Lexicon Systems, LLC Blog

lex'•i•con: the vocabulary of a branch of knowledge. Thoughts on environment, health & safety (EHS), sustainability and information technology to support them.


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Taking out the trash, Houston style

The City of Houston, America’s fourth largest city, not known as a “green” city, is slowly adding traditional, curbside recycling to some neighborhoods. I see green recycling bins and black waste bins on the curb as I drive about.

One Bin for All (OBFA)?

Here’s a new wrinkle: the City’s waste department recently announced a proposal to commingle trash and recycled materials in a single waste bin. With OBFA, everything goes into the bin, with recyclables sorted out later. The City thought that OBFA would promote recycling. My take? This is the antithesis of recycling; it is like taking out the trash on any ordinary “trash day!” Now the City is rethinking its options.

Image: Rubbermaid

Image: Rubbermaid

… or Segregate Waste from Recyclables?

Our household has recycled for years, at our own expense. Our suburban subdivision sits within the City of Houston limits. The community association contracts trash hauling and recycling services to a private contractor, with partial reimbursement from the City of Houston. We pay about $3/month for recycling services, in addition to Community Association dues. It’s optional, and it’s worth it.

It is easy to toss paper, plastic and glass in the recycling bins–to segregate it from waste–and place the bins outside once a week. I wish the City required all citizens and businesses to recycle; it is amazing how little garbage we generate each week when we recycle! I hope that our subdivision moves to the larger, covered, wheeled recycling bins soon; with 55 inches of rain per year, it’s easier to manage recyclables in a covered bin than in the small, open totes.

The Plastics Division of the American Chemistry Council (ACC) has an outreach program and offers definitions, tips and apps for plastics recycling at RecycleYourPlastics.org.

I’d like to hear your thoughts.
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Five simple things we can do to reduce our environmental footprint

Today we celebrate the 45th anniversary of Earth Day in the U.S. On the first Earth Day(s) in 1970, 20 million people celebrated in the U.S.; in 1990, 200 million celebrated globally: in 2014 the number is even greater.

In honor of Earth Day—and every day—we can reduce our environmental footprint.

Image of Earth from space

Image: NASA

Each of us can do five simple things for a more sustainable environment.

  1. Drive less. Walk, share a ride, or combine several errands on a single “run.” Work from home 1-2 days a week, if your employer allows it, and if you can be productive.
  2. Conserve electricity. Turn off lights when you don’t need them or install switches that  automatically turn off the lights if there is no motion after a few minutes. Replace light bulbs with more energy-efficient ones.
  3. Conserve water. Install low-flow shower heads and efficient toilets. Use the dishwasher—when full—rather than hand-washing items under running water. If you have lawn sprinklers, use a timer and don’t over-water.
  4. Mimimize waste. Forego shopping bags and packaging that you don’t need. Employ washable, reusable shopping bags. Select food and consumer products with reduced or recyclable packaging.
  5. Recycle. If you must drink bottled and canned beverages, recycle the containers. If you read newspapers, recycle them. At our home, we recycle about two to three times as much as we discard.


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The paperless office: are we there yet?

The other day I tackled overstuffed file drawers and the papers piled on my desk. I filed, recycled or shredded several reams of outdated documents. During this exercise (it was pretty physical), I noticed that my company saved fewer paper records in the last few years than when we started the business. Likely, we continue to retain more printed paper than needed. How much is enough?

office clutter

Image: USA Today

We are far from the “paperless office.” Running a management consulting firm with an environment, health & safety (EHS) IT focus, one might think that most transactions are electronic, not paper. We send essentially all work products electronically and print some of them. We use accounting software and print invoices and reports for our records, even if delivered electronically to clients. We receive electronic documents from others, and print some of those, too. Each party seems to save time, printing and postage costs. Are we reducing paper use, or just shifting the burden to others?

 “Less is More” aptly describes paper records. Lack of trust in electronic records may cause us to use more paper than necessary.

In businesses large and small, email remains the most common transmission method. Email is inefficient because it allows multiple document copies, versions and “message threads,” not to mention redundant storage. With so many email attachments, which version is the correct one?

I prefer shared workspaces to email and have promoted their use for many years. Collaboration tools like Google Documents, Microsoft Office 365, SharePoint and Zoho are gaining acceptance in large, global organizations. These tools are worth every penny when they

  • promote consistent business processes,
  • increase productivity,
  • make content readily available,
  • provide a “single version of the truth,”
  • have a user-friendly interface, and
  • offer a secure way for people to interact 24/7.

Collaboration tools are in their infancy and have limitations. Often, the tools seem easy to administer but require multiple attempts to properly set user permissions. Often, their interfaces and features are so simplistic that they do not meet user needs. For instance,

  • online document editors are simpler (read: less functional) than desktop office software.
  • document work spaces have limited functionality without customization.
  • calendars are rudimentary.
  • survey tools are rudimentary with few data analysis features.

Software vendors, please make tools more functional, yet keep them simple!  And offer me more FREE Cloud storage space, so I do not need several Cloud accounts to manage my work.

I welcome more mature, yet user-friendly collaboration tools.  With increasing content management in the Cloud, we can better manage day-to-day work. The result? Less paper, I hope!

Pixel This: No Paper! sums up the “paperless office” issue pretty well.


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Work in the Cloud removes some operating systems barriers

IBM Cloud Computing

IBM Cloud Computing (Photo credit: IvanWalsh.com)

A little over two years ago I paid about $999 for a state-of-the-art Windows desktop with a small footprint, plenty of speed and a huge hard drive. When it failed just past the two-year warranty mark, I tried to replace the hard drive–but the hard drive was not the problem. My attempt to salvage the computer was fruitless, and the computer was essentially worth nothing. I took it to the recycling counter at my local big box store and received nothing in return, not even a $10 gift card!

This seems like an awful short life for a name-brand computer from a company that used to have a good reputation. My current notebook computer of the same brand had a “blue screen of death” issue when the unit was only three months old. And it has had intermittent startup problems ever since. I do not expect the notebook to last much longer.

In a recent meeting, I was asked if I was planning to switch to Microsoft Windows 8. My reply, after these two recent issues–which may or may not be related to software–was this:

I am getting close to where my work does not require a Windows-based system. I expect that my next computer will be a Mac.

This should become a reality soon. Some of my clients use Google Docs and GMail or Microsoft Office 365 in the Cloud. These are accessible from essentially any device with an internet browser, and your information resides in the Cloud. These and other options like OpenOffice.org  and Zoho remove some of “frills” or “bloat” from the desktop software counterparts and allow easy document sharing and collaboration 24/7.

If everything were operating system-neutral, then operating system does not matter. Form and function rule the day. It is some of the more specialized software programs that are available only as a Windows desktop client that tie me to my Windows notebook device.

Maybe the short life span of  my Windows devices will encourage me to try some of the other options available, at the same time allowing me to leave my computer at the office and use a tablet instead.

Should you have old computer equipment, repurpose or recycle it; you should not leave it in the dumpster or set it out on the curb on trash day, or stash in a computer “boneyard.” For ideas on what to do with old computing equipment, click here.


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The environmental impact of tablets

Industry analysts predict that tablet purchases will outnumber laptop purchases by 2013. The increasing use of tablets, both business and personal, has quite an impact on the environment. Their use results in lower ink and paper consumption, lower CO2 emissions, as well as lower water consumption during production.

Twenty-five percent of adults in the U.S. own tablets, compared to only 4%  in 2010. And 45% of tablet users say they have decreased printing. 

–morganstanley.com and appleinsider.com 

ID-10081890Uberflip, a Canadian company that helps organizations to deploy content on electronic platforms, identified four environmental sustainability trends related to tablet use:

A decline in printing. Although many people feel that they still require hard copies of just about everything, this is no longer the norm.  Printer manufacturers like HP are feeling the crunch as the demand for ink shrinks.

I work with more electronic documents than paper documents these days. I buy less paper and ink than I have bought in the past. When I need a paper copy, I print wirelessly from my iPad or notebook computer.

Eco-friendly devices. Over their lifetime, tablets result in lower CO2 emissions, notably when people use their tablets as e-readers rather than buying paper books. The CO2 equivalent emissions from a tablet are about 1/3rd that of a small notebook and 1/25th that of a 60-watt incandescent light bulb.

E-waste. The volume of electronic waste will double by 2025. To combat this, electronics manufacturers and big box retailers have implemented recycling programs. I took advantage of this free recycling service at least four times this year, giving up an old notebook computer, a desktop computer, a laser printer and an inkjet printer. I reused the computer hard drives, converting them into external hard drives with a simple enclosure kit.

Green business. More and more businesses use tablets to demonstrate products and services, and for sales transactions. My local grocery chain uses iPads to sign up customers for their loyalty coupon program, which has computer and mobile apps. This replaces printing and mailing costs.

A national electronics chain uses iPads to demonstrate how tablets connect to big-screen TVs to display streaming videos. The Apple store uses iPads that allow customers to compare products and view features. A sales technician is on hand to answer questions and complete the sale–by entering transaction information on an iPhone and then swiping a credit card. You get a small paper receipt and an electronic receipt by email. There is no cash register evident in the store (there may be one in the back for cash sales) and no waiting in lines.

See the full Uberflip InfoGraphic on Sustainability of Tablets.


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If it’s Thursday, it must be recycling day

I woke up this morning–another Thursday, so it’s household recycling day. We put out paper, plastic and glass in the designated recycling bins each week. Our remaining “garbage” fills only one trash bag a week. The sad thing is, we live in Houston–the fourth largest city in the U.S.–and only 22% of households recycle. Seattle, San Francisco and other progressive cities lead the list, with about two-thirds of the population recycling. Chicago and Detroit are at the bottom of the list.

I read in the Houston Chronicle this week that the City of Houston Department of Solid Waste Management is evaluating the possibility of building a large, state-of-the art recycling plant. This would save the City plenty of money, as well as plenty of landfill space. Other, more landlocked cities do not have the luxury of dumping easily recycled materials in landfills.

RecycleRecycling is easy if you make a small effort. The household pickup each week is simple. For $3/month, you get the recycling bin and set it out by the garage on Thursdays. If more neighbors recycled, the cost could go down.

When I purchased a new smartphone last year, I sold the old one to the eBay recycling service for $60. I got a free shipping label and received payment quickly. A few weeks ago, I turned in a 25-year-old laser printer for a $50 rebate on a new, energy-efficient printer. This week I took two old cell phones and a laptop computer to a retail store for recycling.

Local papers and bulletins have notices about community recycling efforts. On October 24, the (Houston) Bay Area Community Advisory Panel (BAYCAP) holds its monthly meeting at the Armand Bayou Nature Center. The topic is the interactions of the 27 plants in the Bay Area, and their recycling efforts. On November 10, the Johnson Space Center Contractors will sponsor free electronic recycling.  Materials will be recycled properly and in compliance with e-waste regulations.

Let’s think about recycling as a lifestyle issue, not a trash issue.