It’s the Little Things That Make a Big Difference

Alex (front) and I (back) climb up Mt. Rintoul

Recently I finished a big adventure. One that took me the entire length of New Zealand. Walking. I had decided to walk Te Araroa Trail (Cape Reinga to Bluff, 3000km) with a friend because I not only wanted to experience all the beautiful South Pacific country had to offer, but I wanted to see it a different way than most. I wanted an adventure, something to remember when I become old and grey. I wanted to get away from the ho-hum of normal life and dive into a lifestyle immersed with the nature around me. And so I did.

Walking along coastlines, across farmland and over mountain ranges my friend and I quickly took note of the quality of the environment around us. We also noticed the amount of rubbish lying around everywhere we went. Don’t get me wrong, New Zealand is quite a “green” country in comparison to many others, but when seeing it inch by inch at walking speed, those lolly rappers and discarded drink bottles stick out like a sore thumb. And so my friend and I decided we needed to do something about it.

As we knew we couldn’t take on the responsibility of cleaning every corner and crevice along our journey (we would never had made our goal of reaching Bluff), we knew we couldn’t continue to just ignore all the rubbish we passed. So we compromised. Every day we started to pick up just one piece of rubbish each. The way we figured it, it was one less piece contaminating the environment. One less piece to find its way into the natural water sources. One less piece to be choked on by some unsuspecting animal. One less piece to be an eyesore. One less piece to damage the environment.

Ever since that day, I have continued to follow my new-found habit of “one-a-day.” It doesn’t bother me much – doesn’t take much out of my day to remove one piece of rubbish from the streets, and yet I know it adds up. I know that it is one of those things that if everyone started doing the same, the world would be cleaned up in no time. Every little bit counts.

And every little bit counts in areas of our life that aren’t directly related to our natural surroundings. Bits of our life such as the office. In the March 2011 issue of Australian’s Women’s Health Magazine, there is an article called “Desk Intentions.” It gives ideas on how to become more eco-friendly in the work place. Ideas such as:

  • Turn it off. The average computer uses 49 watts when fully on, 29 when asleep and 2 when switched off, found a University of NSW study. The average monitor uses 60 watts when fully on, 6.5 when asleep and 1 when switched off. If you turn off at the wall this drops to zero watts. So shut down at the end of the day. Oh and screensavers don’t save energy.
  • Plant power. Got an office plant? We do. His name is Nicholas. And he’s making the WH office a healthier place to work. Researchers at the Plant Environmental Quality Group at Sydney’s Uni of Technology found office plants can reduce volatile organic compounds by 80 per cent, CO2 by 25 per cent and “negative mood states” by 60 per cent. Thanks, Nick!
  • See the light. Sustainability Victoria found most offices are only used for 50 to 60 hours of a 168 hour week. In the remaining 118 hours than office is empty, any lights left on end up consuming the energy already used during office hours. So turn off ALL lights when you leave, and remember to turn off any you’re not using at the time.
  • Worth bottling. Yes, you already know you should be using a refillable water bottle. But if you have to buy a bottle, make it a biodegradable one, like Addwater ( made from a material derived from plants, not oils, or Balance ( which uses recycled materials and vegetable inks and comes in a 100 per cent biodegradable bottle. Nice.
  • Reduce, reuse, etc. Each year, every Australian office worker uses about 10000 sheets of A4 paper, with around 50 per cent of this going to landfill. But by recycling and reducing paper use by emailing rather than distributing print-outs, printing on both sides of a sheet and using old print0outs as notepaper, you and your office can help reduce the costs and environmental impacts of paper use by 75-95 per cent, according to the Green Office Guide, a joining initiative of Federal, State and Territory government agencies.
  • Cup of life. You love your takeaway coffee but don’t like the taste of a plastic reusable cup? Try a ceramic one like the Maxwell Williams double wall mug ( Just don’t go wasting energy when you wash it: a Dutch study found 90-100 per cent of the environmental impact of ceramic mugs is from their cleaning, specifically the energy needed to heat the water and the impact of detergents. So just use the cold tap. And detergent only disperses grease – you don’t need it to rinse out yesterday’s skinny decaf latte.
  • Fast Fact. If every Aussie office worker used one less staple every day, we would save 88.3 tonnes of steel each year (Turner, 2011).

Sometimes the biggest environmental impact you can make in your life is through the little things. Small changes. Such as picking up one piece of rubbish a day. Washing laundry in cold water. Creating a compost with discarded bits of food. Eating organic. Buying biodegradable and recycled (or recyclable) products. Carpooling, taking city transport, walking or cycling to/from work. And the many other small things we can be doing – every little bit counts.


Turner, A. (2011, March). Desk Intentions. Australian Women’s Health Magazine. Australia: Pacific Magazines.

One Comment

  1. Bruce Norman

    That all makes good sense, we grow a lot of our own vegetables, use fresh goat milk and have chicken, guinea, and turkey eggs for breakfast here. I make a lot of soup and that is what I start the day with. A table spoon of cayenne, and a table spoon of garlic in that hot soup. Starting a AMG battery bank, solar panel array, and Hugh Piggots wind generator plans are in the works. Have acquired a used 20 KW UPS system from a hospital for back up instead of using the generator. Will never use the full 20KW but nice for an emergency bit of welding etc. All cfls in house, and use small computer UPS for emergency lights in shop when grid goes out at night (3 daylight 60W = 39 actual watts) with 55 AH backup battery. This is a neat cheap emergency lighting system usually found free in a dumpster when the small internal battery goes out. More burn time = more batteries. I think this unit has saved my life on more than one occasion, I know if I trip in the dark in my shop, I may die from sudden puncture wounds……..HA………Bruce

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