On April 22, 2012 we will once again celebrate Earth Day. Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last 30 years you will recognize Earth Day as a rallying point for a wide range of sustainability initiatives and programs to raise ecological awareness. Viewed in its early days as somewhat of the fringe tree-hugger events, Earth Day is now recognized and celebrated by millions around the world and observed by individuals, corporations, and governments. Many communities will even celebrate Earth week, an entire week of activities focused on environmental issues. It’s come far since its origins in 1969 and while there is an actual Earth Day organization the Earth Day flag is waved by an increasing number of communities, organizations, governments, and companies. In 2009 the United Nations even designated April 22 as International Mother Earth Day.
But the spirit of Earth Day, of course, is not just to be aware of the environment for one day out of the year. If we are to save our planet from the ecological destruction that we continue to bring to it, we need to keep Earth Day close to our thoughts for the entire year. One of the campaigns that the Earth Day organization is driving in 2012 is called “1 Billion Acts of Green”. The goal of this campaign is to have people commit to acts ranging from small one day events to things that will carry through the entire year and which will ultimately help improve the sustainability of life on this planet. If you go to the earthday.org website you can see the sign-up page for acts of green and even add your pledge to the growing list. As I write this account, there are 940 million acts of green that have been submitted. These acts that people have signed up for are interesting to read and some of them are very creative. They have been categorized into some main groups including things like education, advocacy, energy, water and several others. Recycling, of course, is also a popular category.
While there are many things, some little and some big, that we can all do to help reduce our footprint on this planet, there are also some things that we are already doing but may not be aware of. One of these things involves the activities we take to keep confidential information secure. Namely, shredding. We often think of shredding as a way to guarantee privacy and keep our company secrets secret, and sometimes forget that part of secure destruction, after the paper has been shredded, often involves recycling. At Iron Mountain, after our paper has been shredded, it goes into the recycling process where the paper is pulped and then reused. This eliminates a number of steps in the traditional production process for paper, and saves both energy as well as raw materials.
In 2011, Iron Mountain processed almost 400,000 tons of paper. This paper was collected from our customers, securely shredded, and then sent to be pulped and recycled. That’s a lot of paper. So how did this ultimately help the environment? To start with, 6 1/2 million trees would have had to have been cut down to supply the same amount of pulp for paper production. To process the raw wood into pulp would have required an additional 2 1/2 billion gallons of water. Yes, I said billions. Processing the material would have created an additional 200 million pounds of air pollution. And if we had not recycled all of this paper it would have added over 1 million cubic yards of waste to our already overflowing landfills. Finally 1 ½ billion extra kilowatt hours of electricity would have been required for the processing.
So the next time you drop a confidential document into a secure shred bin, don’t just think about the information that is being protected, think about the environment that is also being protected. One of your individual acts of green can actually be protecting your company’s confidential information. By shredding with Iron Mountain, protection and sustainability happen together and while we all dream of the mythical paperless office, until that becomes a reality it’s nice to know that you can do the right thing for your company and also the right thing for your planet.