The green interpreter
A conversation about single-use plastic bottles led me to question my environmental footprint as an interpreter and look for solutions. There are plenty and they involve minimal effort!
Sitting in a booth one day I noticed that my colleague had brought her own reusable water bottle into the booth, rather than continually opening (and later throwing away) the small single-use plastic bottles provided for us. We got to talking about the water bottle and I heard myself reeling out excuse after excuse for why I did not use a reusable bottle that was being given away by the institution we were working in. Too big, too much hassle, not practical, no one told me; too far away to go and collect; too… until it dawned on me that I didn’t have a leg to stand on.
So back to my hotel I went, tail between my legs, and decided not only to buy a reuseable bottle but I also started looking at the rest of my work-related environmental footprint. I found quite a few things I could change – and that all interpreters could change!
1. A better bottle
Single-use plastic water bottles are just the beginning, but a good place to start. At two or three bottles per working day, and working the AIIC average of 90 days per year, a conference interpreter will be responsible for nearly 2,500 empty bottles over a ten-year period. Some of us probably have the odd pelican on our conscience too. AIIC’s Private Market Sector is also getting on board with this idea. Nice work!
2. Keep your cup
Like bottles we all use too many single-use paper cups. But some clever sort has invented a foldable travel cup for people like us who need to pack luggage. If you’re one of the lucky interpreters who works on their home market a lot you can skip novel inventions and just take a good old fashioned ceramic mug around with you!
3. Clean up that paper trail!
While we’re in the booth… let’s look at using less paper. Not printing documents is relatively commonplace now, with institutional policy and practicality dictating that many documents are made available electronically. But lots of us have a nasty habit of reaching into the printer paper tray and taking new blank paper to scribble on in the booth. Let’s not! Try using the reverse side of scrap paper or alternatively go for the 21st century solution and make handwritten booth notes on a tablet computer.
Leaving the booth we come to perhaps the biggest part of any interpreter’s environmental footprint….
4. Getting there
Flying is a big contributor to greenhouse gases (2% globally) and it’s also a big part of many interpreters’ lives. Not all interpreters fly all the time of course. Some work on their domestic market. Some don’t fly because they don’t like flying. Some don’t fly because they live in that 500km stretch of Northern Europe that is brilliantly connected by rail (London, Paris, Strasbourg, Brussels, Amsterdam, The Hague, Cologne). Many of us will have worked out that for most train journeys under 5 hours the plane is not the quicker option either. And finally some interpreters don’t fly because they are making an effort to reduce their carbon footprint. I take my hat off to those colleagues who’ll take a night train rather than pollute the atmosphere.
But for those of us who can’t quite face a dubious night’s sleep in one of the few remaining overnight trains all is not lost. You can pay someone else to offset your carbon emissions for you – most commonly either by planting trees or investing in renewable energies with your money. There are lots of sites out there offering this service. And the average 2 hour+ European flight seems to come in at around €10 to offset; inter-continental flights proportionally more at €50–80.
Putting our environmental conscience aside for a moment carbon has also become a selling point on the interpreting market. Remote interpreting platforms are showing off their reduced carbon emissions to clients. It seems logical then that on-site interpreters should compete by off-setting and telling their clients that they off-set.
There is also clearly a role for national and international interpreter associations here. Some sort of tie-in between an association and an off-set scheme that would allow travelling interpreters to advertise that they travel carbon neutrally would seem like the logical next step. Watch this space!
5. Pack your toiletries
While we’re on the subject of air travel, let me share with you two tricks that will free up some space in your 1000ml liquids allowance and save on environmentally-damaging packaging and aerosols. Because of max 150ml per container limit for liquids in hand baggage we now buy deodorants and shaving foams or gels in very small sizes. The packaging to content ratio is very poor and there’s nothing good for the environment in an aerosol of any size!
Using roll-on deodorants deals with part of the problem but for the really conscientious you can’t beat an alum stick as an anti-perspirant. This grand-parent of all deodorants has been around for thousands of years. It’s green, cheap and lasts for months and the aluminium chloride doubles up to stop shaving cuts from bleeding.
My top tip for the gents is a little retro. Get yourself a shaving brush and soap. It’s low on packaging, lasts for ages and doesn’t count towards your 1000ml of liquids at all.
6. Save your soap
Still in the bathroom… how many mini-packets of soap have you opened and thrown away after one or two days in a hotel? Treat yourself to a little soap box and use the same soap all month!
7. Accommodation that cares
Hotels are also getting in on the green wave. And we can choose a greener hotels. Most hotels already offer the option of not washing towels every day and lights are turned off automatically when we leave the room. But there are also schemes that certify hotels with a minimal environmental footprint as well as individual hotels that sell themselves as green.
8. Sit down to a meal
Lastly, after a hard day in the booth, treat yourself to a nice slow sit-down meal on china plates in a restaurant instead of rushing off with a take-away in two plastic boxes in a paper bag, plastic cutlery and small plastic bottles of sauce. It’s good for you and the environment!
Unless otherwise indicated, photos courtesy of the author.
Articles published in this section reflect the views of the author(s) and should not be taken to represent the official position of AIIC.