The ITI Bulletin editor has very kindly given me permission to reproduce the original text on which my recent article for the September-October edition was based. I’ve had so many e-mails and Twitter comments about this subject that I thought it might be a good idea to open the discussion to a wider audience, and particularly colleagues who don’t have access to the ITI Bulletin. This is such a huge and important topic, and I’m sure I have barely scratched the surface of what we, as freelancers, can do to make our offices and business practices greener. I’d love to hear others’ ideas too.
Four years ago I wrote a blog post entitled “The Green Translator”, which attracted a lot of interest among colleagues at the time. I thought it might be interesting to revisit the concept in the light of the anti-plastic backlash triggered by David Attenborough at the end of his Blue Planet II series back in December 2017. This was a defining moment in public perception of environmental pollution problems and one which has surely changed the way we all think and behave, both in the workplace and at home.
Living out in the sticks, as I do, and growing a lot of my own food on my allotment, I like to think I’m already pretty “green”. When it comes to freelance working practices, there’s an awful lot we can do, even on an individual level, to make sure we are even more environmentally-aware. As freelancers, we are literally free to make our own rules and to do our bit, however small, to help save the planet. No need for us to leave all the lights blaring and computer screens working over the weekend, as I’ve witnessed in big companies in the past…
As home-based freelance translators, we already have a head start on office workers because we don’t physically have to travel to get to work. No sitting in cars on clogged-up roads, queuing for buses or trains… Quite apart from the time and money we save not having to commute from home to work each day, there’s a huge environmental saving too. When you see the volume of cars on the roads nowadays, especially in our congested cities, it has to be beneficial if some of us, at least, can work from home. I do try and use public transport when I go out and about to translation conferences and workshops, and I also have a Network railcard, which gives me a third off non-peak rail travel over quite a large swathe of the UK. There are railcards for people up to 30, over 60, couples, friends and families, so we should theoretically have no excuse not to travel by rail rather than car. Sadly the cost of rail fares in the UK can be prohibitively expensive, especially if you can’t book well in advance, or have to travel at peak times, even to the extent that travelling by air (or car) can be cheaper, which can’t be right.
Living in a rural village with limited public transport options means I inevitably do have to use my car. I did try to think green when I last bought a new car in 2014, opting for an allegedly low-emission Skoda diesel. Of course, the emissions scandal since then has shown that Messrs Volkswagen (and the rest) have let us all down and our diesel cars are not really as green as we’d hoped. My mileage is relatively low, however, and I walk locally, dog at my side, whenever I can, so I do feel I’m trying to minimise my diesel-based tyreprint. Here’s hoping that electric vehicles will be more affordable with an improved range when I next come to change my car – that’s certainly the way I’d like to go.
Living and working at home also offers opportunities to be environmentally-conscious. No extra office heating/lighting/electricity costs on top of your home costs, although admittedly you might not be heating your home if you were working in an office all day. Although I love to be warm, I don’t tend to have the heating on all day. In fact, I find most modern offices far too warm – I’d much rather put an extra jumper on and be able to open the window if necessary than suffocate in an overheated fug! For the last couple of years when I was working in-house, we moved to the top floor of a large open-plan office building and I hated not being able to open windows and breathe. I’m convinced that you’re much more prone to germs and colds too, if you’re constantly subjected to the effects of central heating/air conditioning. My heating is set to come on twice a day, first thing in the morning and then from 4 or 5 until 9 – which isn’t to say I can’t boost it outside those times if I feel the need. I also have a smart heating hub, which I absolutely love. I can adjust it from my iPhone when I’m out of the house, boost it at the press of a button from whichever room I’m in and change temperatures even when I’m on holiday on the other side of the world – amazing! And of course it saves on gas too. And don’t even get me started on air conditioning: I know we had an extremely hot summer here last year, but do shops and offices really need to be so glacially cold that you need a coat on when setting foot inside during the summer months?! My office is on the north side of the house, which means it usually remains at a pleasant temperature no matter how warm it is outside.
I suffer from Raynaud’s syndrome, where your fingertips and toes go white and numb when cold, so I also have a small electric heater in my office to keep that small room warm even if the rest of the house isn’t sub-tropical. I still try not to have it on too much and two dog walks a day work wonders for the circulation, but sitting at the computer for hours on end, as we translators do, does mean my hands have a tendency to get cold. All the more reason to get up and take frequent breaks from the keyboard, or you could follow the example of a number of colleagues and consider a standing or treadmill desk to boost your circulation.
Taking it one step further, if you’re really serious about reducing your home’s carbon footprint, you could even consider having a home energy audit, although be aware that they might tell you to do away with your cat flap, as happened to the Bulletin’s esteemed editor. Switching to a smart meter is another option, although I have to confess I still haven’t taken the plunge, mainly because I’ve heard such horror stories about them not working when you switch supplier.
In this day and age we all use quite a lot of gadgets to do our various jobs. I tend to have a laptop on the kitchen table, my desktop upstairs, plus extra monitor, printer… to say nothing of iPad, Kindle and iPhone around the place. I switch all my devices to hibernate when I’m not using them in the working day. I’m also fanatical about switching lights off when I leave a room and have now replaced all my light bulbs with energy-efficient bulbs, LEDs wherever possible.
I print very rarely these days, mainly due to using two monitors, but also thanks to using Trados for much of my translation work. Whereas I used to print out my final version of a text so that I could do my final read-through on a different medium, I find that it’s sufficient to be able to read it in a different environment, i.e. in the target version (Word, PowerPoint or Excel) rather than within the CAT tool. My vastly reduced ink consumption (one set of cartridges lasts over a year!) tells its own story. I used to find that printers died a death just outside their one-year warranty period, but mine is now well into its third year. I also shred any confidential documents and then compost them for distribution round the garden a couple of years down the line.
The plastic mountain that David Attenborough so effectively brought to the forefront of our collective minds is one that’s not going to go away any time soon, but we can play a small part in our home offices, not least by reducing the amount of waste we produce and being selective about what we buy. Working from home means we can prepare our food at home and avoid takeaway lunches and coffees. No need to buy expensive plastic water bottles when we can get water for free in a glass at home. And if we can take reusable water bottles and coffee cups when we travel for work, so much the better, both for us and for the environment. The latest stainless steel water bottles keep drinks cold much better than a plastic bottle, with no risk of plastic microparticles leaching into the liquid in the heat – yuk!
Sorting waste is so much easier in your own home too – and it’s much simpler to keep track of what you buy and use as an individual rather than a large corporation. I’m a keen cook, although time-pressed during the working week, so I tend to make large batches of soup at the weekend and then freeze them for my lunches during the week – a much more efficient use of my time and the power to make the soup in the first place! And there are virtually no leftovers in my home – I adore having the remains of last night’s dinner for next day’s lunch: a real home-working perk. Then again, if you have to travel for work, why not take your own lunch with you by making twice as much the night before and transporting the leftovers in a reusable container? I’m still using Lakeland storage containers I’ve had for over 20 years – they may be plastic, but single-use they most certainly are not! I’ve also switched away from clingfilm to reusable plastic “shower caps” or stretchy silicone lids to cover food in the fridge: they work brilliantly and have lasted well over 6 months so far, saving heaven knows how much single-use clingfilm in the process.
Water is another resource we could and should manage more carefully in the light of the impending climate crisis. Health & safety dictates mean companies have limited options for saving water in sanitary facilities, but working at home means we can save hand-washing water to use on our plants outside and even use that old adage “If it’s yellow, let it mellow…” when going to the loo and NOT flushing every time (thanks to Money Supermarket’s Martin Lewis for that little gem of wisdom, which has lodged in my brain ever since I heard him on the radio!). I’d certainly consider installing a large rainwater harvesting tank if I ever did another extension, and a greywater storage tank would be great if you were starting from scratch. As it is, I have three water butts at home, and one at the allotment – every little helps.
I know many colleagues have had their own green epiphanies too: Ellen Worrell at EW Languages has recently pledged to write one blog article a week on the War on Plastic and I’m looking forward to reading her new insights. I’m sure I’ve barely touched the tip of the iceberg for sustainable homeworking ideas and I’m always happy to go greener: bring it on.