The Sustainable Freelance Translator

Written by Nathalie Joffre

10. December 2019

Sustainable Development Goals?

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted by all Member States of the United Nations in 2015 as a commitment to creating a better and more sustainable future for all by 2030.

These 17 goals address many global challenges humanity faces, including poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, peace and justice.

Today, I want to invite the community of language professionals to focus on the issues of climate, environment, and prosperity – addressed in the SDGs – in relation to our work as freelancers:.

Sustainability has been part of my everyday work since 2015: from climate change policies for a research institute to commitments by companies towards their transformation to becoming more sustainable businesses. This year, with 9,500 other people, I also enrolled in a MOOC course on SDGs organised by the French University Numérique, an academic public platform. Through the course I gained a more detailed view on the various challenges we face, as well as the initiatives taking place at international, national, and local levels.

Both experts and authorities now insist that without our commitment as individuals, success will not be possible. And the situation is becoming critical in many ways…

Every (small) step counts: 10 actions you can take

Read them, by all means memorize them, but please, don’t print them.

1. As a global citizen, you share a responsibility.

Inform yourself and educate your colleagues, friends and family. Like all professionals and businesses, we need to begin by adopting the universal language of SDGs.

Did you know that countries have committed to conducting an in-depth review of SDGs each July in New York?

Learn more about the 17 goals here

2. Click clean.

For your Internet searches, you can use Ecosia, a certified search engine that plants one tree for each 45 searches performed. They use part of their advertising revenues to plant trees and operate their servers on 100% renewable energy.

Did you know that if the internet were a country it would rank #3 in the world in terms of electricity consumption, according to a Greenpeace report?

3. Consume less energy and power your office/home with clean energy (solar, wind, etc).

There are several actions you can take, such as clearing your email box regularly, switching off your devices at the end of the day rather than letting them go into sleep mode, and buying energy-efficient devices labeled A++ (in Europe).

According to the book How Bad are Bananas: The Carbon Footprint of Everything by expert Mike Berners-Lee, a normal email has a footprint of 4 g of carbon dioxide, which accounts for the power used by data centers and computers to send, filter and read messages.

A typical year of incoming email adds 136 kg of emissions or the equivalent of driving 200 miles in an average car.

You can also research how the companies you use source energy here. As an example, Netflix currently scores D while Whatsapp scores A, whereas A, of course, is the best score.

4. Promote working in home offices and travel smart.

By and large, we are not among the most frequent travelers: many of us work from home, which is something that needs to be promoted, as well as using less polluting cars.

Did you know that transportation accounts for up to 14 % of global carbon emissions? Source: IPCC (2014). You can also share resources, common space and devices, by going to a coworking space. A smart way to translate!

5. Prioritize those clients whose values align with yours.

If you are in a position that lets you choose your clients, start selecting them based on sustainable criteria. How is their performance in terms of social, environmental and ethical criteria?

In 2017, The Guardian published an article entitled “Just 100 companies responsible for 71 % of global emissions, study says”.

Is it a good idea to blacklist industries like carbon majors? Some say no because we should rather help them transform themselves. Nevertheless, there are accountability tools and reports that allow you to check if your favorite brand or preferred client is balancing profit and purpose or not, like or

6. Use less paper, less ink and save money.

Because we live on a planet with finite resources, we cannot use as much paper as we want. The WWF has issued a list of practical tips to reduce paper consumption in most offices, and some are good for freelance translators too.

  • Do you buy recycled paper?
  • Do you print multiple pages per sheet?
  • Are you using all of the available space on a sheet?
  • Do you have a recycling container near your desk?

Tip: When proofreading or editing a document directly on your monitor, increase the display size to more than 100 % to read it more easily. 

If you print, download EcoFont or the EverGreen font which are designed to use less ink and maximize the number of words that can be squeezed onto each page without affecting readability. I installed them both in Office, it took me 15 minutes with the help of this article.

7. Promote decent translation and interpretation work (SDG 8).

We can promote companies and LSPs that pay fair rates. Just simply encourage these clients by writing positive reviews for example on the Blue Board, or on social media, and by sharing your experiences you can help other translators make smart choices.

Or we can contribute behind the scenes by joining a national organisation, such as the SFT in France, the ITI in the UK, or the BDÜ in Germany, because they help to gain the recognition for the ever-increasing importance of our work, thus its value.

8. If you can, help an NGO (SDG 17).

Volunteering for an organisation such as Translators Without Borders, and translating topics such as health, hunger and education is an important contribution to meeting the SDGs.

9. Do everything you can to stay healthy.

Putting better foods in your body and exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, drinking enough water (not bottled), taking care of your mental health… all these can help minimize your own CO2 footprint. How? Better foods usually come with less processing and packaging and would ideally be mostly local and regional.

Keeping your body and mind healthy helps you put food on the table and a roof over your head. Being healthy (and thus not having to take any medicine or supplements) adds less burden to the environment, specifically the ground water and in terms of the production and distribution of pharmaceuticals.

My intention is by no means to shame those who rely on medicine to combat illnesses that cannot be avoided. But there are medications that can be avoided if we treat ourselves a little better.

Just think of all the rounds of antibiotics that can be avoided when we have a well maintained immune system and allow our bodies to rest before antibiotics are needed… Here is an interesting article on the topic.

10. Be a role model!

Teach your children, encourage and help colleagues and adults around you to move forward because changing habits is difficult. Think about the “Greta effect”. How this young woman alone has mobilized young and older people around the globe to take a stand is impressive, to say the least!


One of the best quotes I heard during the SDGs MOOC course is attributed to Mahatma Gandhi: “Live simply so that others may simply live.” Each and every one of us can act to improve the situation, change our habits, set examples of good practices, and feel proud of our contribution, thus leading a happier working life.

So, what is YOUR contribution, what are you already doing in this matter? What can you start to contribute to saving our resources and our planet? What new actions could you commit to in 2020? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. I would love to hear other solutions and ideas about how to become a truly sustainable freelance translator!

About this new blog series

I kindly ask you to share ideas for future articles about the sustainable translator. Are there subjects you want to know more about (CSR programs, etc)? Please let me know here in the comments or send me a private message (email in my author box).

I intend to post regularly about environmental challenges and solutions right here on the Translation Mastermind website.

In the coming weeks, I will be joined by my colleague Tanya Quintieri, who co-authored this piece. Together we intend to give you all the ideas and solutions WE can come up with and share yours with the readership as well.

Written by <a href="" target="_blank">Nathalie Joffre</a>

Written by Nathalie Joffre

English to French certified translator since 2014 and marketing expert since 1995, my mission is to enhance companies’ communication by providing high-quality, ready-to-use English to French language services as well as connecting clients & translators. Based in Strasbourg, I worked 18 years as a Client Director and as a Market Research Manager in international business environments (food industry, B2B services).

Learn more by clicking my Translation Mastermind profile or get in touch via email.

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1 Comment

  1. Joffre

    Nov 2019 – There are more than 100 companies now certified B Corp in France. The most well-known: Blédina (baby food), Nature et Découvertes (retailer).
    B CORP stands for Benefit Corporation. Their motto is: “We don’t want to be the best companies IN the world, we want to be the best companies FOR the world.”
    Source (in French):


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