Canadian Trees and Lake

About Sustainability

Sustainability means protecting and supporting both human and natural environments in the present and for the future. We believe in sustainable practices for our business and the benefits we derive from them:

  • Good economics - sustainable growth for our business
  • Protection of natural resources
  • Minimization of waste
  • Reduction of toxic chemicals
  • A sustainable quality of life for workers

Follett Higher Education Group is a strong advocate of sustainability for all the benefits mentioned above. But beyond all of the benefits, we believe that it's simply the right thing to do.

Because we're in the business of education, we are always looking for new ways to share knowledge and support the communities we serve. Looking for more information about sustainability to support your own green lifestyle? Don't know an FSC from a VOC? And just what IS a carbon footprint? Here you'll find a sustainability glossary and answers to your frequently asked questions.

Sustainability 101 - Q & A

For your introduction, check out the Glossary of Common Terms (PDF).

Q. What makes a material sustainable?

A. A sustainable material meets the following criteria:

  • Uses re-used and recycled content
  • Zero or near zero off-gassing of harmful air emissions
  • Zero or low toxicity
  • High recyclability
  • Durability, longevity
  • Local production

Q. How do I know which plastic containers can be recycled?

A. Here's the scoop on which ones are safe and easy to recycle: We've all seen the little numbers living inside the telltale recycling arrows, and most of us know that they refer to the composition of the containers, which also determines whether or not they can be recycled. Recently, word has spread that some of these plastic leach toxic chemicals and nasties like hormone disruptors into whatever they are in contact with; not something you want to be putting on your lips or in your mouth. So which is which?

  1. PET or PETE: Polyethylene terephthalate is used in many soft drink, water and juice bottles. It's easily recycled, doesn't leach, and accepted by most curbside municipal programs and just about all plastic recycling centers.
  2. HDPE: High-density polyethylene is used in milk jugs, detergent and shampoo bottles, and, because it hasn't been found to leach, will replace polycarbonate in a new Nalgene bottle (more on that in a sec). It has also has not been found to leach, and is widely accepted and easily recycled.
  3. PVC: Vinyl or polyvinyl chloride is a bad, bad plastic. Soft PVC often contains and can leach toxic phthalates, and can also off-gas chemicals into the air. It's used in some cling wraps (yikes!), many children's toys, fashion accessories, shower curtains, and detergent and spray bottles. To top it off, PVC isn't recyclable, either.
  4. LDPE: Low-density polyethylene is used most plastic shopping bags, some cling wraps, some baby bottles and reusable drink & food containers. It hasn't been found to leach, and is recyclable at most recycling centers (and many grocery stores take the shopping bags) but generally not in curbside programs.
  5. PP: Polypropylene can be found in some baby bottles, lots of yogurt and deli takeout containers, and many reusable food and drink containers (you know, the Tupperware- and Rubbermaid-types). It hasn't been found to leach, and is recyclable in some curbside programs and most recycling centers.
  6. PS: Polystyrene is used in takeout food containers, egg containers, and some plastic cutlery, among other things. It has been found to leach styrene--a neurotoxin and possible human carcinogen--and has been banned in cities like Portland, Ore. and San Francisco. Still, it persists and is not often recyclable in curbside programs, though some recycling centers will take it.
  7. Everything else, and this is where the waters get a bit murky. First, and perhaps most notably, # 7 includes PC, or polycarbonate, which has been making headlines lately because it's used in Nalgene's reusable water bottles and has been found to leach bisphenol A, a hormone disruptor that mimics estrogen; as such, Nalgene is switching to HDPE, a less harmful plastic.

But that's just the tip of the # 7 iceberg; though you're less likely to see them in the grocery store than some of the others, the burgeoning crop of bioplastics (made from plant-based material rather than the usual petroleum base for plastic) also falls under this umbrella, for now, at least. Most common of these is PLA, or polyactide, which is most commonly made with corn, these days. It isn't easily recycled, though it can be composted in industrial composting operations - your kitchen composter most likely doesn't create enough heat to help it break down. So, while cutting back on plastic packaging is probably the greenest way to go, when it comes to accruing new, we recommend you stick to the less toxic, more recyclable numbers.



Q. What's better: paper or plastic?

A. Neither. Here's how paper and plastic stack up side by side: To make all the bags we use each year, it takes 14 million trees for paper and 12 million barrels of oil for plastic. The production of paper bags creates 70 percent more air pollution than plastic, but plastic bags create four times the solid waste - enough to fill the Empire State Building two and a half times. And they can last up to a thousand years. Plastic, because it's cheaper to produce, is the overwhelming choice of grocery stores across the nation - the average family of four uses almost 1,500 of these a year. For both types of bags, the environmentalist mantra is the same - reuse and recycle. But the best choice, they say, is cloth or canvas, and BYOB - bring your own bags.

Plastic bags

  • Each year, an estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide.
  • Plastics do NOT biodegrade. Rather, they photodegrade, a process in which sunlight breaks down plastic into smaller and smaller pieces.
  • It can take up to 1,000 years for a high-density polyethylene plastic bag to break down in the environment.
  • Plastic bags are on the top 10 list of most common trash items along the American coastline (both on land and in the water).

Paper bags

  • Paper bags generate 70 percent more air pollutants and 50 times more water pollutants than plastic bags.
  • 2,000 plastic bags weigh 30 pounds, 2,000 paper bags weigh 280 pounds. The latter takes up a lot more landfill space.
  • It takes 91 percent less energy to recycle a pound of plastic than it takes to recycle a pound of paper. It takes more than four times as much energy to manufacture a paper bag as it does to manufacture a plastic bag.



Q. How does eating locally grown food help the environment?

A. In our modern age of food preservatives and additives, genetically altered crops and E. coli outbreaks, as with the recent spinach debacle (September 2006), people are increasingly concerned about the quality and cleanliness of the foods they eat. Given the impossibility of identifying the pesticides used and the route taken to grow and transport, say, a banana from Central America to our local supermarket, foods grown locally make a lot of sense for those who want more control over what they put into their bodies.

Locally Grown Food Tastes Better
John Ikerd, a retired agricultural economics professor who writes about the growing "eat local" movement, says that farmers who sell direct to local consumers need not give priority to packing, shipping and shelf-life issues and can instead "select, grow and harvest crops to ensure peak qualities of freshness, nutrition and taste." Eating local also means eating seasonally, he adds, a practice much in tune with Mother Nature.

Eat Locally Grown Food for Better Health
"Local food is often safer, too," says the Center for a New American Dream (CNAD). "Even when it's not organic, small farms tend to be less aggressive than large factory farms about dousing their wares with chemicals." Small farms are also more likely to grow more variety, says CNAD, protecting biodiversity and preserving a wider agricultural gene pool, an important factor in long-term food security.

Eat Locally Grown Food to Reduce Global Warming
Eating locally grown food even helps in the fight against global warming. Rich Pirog of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture reports that the average fresh food item on our dinner table travels 1,500 miles to get there. Buying locally produced food eliminates the need for all that fuel-guzzling transportation.

Eat Locally Grown Food to Help the Economy
Another benefit of eating locally is helping the local economy. Farmers on average receive only 20 cents of each food dollar spent, says Ikerd, the rest going for transportation, processing, packaging, refrigeration and marketing. Farmers who sell food to local customers "receive the full retail value, a dollar for each food dollar spent," he says. Additionally, eating locally encourages the use of local farmland for farming, thus keeping development in check while preserving open space.

How to Find Locally Grown Food Near You
EcoTrust also provides consumers with tips on how to eat locally more often. Shopping regularly at local farmers' markets or farm stands tops the list. Also, locally owned grocery and natural foods stores and coops are much more likely than supermarkets to stock local foods. The Local Harvest website provides a comprehensive national directory of farmers' markets, farm stands and other sources of locally grown food.

Source: E, The Environmental Magazine.

Q. What is a carbon footprint?

A. A carbon footprint is a measure of the impact our activities have on the environment, and in particular climate change. It relates to the amount of greenhouse gases produced in our day-to-day lives through burning fossil fuels for electricity, heating and transportation etc. The carbon footprint is a measurement of all greenhouse gases we individually produce.

Source: Carbon Footprint, Ltd.


Q. What is "hypermiling"?
A. With gas prices relentlessly soaring, Americans are being forced to rethink their driving habits. Many are combining trips, driving less or shifting to mass transit. Then there are the "hypermilers," drivers who strive to boost their gas mileage by changing their behavior behind the wheel. They include Kent Johnson, who was found recently at a parking lot outside Laurel, Md., leaning against his red Chevy Aveo hatchback, holding his right shoe. He had driven there with one shoe off, the one for the accelerator foot, "so you can feel the pedal pressure a little bit easier," he explains. "You know, when you're trying to eke that extra little bit, then, just small things can add up." Most of Johnson's techniques are simple: Slow down, ease up on the accelerator, coast in neutral down hills. "I drive with my shoe off - that's extreme," he says. But extreme is what Johnson and the hypermilers are about.

Shift in Thinking
Curtis Adams, a clinical psychologist, started hypermiling about six months ago. "Switching from driving so-called normally to hypermiling, it's a huge shift in thinking," he says. "Some people do it for environmental reasons," Adams says. "That's not at the top of my list, honestly. The environment I'm concerned with is my wallet." Adams says even the choice of parking space can save gas. Pick a parking spot that offers a quick exit by driving forward out of the space, he says. When you come out, put the car in gear and head straight out," Adams says. "You don't have to back up and waste gas." Adams' hypermilers group installed a miles-per-gallon meter in a reporter's car for a 10-mile test drive. Rather than the 8 miles per gallon the reporter had predicted, he averaged 21.1 mpg. Not only that, but there were periods of coasting with 111 mpg.

Every Little Bit Counts
The group members break down the performance, highlighting every misstep: stop-and-go driving, too much braking and liberal use of the air conditioner. They decide to bring in their heavy hitter, Mark Shmitz, to demonstrate hypermiling first hand. Shmitz averages 50 miles per gallon for a tank of gas, but he has an advantage - he drives a 2006 Honda Civic hybrid. Shmitz's eyes stay glued to the monitors on his dashboard as he drives. "I'm getting 75-80 miles per gallon just coasting down this hill..." he says at one point. At every turn or hill, the car provides instant feedback. So when he accelerates up a hill, the performance drops below 40 mpg. "I'm hating life," he says.

Don't Try This
Some of his more extreme maneuvers can get you in trouble - like coasting at 7 miles per hour through a stop sign. That's not recommended, unless you want to get a traffic ticket, he says. Hypermilers say the easiest way to save gas is obeying the speed limit. But Adams says the sluggish pace - the slow, rolling stops and the shoeless pedal foot - can be hard on his family. He says his wife usually takes her own car.

Hypermiling Tips
  • Don't use quick accelerations or brake heavily.
  • Don't idle excessively.
  • Don't drive at higher speeds. This increases wind resistance and mechanical friction, which reduces fuel economy.
  • Frequent short trips reduce fuel economy, since your engine doesn't operate efficiently until it is warmed up.
  • Remove cargo or cargo racks, which increase aerodynamic drag and lower fuel economy.
  • Don't tow unless absolutely necessary.
  • Minimize running mechanical and electrical accessories, like your air conditioner.
  • Avoid driving on hilly or mountainous terrain if possible.
  • Don't use four-wheel drive if it is not needed. Engaging all four wheels makes the engine work harder.
  • Park your car face out, if allowable, so you don't have to back out of the space and turn needlessly.
  • Minimize having to stop at red lights by scanning the road far ahead and preparing to slow down well in advance.