It’s Easy Being Green: How to Green a Campaign

Environmental considerations are often lost in the hustle and bustle of campaigns. Here are a few easy ways to make campaigns more efficient.

A typical campaign worker in Iowa sits at a desk surrounded by papers. Cutting back on paper use and recycling are some good ways to make your campaign a greener one. (AP/Stephen Savoia)
A typical campaign worker in Iowa sits at a desk surrounded by papers. Cutting back on paper use and recycling are some good ways to make your campaign a greener one. (AP/Stephen Savoia)

Read more articles from the "It’s Easy Being Green" series

There are 37 governor races this year, as well as 104 House seats and 18 Senate seats up for reelection. That adds up to a grand total of 159 races. Many campaign staffers and volunteers are faced with busy schedules and lots of late hours, and in these circumstances green practices often fall to the wayside. Luckily, green campaigns are no longer just for the Green Party. Below is a list of a few easy ways to cut back on the excessive waste that plagues campaigns each election cycle.

First, and perhaps most important, invest in a coffee maker. Or two. The stress of trying to organize a campaign, let alone win an election, frequently leads to excessive coffee drinking. It’s tempting to run to Starbucks, but an inside layer of thin polyethylene plastic coating in some disposable coffee cups, like Starbucks’, is unrecyclable.

Campaigns can do the earth a favor and buy a machine for the office, which cuts back on future coffee costs, fuel use, greenhouse gas pollution, and the consumption of thousands of coffee cups. Starbucks is working to fix its cups by 2012 and is looking to reintroduce ceramic mugs for in-store use, but making an effort to reduce unnecessary consumption by making coffee in the office is an important and helpful step.

This leads to another office essential—water. Every year 1 billion pounds of carbon dioxide are emitted to make the 28 billion single-use water bottles purchased in the United States. Campaigns can encourage their staff to use reusable water bottles, which will help keep millions of plastic bottles from landfills and help reduce carbon emissions.

Campaigning works up an appetite, too. Offices can suggest that staff pack their lunches in reusable lunch bags, perhaps with food from a local farm, instead of ordering large delivery meals. And keeping the kitchen stocked with reusable plates, cups, and cutlery—not paper and plastic ones—increases the staff’s incentive to bring previously prepared food, thereby helping reduce landfill content and cutting back on emissions from frequent deliveries. An office with a refrigerator also helps encourage staffers to bring in food.

Campaigns also rack up emissions from traveling back and forth to offices and events. For each gallon of gas a car burns, it emits around 20 pounds of carbon dioxide. Carpooling and installing a bike rack are two solutions for this problem. Create carpool guides for your teams to help them organize their efforts. Carpooling should be an essential part of campaign culture for coming to work and going out on the road. It’s a great way to cut back on emissions, oil and gas, and traffic congestion.

Another way to green the campaign office is to cut back on paper. Make sure to carefully edit all materials before they’re printed. Small mistakes that lead to reprints of thousands of documents are a needless waste, and so too are printing unnecessary materials. Try to only print what’s necessary. Also consider a double-sided printing policy. This could potentially halve the amount of paper used in your office. And make sure that your office prints on recycled paper.

After printing, make sure to recycle all printed materials. It’s no secret that campaigns use and waste too much paper. Only 45 percent of paper is recycled in the United States, compared with 52 percent in Japan and 77 percent in the Netherlands—and paper manufacturing is the third-largest fossil fuels user worldwide. There’s no excuse for campaigns not providing adequate recycling bins for the thousands upon thousands of sheets they print.

Finally, educate your constituents about reusing campaign signs. After November leftover signs are bound to be left in yards and on the roads. They can be put to good use. For instance, repurposed signs are good for a garage sale or to mark a house for a party. Plastic signs can be repainted for future long-term use. Tell constituents not to be afraid of signs with wire, too—they are usually made of either steel or aluminum, and both metals are easily recyclable.

Following these simple tips can lead to a more efficient and resource-wise campaign. And it may even get you some extra votes.

Read more articles from the "It’s Easy Being Green" series

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.