The green interpreter

How to organise ideas to be more sustainable as a professional

Beautiful landscape with mountains and a lake

Ten minutes of reading. If you want to go directly to our 10 recommendations to be more sustainable, click here.

emissions is a reality and our decision to combat it must also be real. There is no other alternative.How our individual actions can bring about global change

You don’t need to read NASA reports to know that record temperatures were recorded in many parts of the world this past summer. 42ºC in Seville, Spain or 46.5ºC in Ahvaz, Iran, are not temperatures we can continue to live with in the future. Climate change caused by high CO2 emissions is real and our will to combat it must also be real. We have no alternative.

It is a fact that legislation and governmental agreements are needed to change the current production and consumption patterns, which are now delocalised and based on fossil fuels and demand more and more materials and energy. Yet sitting back and waiting for these laws to be implemented and take effect is neither quick nor effective. We must then ask ourselves if our individual actions as citizens, as professionals, or as interpreters, change anything. Do they have a real impact? We believe they do.

Plant shoots on wooden board held by hands

Photo by Daniel Öberg

Making the right decisions or starting to review our habits and lifestyle is not easy. Becoming more “sustainable” seems to be unattainable, but what exactly is sustainability? Intermón Oxfam defines this concept as meeting current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs, ensuring a balance between economic growth, environmental care and social wellbeing. In our daily practice as interpreters, can we be sure that our current lifestyle does not compromise the lifestyle of those who will come after us? How were my computer and mobile phone manufactured? What environmental policies do the hotels I stay in abide by? How much CO2 do the Internet and hosting services I use in my daily life generate? How much single-use plastic did I use in the take-away food I consumed before entering the booth? The questions go on and on.

Let’s start with the basics, exploring some concepts that we can translate into good practice:

Ecological rucksack

(Buying or reconditioning my work tools)

An ecological rucksack is the total amount (in kg) of materials displaced from nature to create a product or service, minus the actual weight of the product. In this way, we can measure the environmental impact that product or service has created.

Thibaut Meurgue-Guyard from Found & Seek explains more about the ecological rucksack:

  • It is a calculation linked to the technology applied to goods and services, the more efficient the technology, the smaller the ecological rucksack.
  • It is something that takes into account all the materials needed for the production, use, recycling and disposal of a product.
  • It differs from the ecological footprint because it takes into account the resources needed to produce it, not just the CO2 emitted by the product or service.

Red rucksack on the shore of a lake

For example, a 10g gold wedding ring involves 3,500 kilos of materials extracted from a mine. In contrast, other similar products carry a much smaller ecological rucksack: the same silver ring displaces “only” 75 kilos. An aluminium soft drink can carry an ecological rucksack of 1.2 kilos. The most popular example is mobile phones, with an ecological rucksack of up to 86 kilos, according to some studies.

As interpreters, electronic and mobile devices are essential tools for everyday practice. Before switching to a newer model phone or a larger tablet, we can consider whether to refurbish our existing equipment, recycle it at a recycling point, give it as a gift to a family member or friend, or trade it in. We can also investigate the ecological rucksack of the next product we’re thinking about buying.

Footprint on sand surrounded by coloured flowers and leaves

Photo by Evie S.

Ecological footprint

(My office, my home, my food)

What does it take to produce my food, my clothes, or my house? The NGO Global Footprint Network explains that the ecological footprint measures the ecological assets that a given population or product needs to produce the natural resources it consumes (food, plant fibres, livestock and fish products, timber, space for urban infrastructure, etc.) and to absorb its waste, especially carbon emissions.

Thus, the carbon footprint relates to the emission of greenhouse gases and assesses the impact of human activities on the environment, whereas the ecological footprint takes into account all the factors of our lifestyle that are harmful to the environment.

The ecological footprint is expressed in hectares per inhabitant per year and is calculated by subtracting the resources we consume from the resources generated by the planet over the course of a year. For example, in 2018, Spain consumed the equivalent of 4.3 gha (global hectares), while its biocapacity per person was 1.5 gha. In other words, Spain consumed, as a country, 3 times more resources than we can afford to be sustainable. So how can we reduce this footprint? By using clean transport, being energy efficient at home and in the office, consuming less exported and packaged food, buying local products, reducing meat consumption, taking care of water consumption, generating less waste, etc.

Do you want to know how many planets we would need if everyone lived like you?
Here is a
calculator to help you find out.

also yyDigital pollution

(My time online on a professional and personal level)

It is undeniable that sending emails or reading books in digital format saves paper and that interpreting via a remote simultaneous interpreting platform saves all the costs and CO2 emissions associated with a few days’ travel to another city. However, being connected to the Internet and having our electronic devices switched on does cause an impact on the environment.

This environmental impact of the Internet is mainly caused by the huge amounts of energy needed to keep the entire Internet infrastructure running: the equipment (computers, tablets, routers), the data centres (to store and host the websites) and the access networks (all the cabling and antennas that carry the data).

Although the electricity consumption of the Internet as a whole is estimated to be around 2% of the world’s energy consumption, the main concern comes from the way this energy is generated. For example, most data centres currently work with energy companies that rely on coal or nuclear power plants to generate electricity.

Against this background, it may be difficult to link the interpreting profession to increased digital pollution at first, but it all adds up. Perhaps help can come from actions as simple as: a) not forwarding long email chains or forwarding heavy files if it is not necessary, b) leaving our devices plugged in or on standby, or c) buying equipment that meets our needs but does not exceed them.

If you are interested in finding out how many hours you spend on Netflix or any other streaming platform, you can install an extension from The Shift Project in your browser to visualise the climate impact of our internet activity. Speaking of browsers, if you don’t want to work with Firefox, Google Chrome or Safari, try making Ecosia your default search engine. The Berlin-based organisation promises to donate 80% of its advertising revenue to tree planting programmes organised by various associations.

If you want to know which technology service providers are leading the race to build a green Internet, you can also check out Greenpeace’s latest Clicking Clean report.

Feet on a table in front of a television

Offsetting emissions

(Moving sustainably when I travel)

In general, carbon offsetting refers to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions that are used to compensate for emissions produced elsewhere.

For example, if as professionals we have no choice but to take an aeroplane several times a month to provide interpreting services, when we buy our ticket, we can make a small donation to the airline for R&D programmes or actions that offset this CO2. emission. Our children are expected to travel on hydrogen-powered aeroplanes; hopefully we will all see this as a reality sooner rather than later.

The offset guide explains that this carbon offsetting is possible because climate change is a non-localised problem. Greenhouse gases are mixed throughout the atmosphere, so reducing them everywhere contributes to overall climate protection.

Train carriages with open doors at a railway station

Photo by lan deng

Although nothing guarantees that this carbon offsetting really has a significant impact on the reduction of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere, it never hurts to try. In business, we should always adhere to CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) and in addition to assessing our impact on communities, workers and the environment, we can also offset emissions by donating to NGOs such as Greenpeace or, if we want to reconnect with nature, we can plant trees ourselves or do some research and start sprouting seeds from the fruits or vegetables we eat.

Returning to mobility, making essential journeys using low polluting means of transport should be one of our priorities. Try opting for the train if distance and time permit. And if working outside our home city, using electric cabs or carpooling through the many existing applications in various cities is a positive and easy step to take.

Capsule wardrobe

(Fewer clothes for better clothes)

How many sets of clothes do I need to be at home, to do a booth interpreting or a liaison interpreting at a client’s office? Not as many as you think. The capsule wardrobe concept was coined in the 1970s in London, but it is only in the last few decades that it has become more popular around the world. Sustainability has crept into our lives and we can take advantage of the capsule wardrobe concept to create a wardrobe that, on the one hand, reduces the fatigue of making clothing decisions and, on the other hand, allows us to be sustainable. If our capsule wardrobe is made up of timeless, good quality garments that combine with each other, we can wear them for years to come. A blazer or trench coat in neutral tones; a high-quality little black dress; or a dark suit jacket will allow us to comply with the dress codes of almost any interpretating situation. For our capsule to work well, we would only need a good pair of smart trousers, two or three shirts, a jumper, two pairs of quality shoes, some accessories and little else.

Light-coloured clothes on white hangers with a green plant

Photo by Thom Bradley

Would we be able to empty our wardrobe of garments manufactured with low-quality standards and precarious working conditions? If price is what holds us back, in most cities we can find outlets of environmentally friendly premium brands to build our future sustainable wardrobe.

Ten tips!

In summary, dealing with all the information at our disposal can be overwhelming, but we can start with simple guidelines:

  1. Try to learn how the products or services we are about to purchase were produced.
  2. Recycle or recondition our electronic devices.
  3. Seek energy efficiency in our home and/or workplace.
  4. Find out which electricity and Internet service providers work with clean energy.
  5. Walk or use bicycles or electric vehicles whenever possible and carpool.
  6. Travel by air only when strictly necessary or when other more sustainable means of transport are not available.
  7. Choose our wardrobe taking into account the way its contents were produced.
  8. Always carry a reusable water bottle with us and avoid using single-use plastics.
  9. Reduce our meat intake and try to eat locally produced food.
  10. Separate and recycle our waste both at home and in the workplace.
People at a table working with a computer and a bottle of black water on the side.

Finally, we must not forget that, as interpreters, we are also communicators and disseminators of information. Whatever we can learn and spread about climate change and sustainable practices among our family and friends, the planet will thank us for it.