Changing the world takes a little shaking, folding

I watched a really cool TED talk the other day. You know about TED, right? It is one of the most inspiring places on the Web (, a nonprofit group devoted to ideas worth spreading. The original concept focused on talented people from the areas of technology, entertainment and design, thus the name.

Now it is a phenomenon that exemplifies the best of human spirit, innovation and sharing. In TED's own words, "We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world. So we're building a clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world's most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other."

I have watched countless video presentations on TED. They are a source of inspiration, education and positive change. So what is this video that is so cool that I just had to write about it? It can be summed up in two words: shake and fold. The presentation is the very essence of awareness, simplicity and personal responsibility, all powerful agents of change.

The humorous and effective talk by Joe Smith is simply called "How to use a paper towel." It is all about the perfect paper towel technique. It only takes 4½ minutes to forever change the way you think about drying your hands. This idea worth spreading has logged nearly 1.2 million views.

Americans use billions of pounds of paper towels each year. It takes a lot of trees, water and energy to provide us with the one-time convenience of wiping water from our hands after washing. After those few seconds it becomes trash, usually gathering at the top of the receptacle since the majority of the discarded paper towels are still mostly dry. Smith's technique is simple and he estimates we could save more than 571 million pounds of paper every year . I urge you to take a few moments to watch Smith's talk at to really appreciate his style.

Smith stands before a basin of water and shows the audience several common types of paper towels. He then dips his hands in the basin to get them wet and has the audience yell "Shake!" He shakes his hands over the basin a dozen times. The he prompts the audience to yell "Fold!" He takes a single piece of paper towel, folds it in half, and proceeds to completely dry his hands .

Obviously shaking removes the bulk of the water first. The reason for the fold is a bit more technical. Smith explains that "interstitial suspension" enhances the absorption factor. All you need to know is this: Shake and fold works.

Here is the point. We waste incredible amounts of resources without even thinking about it. Conversely, if we simply pause for a moment and think about our actions, we can avoid a lot of waste with no inconvenience at all. This universal truth applies to so many aspects of our lives that I have a name for it: green living.

We can reduce waste whenever we eat a meal, travel somewhere, build a home or do our jobs. Imagine the results if everyone applied and shared Smith's simple but effective thought process in every aspect of their lives. Suddenly we would be creating a culture of sustainability.

It really is up to us. There are many simple solutions that, when combined with awareness and a sense of personal responsibility, can change the world. Who would have thought it could be as simple as shake and fold?

Steve Rypka is a green living consultant and president of GreenDream Enterprises, a company committed to helping people live lighter on the planet. For more information and links to additional resources relating to this column, or to reach Rypka, please visit