollution and also less resource extraction. In general, products made from natural materials (e.g. wood instead of plastic) produce less pollution. See the other chapters in this guide for information about innovative products such as non-toxic cleaning supplies, recycled pens, remanufactured ink cartridges, green furniture and other innovate products that help reduce pollution.
Beyond buying green, the most important step in shrinking your office’s environmental footprint is to monitor your waste creation and disposal. Take special care not to dispose of toxic substances (e.g. cleaning products and electronic equipment) through the normal waste stream. Special disposal sites exist for these items; often all it takes is to contact your building maintenance, janitorial or management staff and inform them that you have special waste disposal needs. For specific ways in which your office can reduce pollution, explore the other chapters of this guide.