Sustainable Materials Management Program

The Story of “Less” Stuff

By Ellie M. Kanipe

A couple of weeks ago, I met the coolest person. Stephanie totally inspired me. She’s part of a movement called the “Small House Movement”, and is actually moving into a tiny house.  And, when I say tiny, I mean tiny.  Her house is 130 square feet.  She’s chosen to live simply and in doing so to live sustainably.

This totally inspires me for a ton of reasons, but one that stands out is that by choosing this life style, Stephanie is significantly lowering her carbon footprint. Approximately 42 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are associated with the energy used to produce, process, transport, and dispose of the food we eat and the goods we use.  42 percent! (Learn more.)

At EPA, I work on sustainability – specifically looking at materials and how we can be more sustainable with the materials / stuff we use in our daily lives. The program I work on (Sustainable Materials Management Program) looks at what we use in our daily lives a little differently – to rethink the norm and instead look through a life cycle lens. In other words, when I think about the shirt I’m wearing today, I wonder where and how were all the materials to make this shirt extracted? Is the cotton organic, or is it made of recycled materials?  Where and how was the shirt manufactured, and how and how far was it transported to get to the store where I bought it? The problem is that we don’t think about our stuff’s lives before they come into our life.  Imagine dating a person without sharing life experiences before you met?  That’s what we do with the stuff we use daily!

While we might not feel like we’re able to lower our own carbon footprint by joining Stephanie in the small house movement, we can all rethink how we view our stuff, and take actions to simplify our lives. We can know where our stuff comes from, and in knowing make smart choices about what we choose to have in our lives. We can reuse, repair, and share. We can buy durable goods. We can stop wasting food, recycle and compost. We can use EPA’s iWARM widget. We can reflect on what we really need in our lives to be happy and act on it.

Stephanie inspires me. She reminds me that often less is more.

About the author: Ellie M Kanipe works in EPA’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery. In her spare time, she helps people to simplify their lives by teaching yoga.

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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The Federal Green Challenge – Working for a Better Tomorrow

By André Villaseñor

The motto of EPA’s Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) program is “changing how we think about our resources for a better tomorrow.” One team of federal employees has been doing just that by changing the minds of colleagues through education and outreach.

The Chet Holifield Federal Building is a one-million square foot federal building in Laguna Niguel, California, occupied by 1900 federal employees representing about a dozen government agencies. The building is named after a long-term former member of Congress from California.  Through the creation of a “Green Team,” five of the building’s federal agencies are leading the charge toward moving Chet Holifield’s occupants in the direction of energy efficiency, water-use reductions and increased recycling. The Green Team, consisting of employees from Citizenship & Immigration Services, the Internal Revenue Service, and the General Services Administration was formed to carry out the goals of the Federal Green Challenge (FGC). The FGC is a national initiative of EPA’s Sustainable Materials Management Program, challenging EPA and other federal agencies to lead by example in reducing the Federal Government’s environmental impacts around the nation.

The Chet Holifield Green Team was pleasantly surprised to learn just how much they could reduce their building’s environmental impact through a series of cost-effective behavior change strategies. The Green Team pursued a multi-pronged strategy of engaging all 1900 building employees in a variety of educational activities designed to raise environmental awareness, including e-waste collection programs, informational posters, Earth Day/Week events, and training workshops. The ‘green’ education and outreach provided by the Green Team motivated and enabled employees to act more sustainably. The Green Team carefully measured the results of its progress on a monthly basis for a period of one year, both by tracking actual data on metrics such as electricity consumption and recycling, and collecting anecdotal information using employee surveys about activities such as commuting. I witnessed this diligence first-hand by participating in a series of Green Team phone calls with the employees of the Chet Holifield Federal Building.

Clearly, the Chet Holifield Green Team put into practice a winning equation of inspiration and cooperation that adds up to a better tomorrow. Chet Holifield’s end-of-year results for 2012 include a 21% increase in recycling, a water-use decrease of 7.4%, and a fuel decrease of 2.5%. Not only did the Green Team get the environmental results it was aiming for; Chet Holifield employees have changed the way they think about their use of resources, which holds great promise for a better tomorrow for Laguna Niguel and beyond.

About the author: André Villaseñor, a Waste Division employee, fulfills EPA’s mission from Region 9’s Southern CA Field Office in Los Angeles. He is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.