5 ways to be a greener writer
Little by little. Baby step by baby step. The world is catching on to the need to stop doing things that will probably end life on this planet within the next couple of hundred years.
Our eco-unfriendly actions continue to cause a gradual melting of Polar ice. This will create a much wetter stratosphere. That will mean the removal of vital gases that support not just human life, but crops and everything we need to survive. As this ice melts, we won’t simply see dystopian floods taking out New York and London. Instead, the difference between the equator and the two poles will disappear along with us.
As a writer, I believe I use very little of the world’s resources. But I know even in that part of my world, I can create a more sustainable, low waste lifestyle. It’s not as easy as just reducing how much meat I eat or recycling plastic bottles. I gradually noticed how I was needing to empty the trash bin on my office floor two or three times a week. Mostly because I have an insatiable Amazon habit (it’s my way of procrastinating). Everything they send comes wrapped in many layers of paper and plastic. I am making made a personal commitment to produce as little rubbish in my writing life as possible—by which I don’t mean cutting back the florid descriptions and infeasibly complex plot points.
Here are five tips to start you off.
Greener pencils and notepads
Pencils last longer than pens, are easier to work with (erasers work wonders) and when I’m short on ideas, somehow my doodles just look better. With an aluminium pencil sharper rather than a plastic one, a few pencils will keep me going for a year. I recently found recycled pencils: mine used to be a newspaper.
When I need to take notes, I open up an email, write my notes (or dictate them) and hit save as draft. BUT for when only paper will do, avoid plastic covers, aim for recycled notebooks. And use every page, back and front. Obviously there is a lunatic fringe that will use pencil and then erase the lot for second use. I’m not there yet. I do, however, use junk mail envelopes for notepaper. For my next book, Guide Dogs for the Blind have contributed almost every scene card.
Greener energy saving devices
LED light bulbs offer the same amount of light as regular ones, but use 40% less energy. And yes, they cost a bit more, but they last longer too. If you can, try setting up your desk in front of a window and make use of natural light. A smart power strip detects when you’re not using your plugged in electronics and automatically turns them off. When something is out of use, don’t leave it on standby. Pull the plugs on traditional power strips even if everything they connect to is turned off, the strip still consumes tiny bits of power. I always smugly set up screensavers in the past, but then someone pointed out how that’s still using unnecessary electricity and consuming energy that’s going to waste. I changed my settings so my machine automatically goes into hibernation or sleep mode when not active.
I totally get how there’s a cost to storing each bite of data online. I strongly support a digital-first policy for publishers. An ebook doesn’t eat up the same amount of physical resources as printed novel and there are lower costs of transmission.
Paper and e-readers produce different kinds of pollution and waste. With readers, the main pollutant is the manufacture of the battery and the screen. Paper pulp mills contribute to air, water and land pollution. Even paper recycling can be a source of pollution due to the sludge produced during de-inking. Our landfills are composed of about 26% paper, and the publishing industry consumes about 11% of freshwater consumed in industrial nations.
I decided to only buy ebooks from now on. My back catalogue will increasingly be only available in digital format—and bonus, that’s an ISBN number you don’t have to buy and register if you self publish.
Don’t upgrade your tech
Stick with your (working) tech Resist the upgrade. Until you really need it, does it matter if Scrivner is slow to open or you have to sip your coffee before Word is up and running?
Technowaste is a massive problem. Use your old tools until they drop—and then dispose of them responsibly—if that old tablet you bought the kids will run your editing software but not connect online, that’s even better. There’s less to distract you. And any new machine always comes with a learning curve as you get it to work how you want. That’s time you could be writing.
A faster laptop won’t make your books any better.
Don’t print unless you must: In the old carefree days, we thought nothing of meeting an agent request to print out 100,000 words double line-spaced one-sided and mail the resulting bulk. Thankfully, most agents and publishers saw sense. But as writers we need to do the same. Most of us hate printing, and the energy spent swearing at a printer that refuses to connect or snarls up sheet after sheet is avoidable if you don’t use it. I edit on screen or better on my Kindle app. As long as I get to see text in a different medium to one in which I wrote, it helps. Often if that’s just exporting it from Word into a PDF, or using the read aloud function on most computers. If you need to print, use an ‘eco’ font—one that uses less ink and downsize as far as possible to reduce paper use. You don’t need Size 12 Times New Roman, double spaced, printed one size for your own use.