Ask most people in Saudi Arabia what they know about going green and the first thing they say is “recycling.” There seems to be a lot of buzz around recycling, especially in Jeddah. That’s good in the sense that more waste is now being recycled in a country that could potentially recycle over 80% of its waste. On the other hand, a very common misconception, specifically among businesses, is that “going green” IS recycling!
In a recent survey conducted by Naqa’a, respondents were given several choices of eco-friendly practices and were asked to choose the ones that most reflect going green to them; and the result was that 64% of the respondents related going green mostly to recycling. Why is that a problem? To answer that question we first need to really understand what “Going Green” means.
Environmentally friendly practices to reduce pollution, conserve energy and save money actually go many decades back. The recent green movement came to imply that the increasing human-generated release of carbon dioxide is contributing greatly to warming up the planet- and it is! Based on these concerns, many governments, businesses, and even individuals have started to re-examine their own practices in order to decrease their carbon footprint. Today, when we say “going green,” we mean much more than reducing global warming; for the most part, going green means conserving natural resources. It also includes proper management of waste and decrease of pollution. When a company really grasps this concept, they’re well on their way to environmental sustainability.
Think of it this way. If environmental sustainability was your destination – and it should be – then going green is the road that leads you there. If you’re a company is considering going green, or even if you’re a stay-at-home mother looking to do your bit for planet Earth, there are four necessary aspects you need to apply in order to become environmentally sustainable:
- Conserve energy: This involves more than just switching off unused lights; there are many ways to conserve energy. One of the most common ways is to switch off all unused electric appliances (yes, that includes your computer), buy eco-friendly lights that use lower voltage, and purchase energy-efficient products in general.
- Conserve water: Remember that bit about how going green is about saving natural resources? Conserving water does just that. Water is one of the most abused natural resources. Conserve water by simply using as little as possible. Companies who are serious about environmental sustainability should also consider installing water saving devices.
- Monitor your indoor air quality: Of all the four aspects of environmental sustainability, this is perhaps the most ignored. Your indoor air quality is basically the air you breathe inside the building. Poor IAQ has been linked to many diseases including asthma and headaches, and it’s directly responsible for employee productivity. One of the easiest ways in to insure you have a healthy IAQ is having a proper air circulation (a way for the indoor air to leave and fresh air to get in).
- Properly “manage” your waste: Yes! Manage, not recycle. This is the aspect that most people in Saudi Arabia get wrong; and the confusion here comes from the misconception that going green means waste management, and waste management means recycling. Yet waste management is only 25% of the pie. And there are several ways to manage waste outside of recycling.
Namely, there are the 4 R’s, or 4 steps to apply, in that order:
- Reduce: the first step is to generate as little waste as possible to begin with. Reducing the amounts of waste you usually produce is the first step of managing your waste.
- Reuse: Now look into the remaining amount of waste and see if you can reuse any of it. Can you print on the other side of those papers? Is it possible to refill those empty ink cartilages? What about these used envelopes? Think you can send one more letter in them? If you can, do so!
- Recycle: Ok, so now you’ve reused that empty water bottle so many times that you don’t think it’s healthy – not that you should be buying bottled water to begin with. Now what? Recycle! Yes, NOW you can recycle. Only when you think you can’t reduce or reuse any longer should you consider this step. This is especially important if you’re in place where recycling options or facilities aren’t readily available.
- Rethink! This is perhaps the most important R. It means when dealing with any type of waste rethink of 1. Reducing it 2. Reusing it and 3. Recycling it – and in that order!
If you’re one of the many Earth warriors we know are out there trying to make a difference in the Kingdom, it’s very crucial you understand that by itself, recycling isn’t enough to insure environmental sustainability; it’s only one of the steps in one of the aspects of going green. Before recycling, consider reducing, reusing and always rethinking!
Note: This article was published in Wamda.