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Everyday Environmentalist

Take the Stairs

Taking an elevator might require the mining of uranium or fossil fuel.

"I've seen a lot of interesting things in stairwells."

Renée Mullen, The Nature Conservancy

By Renee Mullen

Let's be up front: Taking the stairs instead of an elevator doesn't save much energy.

If you take two flights of stairs every day at work, you're saving about 72 kilowatts of energy each of those days — which equals about 90 cents a year in energy costs.

So why do I always take the stairs?

First, it's still a green thing to do. Any energy saved is good for the environment. And because elevators run on electricity, taking an elevator might require the mining of uranium or fossil fuel, the operation of a nuclear or fossil fuel plant, transmission to your elevator, and the emission of greenhouse gases.

And second… it's a lot better for you. Your head as well as your body.

I've been taking the stairs since I was 14 years old, and I've seen a lot of interesting things in stairwells. Where they keep the toilet paper. Old furniture. Underwear. Secret smokers. Movers or construction guys taking some big thing up 22 flights of stairs because it won't fit in the elevator.

When I lived in China, a couple in my apartment building that looked as if they were both 110 years old climbed eight flights of stairs to their place every day. That was inspiring.

The main Nature Conservancy office there was on the 20th floor of a high-rise building in the middle of downtown Kunming, a city in Yunnan Province.

The stairwell was dark and grungy, and our staff wondered at the silliness of the Western woman (me) who labored up the stairs when there was a perfectly good (well, most of the time) elevator available.

But soon curiosity won out, and most had to try it. The guys especially didn’t like to be undone by a woman (especially not a Western one). So we started holding timed stair races. Even some of the senior staff got into it — and I’d find them trudging up the 20 flights before work. Triumph!

Before long, though, the novelty wore off and most folks had gone back to the elevator.

Which was fine, because the real reason I take the stairs is a solitary one: It gives me time to think. To the sound of my footsteps, my breathing, my heart.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not represent those of The Nature Conservancy.

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