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February 14, 2008

Reduce your footprint, starting with where you work

  • Is your firm practicing what it preaches? Here's how to get closer to your goal
  • By ALICIA UHLIG and AMY HARTWELL
    GGLO

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    Uhlig

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    Hartwell

    As the threat of climate change looms larger, businesses are beginning to assess their environmental impact and make major changes as a result.

    The benefits of these changes are notable. They save money and build pride among company staff, who are excited to see their workplace do the right thing.

    It can be a challenge to achieve results that match the aggressive goals that often accompany such plans. Establishing realistic targets should be a thoughtful process that invites input from the entire organization and sets measurable goals to assess the plan’s success. Combining group participation with “results you can see” truly makes a plan work within an organization.

    GGLO is one of a growing number of Seattle firms applying the ethics of its sustainable design practice to “in-house” environmental strategies. The company has developed an action plan to guide its progress reducing its environmental impact.

    Even with a track record of green projects using the LEED certification program, GGLO realized it needed to evaluate its own office environment and ask, “How can we do this better?” By examining its internal operations, the firm is learning lessons applicable to the sustainable design of its projects.

    Creating a plan

    Photo courtesy of GGLO
    GGLO associate David Winans drops a piece of fruit into a compost canister. The firm’s goal is to recycle or compost 93 percent of its waste.

    How to begin? At a design firm, it is important that an environmental action plan engage the creativity of the entire organization.

    At GGLO, the process was spearheaded by its Sustainable Design Group — key staff from each design discipline in the firm, who advocate its environmental priorities in projects and the workplace. This group meets monthly to discuss project-, firm- and community-related opportunities.

    The group outlined areas where the office could make substantial ecological improvements, and then invited staff input. This was done in a playful way, with blank posters displayed throughout the office inviting staff to share their “eco-peeves” and “eco-dreams.”

    An officewide workshop then consolidated these comments in a brainstorming session that set priorities for action. These comments and their topics became the framework and content for the environmental action plan document.

    Measuring results

    Measuring progress must begin with an assessment of existing conditions. With the help of a local environmental management firm and Seattle Public Utilities, GGLO quantified its waste production, energy use and transportation habits to calculate its carbon footprint. The results showed:

    • GGLO generated nearly 14 tons of waste per year, equivalent to the volume of 15 office cubicles.

    • About 60 percent of GGLO’s disposed waste was made up of compostable materials.

    • GGLO recycled 64 percent of its waste, compared with the Seattle average of 44 percent.

    • GGLO used the equivalent of nearly 900,000 8.5-by-11-inch sheets of paper per year, which consumed 46 trees or had a carbon footprint equal to the annual emissions of two cars.

    • Staff traveled nearly 275,000 air miles for business, producing approximately 52 carbon tons of pollution.

    The environmental action plan uses this information as a baseline to be compared with future data and to identify the most critical areas.

    Setting policies

    Once key areas such as solid waste reduction, energy efficiency and carbon footprint reduction are determined, individual measures are created for each area. GGLO’s changes include:

    • Installation of videoconferencing technology within conference rooms to discourage unnecessary air travel.

    • Implementation of an officewide compostable material collection program.

    • Purchase of only 100 percent post-consumer waste copier paper.

    • Replacement of incandescent bulbs with more energy-efficient compact fluorescent lamps.

    • Purchase of fair trade, organically-grown coffee.

    • Use of only green cleaning products.

    • Purchase of an office bicycle for short trips.

    Engaging staff

    In a large firm, it can be challenging to keep employees informed and engaged in a process like this.

    To kick off GGLO’s new composting program, staff members were invited to a presentation of the consultant’s findings just prior to the company’s Halloween party. During pumpkin-carving festivities, compost bins were placed next to each carving table to encourage organic disposal.

    Other efforts included educating staff about proper waste-disposal options, a competition promoting national “Bike to Work” month, and a lighting “taste test” to determine which compact fluorescent bulbs staff preferred.

    Next steps

    GGLO’s environmental action plan is a document that will evolve over time as environmental priorities and technologies change.

    Its components will likely include a combination of large and small efforts, such as creating an officewide annual “cleaning day,” developing a tracking system for air-travel mileage, or discussing more efficient lighting options with the other building tenants.

    The action plan will become part of the GGLO new-hire orientation and all staff will become familiar with its goals.

    By instigating an office policy meant to reduce environmental impact, GGLO joins a network of local and nationwide businesses currently striving to reduce the environmental impact their workplace operations and ultimately reach net zero carbon emissions.

    While this is a lofty objective, the action plan has driven GGLO staff to become more aware of the purchase, consumption and disposal of resources they use, and to make conscious decisions about best environmental practices in their daily lives and for the benefit of their clients.


    Alicia Daniels Uhlig is an associate at GGLO and co-chair of the Sustainable Design Group. Amy Hartwell is a project architect at GGLO and has been a member of its Sustainable Design Group since 2004.



     


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