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10 Worthwhile Minutes?

2008 May 23

About the author: Larry Teller joined EPA’s Philadelphia office in its early months and has worked in environmental assessment, state and congressional liaison, enforcement, and communications. His 28 years with the U.S. Air Force, most as a reservist, give him a different look at government service.

photo of Larry TellerI’d hoped my first contribution to this valuable space would speak to a cosmic issue, offering one person’s humble thoughts on how–on the job at an EPA regional office, and away–we can honor our sacred obligation to repair the world. Then, while leaving the train on Friday, I bumped into a co-worker. Our 10-minute walk somehow turned into a friendly contest to invent practical ways to save energy and water.

We came up with two ideas and, being veteran EPAers, devoted most of our words wondering why people more entrepreneurial than us hadn’t already developed and commercialized our utterly obvious breakthroughs.

The first was at our feet: the escalator from the train platform. Why, we wondered, does it continuously run all day long when, except for the morning and afternoon rush hours, it’s used intermittently? Why not have a sensor that starts it up when someone approaches? Energy Star friends, you’ve done wonders for fridges and are now needed at escalators.

Having solved escalator energy waste, and it being National Drinking Water Week, Fred and I devoted our remaining minutes to home sinks. Thinking of two daily tasks-washing dishes and shaving-it seemed sensible that there’s usually no need for the water to run for several minutes when it’s needed part-time. Thinking of doctor and dentist scrub sinks, can there be a safe foot pedal or other way to turn the water on and off while hands are occupied?

Although our last minute together covered possible technical challenges-reliability of switches, wear and tear on escalator gears, tripping over foot pedals, home maintenance-we decided that the R&D gang is up to the task.

Fred and I are willing to share the profits that will surely come our way. My question, readers, is whether our ten-minute commuter brainstorm under the streets of Philadelphia (it was raining) was worthwhile.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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11 Responses leave one →
  1. Karen permalink
    May 23, 2008

    I’ve thought the same thing about escalators. Who do we talk to to implement that? Great idea!

  2. Chandra permalink
    May 23, 2008

    I totally agree, the escalator idea is genius! I’ll admit that I don’t usually take the escalator (those Kaiser Permanente commercials have got to me, so I take the stairs) but I bet it would cut down a lot of energy costs. And there really is no reason to have them running all day long. Bravo!

  3. tom permalink
    May 23, 2008

    Been to Europe? Most escalators there are sensor activated?

  4. Matthew Kelm permalink
    May 27, 2008

    I love the idea for sensors for escalators!!!! :)

    Sensors should be used more like the sensors under faucets to wash your hands. I wonder what other functions sensors could serve to save energy?

  5. Brenda Reyes Tomassini permalink
    May 27, 2008

    Great idea!

  6. Donna Fletcher permalink
    May 27, 2008

    Your brainstorm ideas prompted me to pass along another. Here’s a simple way we might save paper and money….as well as reduce the environmental impacts of paper production, distribution, and disposal.

    Let’s start a movement to change standard margins! Just a little less white space around page edges would not reduce readability and should still allow for printing on standard printers. With this change, some two page documents would fit on one page, and the size of long reports could be reduced substantially.

    Ideally, Microsoft and other word processing software manufacturers could be convinced to change the default value for margins, and the rest of the world would adopt the new margins as the new standard.

    New specs regarding margins for materials printed by contractors might also save paper.

    Many years ago, the federal government used a smaller size of paper. In looking into this, I found that the government’s smaller paper size was abandoned because it did not work in new computers and printers. Ironically, the smaller paper size did not result in saving any paper. It was cheaper for manufacturers to cut off the edges of standard paper to meet the federal specs than it was to re-set their equipment.

  7. Larry Teller permalink
    June 6, 2008

    From your humble initial poster, thanks, all, for your encouraging replies. The escalator sensor idea got a number of thumbs up, and I’ll make my first follow-up inquiry to the EnergyStar office. Surely, as my post said, bright people must have already thought about escalator sensors.
    @Tom: I’ve been to Europe twice (well, once, if the Azores don’t count), and don’t recall using escalators except at busy airports. I’ll include the Europe point in any follow-up inquiries. Thank you.
    @Donna: Saving paper by using more space on each page makes a lot of sense. It’s an essentially free approach with no important drawbacks. Every page with smaller margins will also confront readers with a unmistakable reminder–without saying a word–to conserve paper. I don’t know how to get started with pursuing your idea, so I’ll start by asking EPA’s Environmental Management System staff for advice. Thanks, too, for mentioning the federal government’s former use of slightly smaller paper. I’ve been a fed long enough to remember it, but had no idea that it was nothing more than trimmed regular paper.

  8. Jeffrey Levy - EPA permalink*
    June 6, 2008

    Larry, one of my favorite memories came during a family trip to Paris right after I graduated from high school. After 5 years of French, I was reasonably proficient. As we approached the Metro exit, we saw a stopped escalator next to stairs. I could understand the French just well enough to figure out it was automatic, but my Dad knows no French. Just as he started to admonish me to stay off the broken escalator and take the stairs, I crossed the sensor beam and it started. I was smirking the whole way up. :D

    As for margins, I regularly change them to .8 inches on all sides, and if I need it, .5 inches. I hope you get some traction within EPA, but meanwhile, we can all just do it ourselves!

  9. Bill Gome permalink
    July 7, 2011

    What a great idea! I can already think of other applications!

  10. Sarah Zee permalink
    July 15, 2011

    I think it was definitely worthwhile. Love the blog.

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