How green is your university or workplace?

Here are the quick and dirty results of my green workplaces survey from a few weeks back. I had originally hoped to do a geographical analysis of the results, but the limitations of SurveyMonkey’s free features effectively precluded that this time around. Still the results are illuminating and I’m looking forward to your help in designing the next phase of the “research.”

First up, some demographic information. There were 104 survey respondents, 78% of whom were from the United States. Europe, Asia, Africa, Canada, and Australia/New Zealand/Pacific Islands were also represented. Within the US, the Upper Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, and Southwest were the dominant responding regions. In terms of intuitional affiliations, 58% of respondents worked or studied at a university or liberal arts college. Individuals working at private companies were the next largest batch of respondents.

1. When you walk into a bathroom at your place of work/study, what are you reminded to conserve? (choose all that apply)
Electricity and/or water conservation were the bathroom reminders for 15% of the survey respondents, and 11% were reminded to not waste paper or that paper = trees. Given that some people were asked to conserve more than one thing, that left 64% of survey respondents not being asked to conserve anything when entering/leaving a bathroom. So go ahead, leave that tap running and the light on in an empty room, it’s okay with the boss!

This question was motivated by my observation that I was asked to conserve different things in different parts of the country and I wondered about conservation messages relative to regional resource scarcity or abundance. Unfortunately, it looks like most people aren’t being reminded to conserve at all. How hard is it to make some little stickers reminding people to turn off lights, conserve water, or not waste paper towels? Apparently, it’s not on the agenda of university administrators or company management.

2. At your place of work/study, do you have access to a printer that prints double-sided?
14% said “Yes, that is the default setting” and 51% said “yes, but I have to select that option.” That’s great news. I knew that the -ology department here at Mystery U was behind the curve by not having double-sided printing. It just kills me to print out journal articles single-sided, but I still print some of them out so that I can read them at home while Minnow is playing independently. What’s less good news is 24% of respondents were in the same situation as me and could only print single-sided. Even unhappier news comes from the 9% of survey-takers who said “yes, but the printer is so inconvenient I don’t use it” and the one curmudgeon who said “yes, but I choose to print single sided.” Finally, I feel sorry for the one person who has doesn’t access to a printer at all – but then again, I guess they have finally achieved the paperless office that the computer age was supposed to usher in.

3. At your place of work/study, which items can you easily recycle? (check all that apply)

80% of respondents can recycle mixed paper and 62% of respondents can recycle newspaper. 64% of respondents can recycle aluminum, 59% can recycle plastic, and 55% can recycle glass. 5 respondents can even recycle compost. I looked up those compost recyclers – they came from a 2 public universities in the US, a public university in Australia/New Zealand/Pacific, a private company in Asia, and a mysterious someone somewhere. Thirteen people skipped the question, which I assume means they couldn’t recycle any of those things. Most of those people came from Europe. Maybe my readers can fill me in…is there recycling not widely available/used in Europe or have you come up with containerless and paperless products? As for Mystery U, we seem to be pretty average: no compost, but everything else.

4. At your place of work/study, are lights in labs, classrooms, and/or bathrooms set on motion detectors?
All lights on motion detectors for 9% of respondents, while 16% of people have most of them set to switch off if no motion is detected. 31% of respondents say some or a few of their lights have motion detectors, but 42% say that none of them do. A commenter pointed out that I could also have asked about lights on timers, and I also realized that motion detectors might not be appropriate for big lecture halls, because of the masses of motionless students and the need to adjust brightness for note-taking, etc. So this question could be revised. One respondent said “we work in the dark!” I hope their office has good natural lighting, but I suppose it’s not so unreasonable. After all my office lights are off right now because it’s noon and I’ve got a wall of windows. Or maybe they work in a darkroom. Hmmm…

Those are the results of the survey, and it was helpful for me to see how my experiences compared with other places, but I’d still like to know more about regional differences. I’m thinking of writing a couple of parallel surveys designed to target only a specific demographic or region. I broke the US into 10 regions (following the EPA regions) for this survey, but I’m not writing ten new ones. Maybe 4 (Northeast, South, Midwest, West)? Would that work? Would you know how to classify yourself? Should I limit my demographics to just universities?

What questions would you suggest including in the next round? I’d like to keep the focus on the “availability of environmentally-conscious choices.” But I know that I could go beyond recycling…Should I be asking about employers matching donations for environmental charities or university/employer organized clean up days?

How would you structure the next round of research?


  1. #1 ScienceGirl
    November 8, 2007

    I think the 4 regions you named would work. Rather than limiting the survey to universities, perhaps you could separate “large organizations” (which would include universities) from “small organizations” (where a particular employee might actually have a say in the matter). I would also be interested to see an assessment of people’s (and their co-workers) attitude towards “being green”. Is there a person in the office that goes around turning off lights in empty rooms and urges everyone to recycle and picks out aluminum cans from the trash to put them in the recycling bin? If so, does this get the others to follow the lead, or do they merely call the person a hippie?

  2. #2 Jennie
    November 8, 2007

    Thanks for that! I just opened my blinds and turned off the light in my home office. Wow-there is life outside 🙂
    I would be interested in learning about air temperature. At my NE, large university most people in my dept. had to wear jackets in the summer and tank tops in the winter in their offices. I had a thermostat I could adjust but my office was a large room that was turned into three offices by dividers. Each of these offices had multiple grad students in them. So since my office was right above the fan I was always colder than the other offices (and in general prefer to be hot than cold) and we would routinely have thermostat wars.

    Now that it is getting cold outside my husband and I figured the only way to heat my home office and not the rest of our three bedroom, 2.5 bath, house was to close off my office and use a space heater. So while it is less than 60 deg in the rest of the house I am nice and toasty.
    My office is a rec room, split level, basement style so this was great in the summer when it would be nice and cool while the rest of the house was hot (no AC for us) but I was dreading winter.
    I still wonder if electric heater is more efficient than gas central heat but since we are heating a smaller space because of it I figure it must be.

  3. #3 blf
    November 8, 2007

    Thirteen people skipped the question [on easy recycling], which I assume means they couldn’t recycle any of those things. Most of those people came from Europe. Maybe my readers can fill me in…is there recycling not widely available/used in Europe…?

    “Europe” is a vast area, so the reasons/answers will differ. I cannot recall for certain, but I suspect I was one of those who skipped the question. Why? Because at my last job there were no recycling bins (except the regional glass collection point down the road). Why? Dunno; maybe because this was a very small company (c.40 people).

    Everyplace else I’ve worked in “Europe” has had recycling collection (for at least paper). Some of the those companies/sites have been large (multiple hundreds of people), but not all. They’ve also been in other countries.

    Glass recycling points are common. Everyplace I lived there’s also been arrangements for household paper recycling (at least), albeit with varying degrees of convenience.

    Some parts of “Europe”–Germany for example–are, I understand, world leaders in recycling, both household and workplace. Some amazing percentage of recyclable goods are, I (vaguely!) recall, recycled in Germany. This broadly seems to be supported by this UK DEFRA report, Municipal waste management in the European Union EU-15:

    … The Netherlands and Denmark dispose of almost no municipal waste to landfill, and Belgium, Sweden,Germany and Luxembourg all landfill less than a quarter of their municipal waste.

    … The Netherlands and Austria recycle/compost around 60 per cent of their municipal waste and Belgium and Germany recycle/compost around half of theirs.

    Note: Only broad comparisons can be made between countries because of differences in definitions of types of waste management. The recycling category includes some other recovery options (fuel manufacture, for example), which are negligible in most countries, but account for around 10 per cent of municipal waste in Germany, and 6 per cent in Spain.

  4. #4 Jon
    November 8, 2007

    Just a note, at my university, we’re not asked to conserve anything in the bathroom, but the sinks, lights, and even paper towel dispensers are all on motion sensors and (with the obvious exception of the lights) dispense a set amount. The toilets in the older buildings are also on motion sensors but in the newer buildings the urinals are completely waterless. The bathrooms are designed so well that there’s really not much we as users can do to increase conservation.

  5. #5 ecogeofemme
    November 8, 2007

    I have duct tape on the window in my office to keep out the draft. During safety inspections, I’m always worried they’ll make me remove it. Needless to say, I don’t work at a very green place.

  6. #6 Em
    November 8, 2007

    out of curiosity: I responded to this survey as a grad student in Hawaii, and am curious as to how my state would get categorized in a geographic analysis. While it’s obviously a part of the U.S., climate-wise it’s very distinct from the other states and seems to belong more in the “Pacific Islands” category.

    Incidentally, we still don’t have curbside recycling, or even good littering laws, in Honolulu, which seems practically obscene in an area of such natural beauty. On the up side, the weather makes it very easy to bike everywhere and temperature and trade winds where I make it easy to go without heat OR air conditioning in our house (although my workplace air conditions the crap out of our offices, to the point where us grad students keep sweatshirts and warm socks at our desks). Still, I wish they were better about environmental concerns out here.

  7. #7 Lisa
    November 8, 2007

    “I have duct tape on the window in my office to keep out the draft.”

    I had scotch tape sealing a crack beneath the window (too lazy to remember to do the duct tape, I guess, and worried people would complain that it looked bad). Then it got a bit loose and for about 2 MONTHS sporadically made a buzzing noise in high wind. This was when I had just had a baby and was working from home, if at all, and everyone else in the office apparently never tried to find out where the noise was coming from. I came back and in a few days discovered the problem and thought it was really funny that they never figured it out.

  8. #8 Salad Is Slaughter
    November 9, 2007

    At our company we also have motion sensor bathroom fixtures. Within the past two weeks they’ve also installed special recycle bins for paper towels only. Honestly, I don’t know if that makes a difference in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a nice idea.

  9. #9 Lab Lemming
    November 10, 2007

    In our workplace, we don’t really care what happens to the light switches once the generator gets turned off…

  10. #10 Freiddie
    December 23, 2007

    #3 and #4 are rarely seen in this country (developing). However, #1 Conserve water is a very common thing (doesn’t require technology; this is also a dry country). #2 There are double-sided printers here, and I personally do like double-sided printing, but the one I have right now requires it to be manually done.

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