Speech-language pathologists and audiologists are used to making a difference. We help our patients, clients, students, and families achieve their communication and hearing goals, and we know our work results in positive, lasting effects on their lives.
Given the growing concern over climate change, single-use plastics, water shortages, and other environmental problems, many of us also want to make a difference for the planet. Maybe you recycle at home or you donate to environmental causes. But have you thought about sustainability where you work? A healthy environment is good for us and also for our patients. Did you know that exposure to sunlight can speed the healing process, or that indoor plants can reduce stress? When we make eco-friendly changes at work, we can improve our patients’ health as well as the health of our planet.
I live and practice speech-language pathology in Portland, Oregon—a city with comprehensive recycling and composting programs. Eco-friendly is a way of life here, and I’ve perfected the art of going green for years. While I can’t claim to be 100% zero waste, I know any action I take toward reducing energy and waste is a step in the right direction.
I like to think of the “Three R’s of Sustainability—Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle”—as the guiding principles for my list of easy eco-friendly steps. I tried to include options for most work settings. Always check with your organization about rules and regulations that might conflict with your goal of going green.
Small changes can help you go green in a big way—no matter where you work. Pick a few suggestions to implement today and start making a difference as an eco-friendly audiologist or SLP!
Reduce—reduce your energy and resource consumption.
- Turn off the lights when you leave a room.
- Shut down your computer at the end of the day.
- Unplug your personal and work devices once they’re charged.
- Adjust thermostat settings by a degree or two—higher in summer, lower in winter.
- Switch to LED lightbulbs.
- Go paperless when you can. In my outpatient clinic, we email meeting agendas and use our laptops during team meetings to cut down on paper waste. Use your organization’s electronic charting system to send after-visit summaries to your patients. Print on both sides of paper. Advocate for purchasing recycled paper. Use a whiteboard for treatment activities and in common work spaces. Contact professional organizations and ask them to remove you from their paper mailing list and sign up for emails instead.
Reuse—reuse office and treatment materials.
- Instead of paper and plastic in the break room, use real dishes and silverware. If this isn’t an option, advocate for compostable plates or those made from recycled plastic.
- Use a water cooler instead of bottled water. Encourage your colleagues to use their own mug or reusable water bottle to fill up during the day.
- Reuse packing envelopes and boxes. These can be repurposed as treatment materials—say someone needs practice addressing an envelope—or you can use them for your own shipping needs.
- Magazines make great treatment materials. You can use them to make fun collages with pediatric patients or as reading materials for adults. I collect magazines from my clinic’s waiting room before they get recycled.
- Buy used games, books, and other items for sessions. Scour yard sales and thrift stores for materials. Make sure whatever you find can be cleaned according to your organization’s policies.
Recycle—if you can’t reduce or reuse it, recycle it.
- Batteries. My clinic doesn’t recycle triple-A batteries anymore, so I placed a bin in our charting area for colleagues. I take them to a community recycling center.
- Light bulbs. Home Depot and Ikea offer recycling for all types of light bulbs, including fluorescent.
- Ink cartridges. Many office supply stores recycle these.
- Paper. Because of strict HIPAA regulations, SLPs in health care facilities will want to be aware of proper paper disposal procedures.
- Aluminum cans.
- Food. Food? Yes! If your city offers a composting program, anyone can participate.
Start making a difference in the health of the planet today! Choose a few ideas from my list and get your colleagues involved. In no time you’ll be thinking of other ways you can be eco-friendly in the workplace.
Sarah Breeze, MS, CCC-SLP, works in the multidisciplinary voice clinic and outpatient rehabilitation services for Kaiser Permanente in Portland, Oregon. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 3, Voice and Upper Airway Disorders, and 13, Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders (Dysphagia). firstname.lastname@example.org.