Friday, January 16, 2009

Everyday People Making a Green Impact – Spotlight on Ginger Cooke

Yesterday Melissa discussed how all of us can take baby steps toward making a difference and cited a question posed by the moderator of the Ayer Local screening:

“What can you as an individual/your family/your community do to change things?”

In October of last year Ginger answered that call to action by single handedly leading the charge in her own place of employment to have recycling bins installed. Below is the reprint of her original interview.

It is important to note that Ginger does not work for an environmentally focused company; she is in accounting at a large automotive corporation in Colorado. She truly embodies what it means to make a difference on our planet and I hope others will take a cue from her actions and fight for the betterment of the Earth in their own offices, cities, towns and states. Take action – write letters, create proposals, pick up trash in the street – every little bit helps and that is something Ginger takes pride in working towards every day.

How long ago did you become interested in a more eco-friendly lifestyle?

I'd have to say that my interest really began to form about 3 years ago. I moved into a 1 bedroom apartment by myself and the owners didn't have a recycling program. I did a little research on recycling for apartment living and realized that Denver’s not all that up and coming in the green movement quite yet. There are virtually no apartment complexes in this area that have a recycling program for their residents and that really weighed heavily on me. Recycling is supposed to be one of the easiest ways to reduce and re-use so I decided that I would begin looking into different ways I could make a difference as one person and perhaps spread the word through example. That’s when I began blogging too. I wanted to write about environmental and energy saving tips I’d found and implemented for myself.

Do you remember the first green effort you personally completed?

It seems small, but I was so proud of myself. While in that apartment I found a free recycling dumpster placed by the Shriners next to a grocery store and I would carry all of my recyclables to the dumpster every week. I started keeping a recycling bag at work and I would do the same from there. It felt really good that I had made an effort and was doing something that was good instead of turning my head because it was inconvenient at times. It just blossomed from there.

When did you first approach the powers that be in your office to discuss setting up a recycling program?

Back in February of this year we were currently recycling paper, but that was all. We give out free bottled water and there are so many plastic bottles that get thrown away and it's pretty heartbreaking to have to tell a customer that no, there's no recycling container, sorry.

How did you approach the topic (written proposal, mounds of research, etc)?

The company I work for is really great, they have this program set up where a representative from each department gathers ideas and suggestions from their co-workers and takes them to a committee to discuss, plan and possibly implement these new ideas. That’s when I first planted my seed. I was told that if I did the research and got all of the details worked out then we could have a recycling program at work. It was pretty simple actually; I called the waste company we use, asked a few questions and found someone to provide me with all of the details. She faxed me everything I needed from programs, plans, pricing and dumpster sizes and I was on to the next step of getting the actual approval.

What was their initial response?

The approving manager seemed a little hesitant at first because we'd have to find room for another dumpster and it would add more expenses every month. I heard from a representative of the committee I mentioned above that he was going to approve it anyway; then he moved and we got a new manager. After we presented him with all of the same information he was very enthusiastic, but didn't want to spend the money so it stopped there...it was about May by this time.

What motivated you to continue to pursue this venture even after meeting with resistance?

I never really gave it up; I just let it sit and waited for another opportunity to present itself. Then, last month my comptroller and I both noticed that our trash service was doubling in cost every other month. One month it would be about $300 and the next, $600. We’d never noticed before because frankly, we'd never really been watching our expenses so closely until money began getting so tight (there's my silver lining around the economy cloud). Our bill was doubling every other month because of the frequency we'd have to call and have it emptied. I started wondering that maybe we could curb that cost by recycling. It makes sense, right? Less waste = less roll-off dumpster service = less money.

Did you involve the help of others in the office to champion this effort?

Yes! I absolutely couldn't have done this by myself. A couple of days later, a co-worker came to me and asked me where that plan went since she hadn't heard anything in a while. I explained the situation and made a copy of the information for her so she could give it a whirl too. She went to another representative of that committee who hadn't heard of the plan before because he had just joined. He came to me and asked me some questions so he could present it again. I told him what had been discovered about the trash service and he presented it in such a manner to show that, in the long run, we would actually be saving money because recycling is considerably cheaper than trash service.

What did it feel like when your proposal was finally approved?

It felt like a victory for the planet! I think I did the wave right there in my cubicle.

Were the other employees immediately receptive to the idea of recycling at work?

The news spread around the whole store and there were a lot of excited people that I didn't even know were supporters.

Do you find that it is being adhered to?

Well, we're still in the roll out stages since this just happened recently. We have to have the dumpster delivered and set up recycling containers in the store. I have a feeling it will really take off though. When I first transferred to this location last year, hardly anyone was using the boxes we have placed for paper shredding and they were just throwing all of their paper in the trash. They didn't know that everything that got shredded in those boxes was recycled. Since that word has spread we've had to add more boxes because they're always full now. I think this will be the same way.

What are some other ways you are green in your own daily life?

I take public transportation 3 to 4 times every week to lessen the demand on oil and create fewer emissions...I get a lot of reading done too. :)

I only use household cleaners, detergents, body care and cosmetics (pretty much everything) that are free of petroleum products, bleach and are 100% plant based.

I buy organic and items made from recycled materials when I can.

As my light bulbs run out, I replace them with energy saving ones and I try to unplug electronics when they're not in use so they don't leak energy when they're not even on.

I make an effort to never use disposable water bottles and to use my own cup when I buy coffee or tea away from home.

I’d have to say though, that the biggest effort that I’ve completed is to transform my diet and my lifestyle and go 100% vegan. It’s not just good for people and for the animals that we eat, but raising and feeding those animals for human consumption really takes a large toll on the environment.

Are there other Earth friendly causes or programs you are attempting to institute at your job or other locations?

Next up at work: the transition from bottled water for customers to a water cooler system....one step at a time, right?

I’ve recently written a letter to Starbucks on their website encouraging them to curb their excessive water usage and to make recycling mandatory in all of their United States locations. I encourage anyone and everyone to write them as well. We need to make a big voice to be heard with such a large corporation. Use my letter or email it to everyone you know and have them get involved as well.

I’ve also recently joined a local animal rights group and have gotten involved in raising money for farm sanctuary, a non-profit animal rescue, and for yesonprop2 in California, which is coming up in this November’s election.

5 comments:

THE DYNAMIC NATURE Faheem said...

It is a great work that you are doing. As you said small baby steps by concerned people can bring about change.
http://www.thedynamicnature.com

ginger said...

i thought i jumped in the way back machine when i saw this. hah!

the recycling thing at work took a backslide, but we're still pushing. it actually seems to be going to the corporate level now so it will be easier for other stores in the region to set up a program through our trash/recycling vendor too.

Bridgete said...

Ohh Jenn...

Take a cue, not take a queue. The word "queue" comes from the French word for tail, which has morphed into the English usage as something lined up - in Britain they actually use it for a line of people waiting to be helped at a counter or something, the American usage is more common among techie things, usually the line of print jobs waiting to be sent to the printer.

I'm only correcting you because I know you care about being correct. =)

That being said, great interview Ginger! You were my inspiration for looking into getting recycling pick-up at my apartment complex, I'm glad I've been reminded of this as its fallen to the wayside in lieu of some other tasks on my to-do list.

Jenn said...

Hahaha! You know what's hilarious about that little error Bridgete, I had just been on Netflix adding movies to the queue before writing this little intro so something must have stuck! LOL I am totally laughing, and fixing it now :) I definitely do appreciate you pointing it out!

Bridgete said...

Aha! I knew there was something unusual about that, you don't normally make such odd errors. =)

Anyway, I actually came by to provide another link about the CPSIA stuff. There's a petition and a form letter to send to your congressmen. But I'll go put the link on the post concerning the issue so all who stumble on that particular post can benefit from the discovery. =)