Lately I have been thinking about in what way can even a small private practice such as mine take steps to be more protective of the environment? I think in part I am motivated not only by “green” impulses but recession response. I look at where I can cut costs and improve the bottom line- and there’s so little overhead in general that it is hard to find places to cut. My main expense of course is the direct pay that I receive- and the rent I pay for the space I use. Those aren’t changing and if anything both creep upwards. But when I look at paper products, snacks, and office supplies in general- then I find some ways to cut as well as be more environmentally friendly. Some people advised me early in my private practice that if you make your office look expensive then you attract clients willing to pay more.
I balked at that from the start and have always had yard sale furniture, recycled lamps from home and bargain center shelves. Don’t get me wrong- my office is quite attractive, but not designed to either be or look expensive. I aim for a homelike but professional atmosphere. My focus is on private, comfortable and providing space that people can be expressive in- verbally and in art through art therapy. I do have one room designed as a studio and my landlord agreed to remove the carpet in there so I could have a mop-able floor and clients would not worry (nor would I) about the inevitable spills or mess.
Artists, and art therapists, have always been pretty good at re-using and re-purposing things. For example the time honored use of foam meat trays cleaned up and used for paint or glue or other messy containment. Or anyone using art to some degree utilizes collage and magazine images are basically a recycled free material. To reduce and “green up” office supply issues I have looked at using recycled content paper for my printer or fax and in many instances of non-essential copies I use actual recycled paper- i.e. the blank side of an out of date handout or those sheets of paper that come in insurance payment that only have my name on them and are marked “this page left intentionally blank”. (By the way that phrase really cracks me up…it’s clearly NOT blank since they wrote that on it…) But I digress.
Electronic billing and automatic deposits have lessened the paper load a lot. But there are still times when things must be printed so I make and effort to use and re-use paper thoughtfully. I also try to use washable mugs and not a lot of paper or Styrofoam cups. Clients are welcome to choose a mug from a selection and periodically my assistant takes the plastic tub of used mugs home to run through the dishwasher.
Yes, it’s kind of a hassle but it also really reduces that paper waste- and is nicer to drink from in my opinion. As you can see, I’m not some expert or “green guru” here but I just wanted to raise the issue. Maybe in comments folks can share things that work for them and we all can benefit. In the meantime I think just looking around and thinking about where small changes can yield good things is the place to start.
Joan Phillips is a counselor, art therapist, and marriage and family therapist. She maintains a private practice and teaches at the University of Oklahoma.