Getting in the green habit: One company’s experience |

Getting in the green habit: One company’s experience

Kara Van Valkenburg

According to the U.S. Green Building Council, buildings account for 33 percent of CO2 emissions. This presents a significant opportunity for decreasing our greenhouse gas emissions. However, we do not have to start over with the latest “green” technologies to have an energy-efficient building. Although energy efficient products such as Energy Star appliances and Low-E windows can help make a building “green”, the real “greening” is through the habits of the people who occupy the building. Using that concept, existing buildings can become more energy efficient without great effort. Here is the story of BJG | Architecture + Engineering’s efforts to reduce our own carbon footprint.

An office “greening” committee was formed to brainstorm ideas to reduce our company’s energy consumption. Our plan was three-fold. First, we wanted to change the consumption habits of our company. Next, we wanted to implement commuting options for employees. Lastly, we are using more efficient technologies when upgrading office equipment.

Our first goal was to reduce consumption of paper, plastic, and energy. By reducing what we consume, we are saving the energy used to produce that product. At BJG, we use a lot of paper, not unlike many businesses. Plastic water bottles and plastic silverware waste was extreme. The use of space heaters and computers left on consistently added much to the energy usage. We offered several suggestions to incorporate into daily practices.

* Use e-mail to transmit documents instead of printing and delivering. Another advantage is eliminating the need for shipping, decreasing related energy consumption.

* Use electronic filing instead of printing out copies for your records and files, most of which is rarely looked at again. Another potential benefit is increased organization as electronic filing seems to be easier to maintain.

* Print double-sided copies.

* Dress in layers or keep an extra layer at the office to reduce the use of space heaters.

* Turn off lights, computers and other equipment when not in use.

BJG also implemented several practices to aid in reducing waste, encourage recycling, and consuming products with recycled content:

* Invest in a water cooler that utilizes reusable five-gallon jugs as an alternative to plastic water bottles.

* Recycle printer, copier and fax cartridges

* Designate recycling bins for plastic, tin, glass, aluminum and cardboard. (It is not typical for Waste Management to provide recycling for businesses, however, we were able to have them provide it for us. An employee volunteers to take the aluminum to donate to a local organization for their fundraiser. Cardboard that can not be recycled with newspapers is taken to a recycling center.)

* Provide washable silverware instead of disposable plastic ware

* Use paper towels and paper with recycled content.

Another program we are in the process of initiating is commuting options with carpooling and biking to work. These ideas are not going to work for everyone in the office. There are those who live in rural areas that just might be too far to bike and not in the proximity of others to carpool. There are those with the hectic schedules that cannot coordinate with other schedules. In initiating this program, we are trying for a minimal commitment. This month, we are having a “bike to work” week in which we are asking employees to bike to work one day during the week. Then we are going to ask for feedback on which routes were best, how long it took, etc. We hope gathering the information will encourage people to try it. Next month we are going to do a similar program with carpooling. After that, we are going to encourage employees to participate in carpooling or biking at least once a week. It will take some adjusting of schedules and perhaps a bit more commuting time, but it is feasible. We are also considering an incentive program to reward those who participate in the commuting program to recognize their efforts. Another challenge for our office is that out-of-office meetings are common. This may be inconvenient for carpooling and biking. A company car for such meetings may be a solution if participation in carpooling and biking is high.

Our final energy saving effort is proposing energy efficient technologies in future investments. Some of our goals are:

* Replace CRT monitors with more energy- efficient flat screen monitors. Old monitors are also to be donated.

* Invest in more laptops. Laptops use 90 percent less energy than desktop computers. They also allow for more flexible schedules and giving employees the ability to work from home from time to time, which would reduce commuting.

* Invest in computers with sleep settings.

* Install fans to better circulate air for a more uniform environment.

Here at BJG, we started our efforts at waste reduction about six months ago, and changes can be seen every day. There are more double-sided documents seen. There are more e-mails with attachments. There is a lot less plastic in our recycling bins. We started by focusing on ideas that were simple and would not significantly impact work habits. You may think that a lot of these ideas are common sense, but people tend to be creatures of habit and will continue to do things the way they always have. Seeing people practicing paper-saving techniques motivated others to do the same and eventually this domino effect influenced the majority of the company. Nothing was mandated ideas were merely suggestions put to action by a few but the participation and enthusiasm became wide-spread. We are now headed into making bigger changes and have plans to increase our efforts.

Kara Van Valkenburg is a design engineer with BJG | Architecture + Engineering. Contact her at 827-1010 or


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