Is refilling marker pens a waste of time?

In-the-room facilitators often use a lot of flip chart paper and plenty of marker pens.  It's very irritating when the pens begin to dry up.  A juicy pen is best.  And I get through a lot of them. I use two different kinds of marker pens which I can refill: Staedtler and Rosinco.  I buy the refill ink from the Green Stationery Company, who order them in for me because although the pens are widely available in the UK, the refills are not.

The systems are different.

With Rosinco, it's a 'drip and soak' system, where you stand the pen on its bottom in a rather charming wooden stand, and fit a plastic funnel around the nib end, a bit like the collar you put on a pet to stop it biting its stitches.  You then drip the ink from a bottle into the collar, and it soaks into the pen.  It's a bit messy when the collar is removed, as there is inevitably some ink left around the head of the pen.  The pen itself uses a cardboard tube, and the refill set comes in a brown paper bag.  So it's got an old fashioned 'natural' feel to it.  And do you know, I couldn't find a web page showing the refill pack.  If you know of one, please post a comment.

The Staedtler refill ink comes in a short stubby tub, and you put the pen head down into the refill station and leave it for four minutes (or it could be four hours, the diagram of a clock face is ambiguous).

During workshops, I put masking tape around the lid of dried up pens which I can refill, and put the non-refillable ones straight in the bin.  When I get back to the office, the dehydrated pens go in a special box until I have time to do a refilling session.

So is it a waste of time?  I don't mean this from an environmental cost-benefit analysis.  I'm convinced enough that refilling is better than one-trip pens.

I mean clock time.

I'm a busy person.  Can I slow down enough to supervise the pens as they drink their fill?  Can I multi-task while they are soaking?  (I can only blog about this once!)

Taking the time to do something slowly when there is a faster option feels eccentric and hard, when a glance to my left shows my to-do list growing all by itself. Shall we add slow stationery to slow travel and slow food?

So I multi-task by using pen refill time as time to stop and stare.  I may not be standing beneath the boughs, but I can gawp at the tall tree outside my office window and - on a day like today - listen to the swifts screeching and see an urban fox sunning itself on a shed roof.

It's also an opportunity to reflect on mindfulness and intention. Even in these small things, I have an intention. Even for this small amount of time, I am aware that I find it hard to quieten the task master in my head.

So not a waste of time: a use of time.

Now the ash has settled: eleven questions to get insights from the shutdown

Was the shut down of air travel a right pain for you and your organisation? Now that the ash has settled, there's a great opportunity for you to use the recent disruption to discuss sustainable development with your colleagues. [And as if to prove the point that it's a good idea to be prepared, it's back - as of 08.52 @BST 4th May 2010.]

Whichever way you look at it, a low-carbon economy (whether forced on us by peak oil or chosen as a planned way of mitigating climate change) will mean a drastic reduction in cheap air travel.  Your colleagues may feel this is too far off, or too fanciful, to plan for.  But the shut down actually happened.  So it's a great way in to discussions you might not have been able to have before April 2010.

Here are 11 questions to structure a discussion about your organisation's dependence on air transport - and how you can reduce it over the long term.

  1. What was disrupted?
  2. What was enhanced?
  3. What did we do differently, that worked really well?
  4. What did we do differently, that was a right pain?
  5. What contingencies did we have in place, or put in place, in case the shut-down had lasted for twice as long?
  6. Or ten times as long?
  7. What would we have done if we'd had a week's notice?
  8. What would we have done if we'd had a month's notice?
  9. What would we have done if we'd had five year's notice?
  10. What will we keep doing differently anyway, because it worked better?
  11. What will we build into our medium and long term planning, to help us be ahead of the game when air travel again becomes more expensive and less available?

Walking the talk - my own practice

As sustainability facilitators, we all want to reduce our negative environmental and social impacts, and improve the positives.  Elsewhere I have written about 'walking the talk' at events, workshops, conferences which we might be organising.  This is how my own practice puts that into action. This post is about my own practice, in case anyone wants to check that out.

As a small practice, there is no environmental management system or formal policy.  But I do take steps to reduce environmental impact and maximise the positive social impact.


Using public transport and cycling to client meetings and events, rather than using a private car. I do not fly. I encourage clients to use telephone or video conferencing, or e-mediated processes, where appropriate.


The office uses energy efficient equipment.  Both electricity and gas for the building are purchased from Good Energy, a supplier of renewably-generated electricity.  Good Energy also pays a rebate for the solar hot water heated on site, through its renewable heat incentive HotROCs.

Carbon offsets

I participate in a carbon sequestration scheme through the Environmental Transport Association, to help offset emissions from public transport, taxis, car use and air travel (which is rare).  In addition, an annual offset is undertaken with Climate Care, based on average carbon emissions for a business of this size.  Off-setting the carbon from client meetings, workshops or events can also be arranged.

Stationery and consumables

‘Greener’ options are used, including recycled paper (including flip chart paper and post-it notes), refilled / remanufactured ink cartridges, solvent-free pens, refillable pens.  Preference is given to organic, local and fairly traded food at the office and where I have control over refreshments at workshops.  Reusable containers and crockery are specified where I have control over refreshments at workshops.  My company (Verlander Walker Ltd) is a silver-level signatory to the Mayor's Green Procurement Code.


Paper and envelopes are reused.  Paper is collected for recycling.  Cartridges are sent for recycling.  Polythene mailing films are sent for recycling.  Organic waste is composted.


Water efficiency equipment has been installed in the workplace.

Community activities

As well as fee-paying client work, voluntary activities range from Chairing the Management Committee of a community business, organising peer-learning and networking among sustainability consultants, to raising funds through events like jumble sales for an inner-city primary school.

Sliding scale

Project fees are negotiated individually, with lower day rates charged to the voluntary sector, and higher day rates for the for-profit sector.