Recently I was in Dayton, Ohio for work. While returning my rental car on a beautiful 70° F April morning I was greeted by a very helpful employee of the rental car company. She asked how the car was and if there was anything they could have done to improve. At first I said "no" and that I was very happy with everything. I turned in my keys and headed towards the terminal. As I passed the rental car company's cars I noticed that about 4 of the cars were sitting there idling. There were no drivers in them. Just sitting there. Idling. Wasting Gas. Polluting the air.
I was going to keep walking towards my gate but I was early for my flight and my “green” conscious wouldn’t let me do that. So I turned around, knocked on the car return office door and the same lady who helped me came back out.
The dialog went something like this:
Me: “I have a quick question, why are all these cars just idling”
Her: (with a slightly quizzical look – as in, “You’ve turned your car in, why are you back here?”) – “ I dunno. The drivers who returned them must have left them on”
Me: “So that’s usually what happens? The cars just sit here and idle?”
Me: (Looking around at the idling cars, then back at her, then up at the sky, then back at the cars) “Hmmmm. Uhhhhh….well…..ok.”
Now, at this point, I could have said to her: “You do know that your company is wasting gas while simultaneously polluting the air we are breathing in? And I could certainly understand leaving cars idling for customers waiting to pick them up in the middle of winter, but on a beautiful spring day it is hardly necessary. Furthermore, it doesn’t take much effort at all to reach in with two fingers and TURN THE KEY A QUARTER TURN TO THE LEFT!!!!!!!!!!”
But I realized that my efforts would have been futile. The attendant obviously didn’t care how much money was wasted or about the air her company was polluting. And if her company couldn’t set a corporate standard that cars will not idle unattended, I certainly wasn’t going to change her mind.
And then I thought, “If the car company wasn’t going to mandate that their cars wont just idle, why couldn’t the airport enforce a ‘no idling policy’?” But on my walk to the gate I realized the ridiculousness of that idea.
I had a plastic water bottle that was empty and I needed to throw in a recycling bin. While walking from the rental car return to the terminal I probably passed 20 trash cans and 10 cigarette disposal units BUT NOT ONE RECYCLING BIN!!!
Sometimes I’m astonished at the complete lack of sustainable practices in the year 2010.
When I got to check in I struck up a conversation with the lady behind the baggage check. It went something like this (conversation enhanced for dramatic effect and to make me sound more interesting than I really am):
Me: “So is there recycling anywhere within a 100 yard radius of where I am currently standing ?”
Lady: “No, this airport isn’t “green” at all, but that’s a good idea”
Me: “Tell me about it. You should have just heard my “conversation” with the rental car company. (At which point I warned them that I already had my morning coffee, was early for my flight, and since there was nobody else in line I was going to tell her about my conversation).
Lady: “Wow, you are “green” aren’t you?”
Me: (while puffing out my chest)“Well….you know….I am a famous blogger for residential energy and water conservation”
Lady: “OMG! Let me get your autograph!”
(Disclaimer: the above two lines didn’t really take place)
Me: (looking defeated) “Well, in that case can you just throw my bottle in the trash?”
At this point she threw my bottle away and checked me in. When I was ready to go she said,“Recycling would be a good idea and I have no clue why this airport doesn’t do it. Usually I’ll re-fill my empty bottles and use them through out the day.” The light went on in my head and I couldn’t believe I had not thought of that in the first place (I usually do re-use my bottles a few times. And when I’m not travelling I just use water bottles that I use on my bike).
Me: "Can I have that water bottle back. That’s a great idea." (I know what you’re thinking, “Chris, the bottle was in the trash!” But it was a trash can just for paper – remember, no recycling - and was clean.)
So the moral of the story is this: Don’t be afraid to speak out and be an annoying bugger when you notice unsustainable practices. You can influence others and sometimes might just be reminded of how you can be more sustainable yourself!