Friday, November 30, 2007

Master Builder? And Owner? And Developer?

Those of you who have read Paul Hawkin have probably already heard about this (from A Road Map for Natural Capitalism). Interface carpet has really turned their traditional service on it's head.

"Under its Evergreen Lease, Interface no longer sells carpets but rather leases a floor covering service for a monthly fee, accepting responsibility for keeping the carpet fresh and clean. Monthly inspections detect and replace worn carpet tiles. Since at most 20% of an area typically shows at least 80% of the wear, replacing only the worn parts reduces the consumption of carpeting material by about 80%. It also minimizes the disruption that customers experience - worn tiles are seldom found under furniture. Finally, for the customer, leasing carpets can provide a tax advantage by turning a capital expenditure into tax-deductible expense. The results: the customer gets cheaper and better services that cost the supplier far less to produce."

This got me thinking about buildings. What if, as architects, we stopped selling a building and started selling "healthy places to work?" What if architects financed their buildings and partnered with biologists, engineers, water and energy specialists, contractors and building maintenance organizations to create the healthiest workplaces possible?

And what would our clients look like? They are the new mobile workforce. They come to one of our many strategically located LEED Super-Platinum offices in the city to meet their team or to work in a place with a "buzz" as needed... and to use the fabulous amenities we build (pool tables, cafes, you name it). For our mobile clients, they've already leveraged technology to communicate effectively. All they care about is finding a space that suits the group's functional need or preference when they need to get together. They will go to the place that minimizes their commute, is close to a client or adjacent to public transportation.
So how do they pay for space? What if they didn't commit to leasing just one space, but their lease covers using any number of spaces that meet their general specifications. They reserve space online ahead of time. Online reservation systems have come a long way since we first tried using them with management consulting firms.

So we accommodate a highly agile workforce in a healthy environment where and when they need it. Utlization is 100% if we plan it right.

Clean Your Work Air!

Plants clean the air! That is why sometimes when we buy carbon credits to offset our traveling, the credits are actual tree plantings. But in an indoor environment we are often beset with unhealthy airborn chemicals such as Benzyne, Carbon Monoxide and Formldehyde!

Nasa has published a study that quantifies how plants clean the air and which plants are most effective at doing this and concluded that the placement of plants may prevent "sick building syndrome". The recommendation is one 6 inch plant for every 100 sq feet of space.

Here is a link to the study

'24' Turns Green

If they can green a television series, we should be able to do it anywhere! I never watched the show before but I might just start after reading this! - Green-A

Howard Gordon was never much of an environmentalist. The executive producer of Fox's "24," the popular and sometimes controversial counterterrorism drama, Gordon, 46, thought the environment was too big a problem for one individual to effectively address. But after years of gentle coaxing by his wife, Cambria Gordon, a writer and environmental activist, he has officially gone green.

Under his watchful eye, "24," which is set to kick off its seventh season once the Writers Guild of America strike is resolved, is now setting the standard in terms of green television productions. The show has switched from using regular fuel to renewable-source biodiesel, puts all its scripts on post-consumer recycled paper, and much more. Gordon, whose goal is to make "24"'s finale later this season TV's first carbon-neutral production, appears Dec. 12 at the Hollywood Goes Green summit, which brings together a cadre of entertainment industry heavyweights and insiders for the first time to discuss what the industry can do to increase its commitment to the environment.

Gordon will be participating in a panel discussion titled "How Green Was My Production: Eco-Friendly Strategies for Film Production, Film Festivals and Premieres." In an interview with NEWSWEEK'S Jamie Reno, Gordon, a Princeton graduate and self-described moderate Democrat who had just finished a stint walking the picket lines (he's loyal to the writers' cause in this strike), talked about the upcoming summit, the somewhat surprising origins of his show's commitment to the environment and his own late-blooming turn to green.

NEWSWEEK: What are some of the things you are doing on the show and some of the things you hope to do? You can do little things and big things. Little things that we are doing include converting generators to run on biodiesel, which are more costly but far less polluting. They're less gas-emitting. We've also had the lighting retrofitted inside our offices. Lights consume massive amounts of energy. LED lights can be dimmed and brightened, they're far more controllable, so we are now emitting less light. We've also encouraged our location people to drive hybrid and given them incentives to do so. And we're recycling paper, we're not sending messengers with scripts now, we're doing it electronically, and the scripts that are on paper are now on postconsumer recycled paper. Little things like that.

Greener Greenery Headlines Rockefeller Center

The greenery in Rockefeller Center just got a little greener.

The time-honored tradition of adorning a magnificent Christmas tree in the heart of New York City is extending its reach and becoming smarter. This year’s main attraction, an 84’ Norway spruce from Connecticut, in New York’s Rockefeller Plaza not only brings smiles to millions of viewers who will take it in over the next month, but it also will leave a lasting impression on the land from which it came as well as benefit others in the future. This “
Smart Tree” has a life cycle that can cause us to rethink how we, in our offices and homes, can also make our trees a little greener:

  • The tree was cut using a handsaw, reducing the carbon footprint to an almost negligible amount.

  • The land that the tree comes from will be replanted, and any suitable materials used in its removal will be recycled.
  • LED (Light Emitting Diodes) lighting is being used to light the tree.

  • Photovoltaic panels were installed on top of 45 Rockefeller Plaza, serving as an energy source for the tree and continuing to supplement energy for the Plaza after the tree is taken down.

  • The tree itself will be recycled into lumber that Habitat for Humanity will use in building projects here, in the U.S., and around the world.

  • The “Smart Tree” website is encouraging visitors to make a $5 donation to plant a tree in the U.S. (

These are just a few of the many innovative ways that the world’s most recognizable Christmas tree is setting an example of giving back. While the trees in our own homes and offices may not be 84’ tall and showcased to the world, we can still consider ways to recycle them; we can be creative with lighting and decorating; and we can donate trees or seedlings to public spaces and parks as well as our own backyards.

Photo can be found at

Keeping the Green Momentum

The first step in green building is starting with a beautiful, healthy, energy & water efficient, overall high performance building.

Many LEED projects have come on line to date and have had a chance to 'prove' themselves in the marketplace. While many are lauded in the media for delivering the results promised, there are still many others that aren't delivering. Why not?

There are several answers, but here are the top two that I see the most often:

1. Often building occupants end up using a space in a different manner than it was designed for. If people are sharing offices meant for single occupant use, or using spaces designated as meeting/conference rooms as office space, or partitioning open office space, then some of the benefits of 'green' features such as occupant controls, daylighting and views may lose their efficacy. Building in the flexibility and the capacity to change/shift/expand contract/move/transform in a space while still maintaining the environmental quality to maximize the workspace for occupants is key. It can not only help maintain quality of workplace, but can save money in alterations and reorganization.

2. Another hugely influencing factor on the performance of green buildings is operations and maintenance. While the typical LEED charrette is doing a great job of bringing the architects, owners, engineers and even contractors to the table early on, it is very rare that facility operators are included in the discussion. Building staff have much to contribute to the optimization of building use and performance and their involvement in the creative, integrated thought process can help the team make useful decisions about where to invest green building capital. Continuing education and training for facility managers and their staff can also ensure consistent quality of operations as well as the energy savings the building was designed to achieve.

The market has evolved to a point where we are labelling the environmental attributes of new construction and major renovations with a LEED plaque (or Green Globes, etc), but we haven't yet begun to address the same level of accountability in operations.

Food for thought:

In the UK there is a labelling program for public buildings that makes it very visible to both the tax-paying citizens and to building occupants how the building was a) designed to perform and b) how it is operated. See label graphic above and check out this site for more information: I have been told that there is a level of accountability derived when the Minister from some department or other has to host their colleagues in the building and it is plainly evident if the building is underperforming.

What if we developed some system for accountability as well? We give green building tours as part of the Education and Outreach credit in LEED, what if we had to show tour guests our actual energy bills and occupant survey results? What if we had to report building performance back to the USGBC every year in order to maintain certification - and it was posted on their website?

I am really fascinated by the idea of accountability - in taking it beyond green design and construction. I would love to hear thoughts on what this might look like.


Carbon calculator for your office

if you want a quick and easy tool for calculating the carbon footprint of your office (it's free), this is one that is very user-friendly:

Space Allocation at “The Office”

Greenette’s post about our dear friend Milton got me thinking about the workplace as it’s demonstrated in the popular media. I couldn’t think of a lot of examples off the top of my head (I'll keep working on it), but one thing I have noticed is that many movies and television programs show open office space, rather than enclosed.

One of my personal favorites is the American version of The Office. While they’re not too green in many respects (notable exception: NBC’s green week), they do have one thing going for them: the ratio of individual workspace to shared space.
From the best I can figure, the space program is (Office fanatics please post and let me know where I’m off!):

  • 1 enclosed office

  • 1 reception desk

  • 11 workstations, mostly low or no wall

  • 1 large reception/lounge area

  • 1 large conference room

  • 1 break room

  • 1 large pantry/break room

  • 1 storage area (open)
For a small office (fewer than 15 people), this is a lot of shared space…and also something that we recommend to our clients: by giving up individual space, everyone benefits. Not only are there more amenity spaces (like The Office’s two break rooms), but there are also more spaces to support teamwork and collaboration. AND, there’s less real estate required.
For another day: Lessons Learned from The Office – what not to do.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Why Milton Isn't Green

I work in a design firm and spend a large portion of my time convincing people to change. Remember Milton from Office Space who couldn't let go of his red Swingline stapler (needless to say his office)? Imagine an entire organization of people, very happy in their current work arragements, being asked to not only move out of their office, but to share an office with someone else or to "telecommute." Their reaction varies from reluctant compliance to outright anger. What's even harder than moving into a new space is the change in behavior that is required to make it work.

As my husband reminds me, people are 99% chimp. Our DNA is just not made to change our minds (or behavior) overnight.

I don't know about you, but most of my projects involve some degree of change management. This involves finding champions in the organization and developing a strong rationale for change that appeals to individuals... otherwise known as WIIFM or "what's in it for me?"

Asking folks to go green, i.e. to print less, recyle more, work at home, use new technology and communicate differently... it just won't happen without a lot of encouragement and the most important measurement, appealing to the WIIFM. How will being green not only help the enviornment, but how will it help me do my job? Cost me or my business unit less money? Cause me less anxiety on a daily basis? The good news is that saving enviornmental resources can easily be tied to saving personal and financial resources. How so?
  • Working from home or using video conferencing means less time on the road and more time with family and friends.
  • Recycling (or precycling) means buying less paper and fewer styrofoam cups.
  • More natural light means we all look more beautiful (skin tones are much more flattering in the sun, don't let those lighting salesmen tell you differently) plus we can just see better.
  • Better air quality means less trips to the doctor... the list goes on.

Remember, we all need a little urging to resist our Milton-esque tendencies.

Teleporting... the New Green Frontier

I don't know about you, but I'm on the road a lot. And when clients ask me to meet face to face, my first reponse is, when and where? But all this travel can really take away productive working time. Booking flights and hotels, waiting in airports and in taxicabs for an hour meeting. Is it really worth it? Well, maybe the first time, but how many face to face meetings do you really need to get the job done effectively?

I've been working with Sprint of late and they use Cisco's new TelePresence technology (no quite teleporting, but close!) If you haven't seen or experienced it yet, do. You can see every wrinkled brow, every little expression - scary how "in person" it feels. You can meet in several locations (one place each flat screen monitor - I think up to 6). What does this mean for our team? We save dramatically on our carbon footprint and our families are much happier that we don't have to travel more than we do.

I think it's time to ask our teams to think differently about how we collaborate.

2007: A Green Space Odyssey... Hal at the Desktop

I interviewed Frank Bick with Bick Group a few months ago for about his office in St. Louis. It's LEED Gold Certified and a wonderful example of how users can be engaged in the process of making their space green. The building has sensors that measure temperature, humidity, air quality and light levels at the work surface. Lights are automatically dimmed when the light outside increases. But that's not the cool part! What's really unique here is they created software with "pop ups" that appear on every employee's desktop that say when you might want to close the windows because it's too humid outside or the air quality is too low (they have operable windows). Also, the HVAC system automatically shuts down at 6pm. The software allows users to click on a floor plan (in their section of the building) using the same software and the HVAC automatically stays on for another 2 hours. I think they now sell this software to other companies, leveraging what they learned.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

My number one super-enviro soap box!

I think it should be illegal to flush toilets and urinals with potable water (for all new construction).

We have already seen conflict between states on water rights issues and if you think energy is a nasty environmental crisis, chew on this: we can live with less energy – or none if we have to – but we are going to be in really bad shape if we have to start fighting over drinking water.

As more jurisdictions start to struggle with water issues, projects design teams and owners are looking into water saving fixtures which is a really economical way to achieve big environmental impact. Yes, there are bigger water guzzlers out there than buildings, but you don’t have to be one of them.

Everybody should be doing it:

A good first start is to use a lot less water in your building, ultra low flush urinals (.125 gallon per flush) and water-free urinals may require minor renovation, but any project can switch out the flush valves on their wall mounted WCs for dual flush valves. These cost about $15-20 each, take only a few minutes to install and will pay for themselves in less than a year through water and sewage savings. If you have never used one before, these are a great alternative to low flush toilets because you still get a full flush when you push the lever down (solid flush), and only a half flush when you push the lever up (liquid flush). The full-flush capability helps allay maintenance worries and it provides building occupants an opportunity to participate in the ‘greening’ process of the building.

Faucets are another great opportunity as aerators are pretty inexpensive. If you have the means, sensors and timers can also reduce consumption. There are some really stellar showerheads on the market these days that aerate the water so that you get a full pressure shower experience with flow rates in the 1.5 and 1.75 range.

Through smart selection of fixtures, building can save over 50% of their potable water use for sewage conveyance. Look at your water and sewer bill and do the math.

The next step:

So maybe you don’t think you could treat your own sewage on site but more and more projects are investing in this effort, such as the Solaire, a 293-unit residential building in New York City. The entire water treatment system, designed by American Water’s Applied Water Management Group, has a footprint of just over 2,000 sf and treats 25,000 gallons per day. Proof that projects can address sewage treatment even in dense urban environments (NYC).

One particularly beautiful way to treat sewage is through Eco-Machines – organic landscape elements that serve as on-site water treatment systems. Recently featured at Greenbuild, John Todd Ecological Design is able to restore natural environments as well as treat effluence ( They have also incorporated an agricultural element into some projects – very interesting.

Also check out Pliny Fisk’s Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems ( – they have a beautiful living machine that treats sewage on site.

Natural Systems International worked with the Sidwell Friends School to create a constructed wetland that treats all their sewage on site and reduces potable water use by 90%. It also incorporates stormwater retention (with beautiful rain chains to channel water down the side of the building) and a biology pond for student learning. The Sidwell Friends School offers more proof that you can treat sewage on site in a dense urban environment (Washington DC):

There are beautiful examples of beautiful, natural water treatment systems that enhance the aesthetic and functional appeal of building projects. I would love to hear about others if anyone can refer me to them.


If not cost, why not green?

If you haven’t already read it, the Building Design + Construction Green Buildings Research White Paper (October 2007) offers a lot of insight into the sustainable design market, both from design services and owners’ perspective.

For instance, despite much data to the contrary, 78% of the AEC service providers surveyed believe incorporating sustainable or green design “adds significantly to first costs” or believe this perception is a barrier.

BUT only 41% of the owners* surveyed agree with this statement.

Even though studies show LEED certification up to Silver level can be done at 0-2% cost premium:

35% of owners are still willing to spend 3-5% more for a green corporate building,
21% are willing to spend 6-10% more,
12% are willing to spend more than 10%,
15% are willing to spend up to 2%.

Only 6% of building owners aren’t willing to pay any additional costs for green building (11% don’t know). Clearly if over 83% of building owners are willing to pay actual or perceived premiums for sustainable building, this dispels the myth that perceived increased first costs are the number one barrier to green building.

I would love to hear thoughts on ACTUAL barriers, whether it is indeed first costs, perception that building performance won’t justify the add’l expense, building codes or zoning issues, lack of experience in design or construction services, lack of access to materials or technologies, etc.


*5000 CoreNet members represent owner’s sample (58% corp. property owners/42% service provider to corp. property owners).

Monday, November 26, 2007

Drought Kills Trees

Tim's post made me think of a letter I received in the mail yesterday from my arborist. Yes, I am a nerd and have an arborist, but only because I love the tree that blocks the southern exposure to my house (and masks my bedroom from the neighbors) and was seriously concerned that it would fall over.

Past my nerdiness/love of my tree: The arborist's letter reminded me that the drought isn't affecting just people and oysters in Georgia, it's affecting the trees all over the U.S. So, for all of you business (and home) owners, be sure to invest some extra TLC in your trees so that they continue to provide carbon sequestering and natural cooling powers!

Here are some tips:

  • Watering. 1-2 inches per week in the root zone. It's better to water more at one time than for short periods daily.

  • Soil care. Fertilizer is our friend. My husband found a fun organic fertilizer made of worm poo at Target.

  • Integrated Pest Management. Using horticultural oils to suffiate pests is much more environmentally friendly than crop dusting (or letting your trees die).

  • Pruning. If you haven't already done so, pruning will help reduce the impacts of snow, ice, and wind damage during the winter months.

Happy tree caring!

Save Water By Turning Off The Lights?

I know it sounds funny, but it’s true. I didn’t realize how critical water was in the energy cycle until I was talking to a friend of mine from Atlanta a few weeks ago. I was stating that I thought it was ironic that the oyster farmers on the Florida and Alabama coast were so adamant about maintaining the water flow from Lake Lanier while 5 million people at the top of the mountain could be without water in just a few months. Living in Washington, that’s what was on the news. However the root of the issue is not the oyster farmers, it’s the power plants between Atlanta and the coast that need the water for cooling. These are fossil fuel plants, that need a relatively small amount of water for steam, but a tremendous amount for cooling.

So what’s my point? The following graph is one we are familiar with, only about 3.5% of the water on the earth is potable. This next one is the kicker though….

….while the design community is pushing waterless urinals and low flow faucets, almost half of the water used in this country is going up in smoke, or steam as the case may be.

I always thought the water in a power plant was for steam and that they were essentially recycling that steam all the time. I never realized how cavaleir power providers were with water. So using less electricity can save water too.

For lots of graphs about water use go to,
The second graph I found at,
…and this is what the government says about our water use too, Check out the graph on page 11. It is the same information in the graph above, but with pictures...

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Playing with Matches

Consider the humble match, not one of those paper ones, but the real wooden ones, now almost an artifact of the past.

Gone are the days when things needed lighting by match – I fondly remember the tea copper on my first building site. The gas valve was outside on the gas cylinder at the back of the trailer. In order to light the copper, a job which fell to me as the new guy on site, it was necessary to turn on the gas, run round into the trailer, light a match and feed it into the gas ring. Just one chance to get it right and keep the hair on the back of your hand. Ah the skill and dexterity, and the thrill of danger that has been lost to new technology.

Gone are the days of stashing matches, hidden about the Boy Scout uniform to give extra resources when lighting campfires – especially when challenged to light the fire with just two matches: Somehow I have found preparedness and resourcefulness far more valuable life skills than fire lighting, so I suppose it wasn’t really cheating. Gone too are the days of playing with matches, making little aluminum foil cannons, or fusing match heads together to make patterns – a good thing too, what with global warming drying out large tracts of the country. Still, nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.

Still the humble match has one remaining intrinsic value; its capacity to warm a typical cup of coffee by about 2 degrees Fahrenheit. This may not seem like much of an achievement, but it is enough to make the energy contained in a match roughly equivalent to 1 BTU, which is also almost equal to 1 kJ, or 1 kWs (Kilowatt-second). Perhaps you are one of the gifted few who can hear a measure of energy and immediately visualize it. I am not, and so I find the matchstick a very useful analog.

Take for example the embodied energy in a sheet of ordinary printer paper. A little research will tell you that it is around 140 BTU, which is rather hard to visualize. Imagine however that for every sheet you use, you are firing off 140 matches, about four whole boxes. Now I remember one of the student negotiators during our sit-in of the administration building many years ago, accidentally igniting a whole box of matches (by putting a spent match back into the box after lighting a cigarette – I did say it was a long time ago) during a particularly tense stage of the negotiation – quite spectacular and quite effective – just one of the sacrifices in the name of political advancement, but certainly not something to be repeated. For one sheet of 8 ½ x 11, we are talking of four whole boxes of matches!

Scale that up to a whole ream – you know one of those little packets you can never get opened whilst the copier is smugly beeping at you, and you have just set fire to 2000 boxes of matches – a stack of boxes big enough to fill a shopping bag.

Some other rough metrics (just to mention a few):

The ice left in the bottom of a 16 oz soda cup 3 boxes

The paper soda cup 14 boxes

An un-recycled aluminum soda can 100 boxes

1 SF of a typical building around 25,000 boxes

Perhaps its time to set up some match-equivalent displays to us help connect our material use with embodied energy. Go ahead, have fun, play with matches (metaphorically speaking)!

By the way, do you know what a ton of CO2 looks like? More next time.

Green Collar Worker

I was intrigued by a comment on the The Green Talent War a few days ago. The phrase "green collar jobs" has been bantered about by local and national politicians for the last year. What does it mean? I've heard a couple of definitions:

  1. Green collar jobs are effectively local jobs, focused on keeping dollars spent within smaller regional communities to boost local growth and minimize the environmental impact
  2. Green collar jobs are tied to renewable energy and energy efficiency sectors

According to Tom Paine, "Green jobs are jobs in the booming clean and green economy. The LOHAS Journal ("Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability") estimates green enterprise as a $229 billion market sector. reports clean/green technology as the third largest venture capital investment category in 2006."

From IT Week out of the UK: "As much as a quarter of the US workforce could have a green job by 2030 if a new report released this week by the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) is to be believed. The report from energy economist Roger Bezdek predicts that with government incentives and investment in R&D, the renewable energy and energy efficiency industries could be worth $4.5tr by 2030, creating 40 million jobs across engineering, manufacturing, construction, accounting and management."

Check out this short video from CNBC.

What does all this mean for those of us designing and managing buildings for the Green Collar Workforce of the future? How will their changing business model change their workplace?

A solar company will operate differently, hire different skill sets and probably attract a very different kind of worker than an oil company of today. Will the "local" and "green" emphasis of these new companies also alter attitudes towards travel, commuting, using technology and work-life balance? If the core mission of a renewable energy company is about using energy more efficiently and managing resources at a whole new level, will we spend our time designing new buildings, or rather, using our existing buildings more wisely? Could the "new shiny headquarters" be a thing of the past?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Efficient Lighting

I've been confused by the refernces to LED (Light Emitting Diodes) lighting as being more efficient than flourescents. It's popular knowledge that incandescent bulbs are considered inefficient because they give off more heat energy then light energy. In other words they are basically a form of heating that give off light as a by product. The incandescent light bulb was a fabulous invention by Edison but we now have the technology to light our offices using less energy. The flourescent 4' long tube is the standard for most offices but many of us hate the flickering light, the quality of light and the noisy ballasts that are associated with these fixtures. The release of the T8 flourescent has addressed these problems and you can now find them used in all good quality commerical fixtures. Compact flourescents have made flourescents more friendly, the light is warmer, they screw into standard incandescent fixtures and they last ten times longer than incandescent bulbs! But what about the LED? It's touted as being even more efficient then flourescents and they do not contain trace amounts of mercury like flourescents.

LED technology is taking off and new advances are being made everyday to widen their applications since they use so little energy and last three times longer then flourescents! White LEDs give off a lot of light while not using very much energy but readily available products are limited to fixtures which light a small area such as task lighting, path lighting, and exit signs. LED light fixtures with reflectors that "spread" and "throw" light so that it can be used for general or overhead illumination are becoming commercially available.

Lumens per watt gives the amount of light given off by the energy used. Below I've listed lumens per watt for the different types of lights discussed in the article.

Incandescents give 15 lumens per watt
Compact Flourescents give 50-60 lumens per watt
LEDs currently give 50-60 lumens per watt but this number is increasing rapidly
Standard flourescent tubes have an efficiency of 60-65 lumens per watt
Flourescent T8s give 85-90 lumens per watt

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Holiday Giving

Many companies have the tradition of giving holiday gifts to their clients and/or employees. A lot of this ends up being food…and most of it unhealthy. Here are some ideas for more sustainable gifts – better for the environment and the belly, too.

  • Charitable donations in honor of the gift recipient

  • Locally grown produce or other locally made products

  • Things that people can use either at the office or at home: canvas shopping bags, reusable drink containers, compact fluorescent lightbulbs

  • Green energy donations – buy wind power offsets for a week, a month, or even a year

  • Gifts that require no packaging
If you can think of others, please share!

Also check out these websites for ideas for both corporate and personal gift-giving ideas:

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Green Talent War

Check out Planet Green's website for their recent article called Land a Green Job. There's lots of talk about the talent war these days. Who is going to win over those "Millenials" (born between 1977 and 1998) and become the employer of choice? Apparently, it's the companies that are green! And job search engines like are responding. Monster's new tracking database Green Careers searches job opportunities with environmentally friendly companies.

What do Millenials say about your office? Did your company make the list?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Making Green Stick

With all that PR competition to "go green," some companies are just more believable than others. Michael Porter and Mark Kramer write about this in their HBR article "Strategy and Society: The Link Between Competitive Advantages and Corporate Social Responsibility." Great article. In essence, sustainable strategies stick when the green agenda matches the corporate agenda.

Porter and Kramer use both Ford and Toyota as an example of how green strategies do or don't work.

The Toyota Earth Charter calls for Toyota associates around the world to reduce the environmental impact not only for Toyota products but also in every aspect of the business. Toyota South Campus (624,000 sq. ft.) was designed for convenience and flexibility that a green building can provide, as well as Toyota's dedication to a sustainable environment through their Process Green initiative. It has the largest solar power system in the United States and exceeds Title 24 by 25%.

In January of this year Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Inc. announced its Think Green! program, which achieves a high recycling rate and zero waste to landfill at TMS headquarters. Toyota's comprehensive Think Green! program sets an environmental benchmark for the automotive industry.

Companies that talk the most about sustainability aren't always the best at executing. Ford Motor Co. is another case in point. Former CEO William C. Ford Jr. has championed green causes for years. He famously spent $2 billion overhauling the sprawling River Rouge (Mich.) complex, putting on a 10-acre grass roof to capture rainwater. Ford also donated $25 million to Conservation International for an environmental center. But Ford was flat-footed in the area most important to its business: It kept churning out gas-guzzling SUVs and pickups. "Having a green factory was not Ford's core issue. It was fuel economy," says Andrew S. Winston, director of a Yale University corporate environmental strategy project and co-author of the book Green to Gold.

Another example of a company with a green agenda that is "sustainable"? What about Whole Foods? Their logo reads "Whole Foods, Whole People, Whole Planet." Their green model really matches their business model. Here's how:
  • The company's sourcing emphasizes purchases from local farmers through each store’s procurement process (Whole Foods)

  • Their employees are referred to as "team members" with stock in the company; and they were recently listed as number 7 on the Fortune 100 Companies to work for (Whole People)

  • Their commitment to the environment? Their stores are constructed using a minimum of virgin raw materials. Spoiled produce and biodegradable waste are trucked to regional centers for composting. All their vehicles are being converted to run on biofuels. AND... the company purchased renewable wind energy credits equal to 100% of its electricity use in all of its stores and facilities (Whole Planet)

Now I buy that. Other good stories?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Carbon Disclosure: Too Much Information?

Is your company thinking about participating in the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP)? In case you haven't heard about it, it's quickly becoming the standard for measuring an organization's carbon footprint. It's an intimidating survey and does take some time to complete. However, the investment seems to be paying off for first movers who get on "the list." After all, you can't make things better until you measure where you are today, right?

Participating in the CDP is not the only option though. Many organizations not ready to fully commit are taking baby steps that are commendable. Some organizations have started by publishing a Public Accountability Statement each year that celebrates many of their early wins. This statement tracks improvements every year on items they can control and measure easily. Some of these measurements might include:

  • Update all environmental credit risk standards and procedures
  • Complete a study on the portfolio impacts of climate change
  • Monitor and report on our key environmental performance indicators (paper recycling and purchase, water consumption, CO2 emissions, energy consumption)
  • Collaborate with stakeholders on a strategy to consider biodiversity issues where appropriate

Share what your company is doing!

Sustainable Sammies

Let’s face it, buying lunch gets old, expensive, and wasteful of natural resources. I’ve been packing my lunch three to four days a week for the last couple of years – it’s been good both for my wallet and my waistline; however, sometimes it generates as much trash as buying (if not more). Here are some easy tips for how to make your lunch more environmentally friendly:

  • Pack your sandwich (or salad) in a reusable plastic container. If you can get away with it, don’t wash the container every day (PB&J isn’t that messy).
  • Make your lunch at work. My desk neighbor keeps a jar of PB in her drawer and makes a sandwich on toast daily…delicious, hot, fresh, and reduces waste.
  • Buy snacks in bulk and pack in reusable containers – and avoid single-serving packages. My personal favorite is homemade trail mix – you get the real M&Ms and save the planet at the same time!
  • Pack fresh whole fruit. Apples, oranges, and bananas don’t require any packaging.
  • Bring drinks in reusable containers like a thermos, nalgene container, or travel mug, or in recyclable ones like a can, or glass or plastic bottle.
  • If you’re having soup or salad, use washable, reusable silverware.
  • If you’re feeling very fancy, pack cloth napkins…of course, this means remembering to take them home and wash them.

Here’s an example of an Australian school campaign for “rubbish-free lunch”:

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Carbon Monitoring for Action (CARMA) just released a website that shows the biggest and highest CO2 emitting power plants in the world. You can also find the power plant that serves you (by zipcode) and their rankings. My options in DC are pretty horrible.

As hard as I'm trying to save 2 tonnes of carbon this year with reduced travel, turning off my computer, recycling, etc. turns out Pepco Holdings projects an 8% increase in power from fossil fuels (versus greener options). Since they currently emit more than 3.7 million tonnes of CO2 per year, I think that more than cancels me out. Yikes. Maybe the most effective way to be green at home and work is to petition our local power companies!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

When in Doubt, Ebay!

HOK's St. Louis office recently moved and received LEED Silver certification. Some of their furniture didn't work with the new location and was was very old and pretty dated. The designers tried to sell the furniture back to the furniture manufacturer or through secondary furniture markets, but no one would accept it. Some of the folks in the office suggested selling the furniture on Ebay... which they did, and used the extra money to buy cool new green conference tables.

Who says being sustainable means spending money?

Getting to Work

So you've got to get to work, and working at home is not an option? Here are ways that companies are saving their carbs (that's carbon footprint):

  • Incentives for using electric, hydrogen or hybrid vehicles provided (preferred parking, fueling stations)
  • Disincentives for driving single-occupant vehicles (higher parking fees, unattractive parking options)
  • Incentives for using mass transit provided (reduced fares, shuttles, etc.)
  • Incentives for carpooling (preferred parking, carpool boards, guaranteed ride home, etc.)
  • Provision of facilities for cyclists - parking, showers, changing rooms and lockers
Some real examples:

  • UCLA provides incentives for employees to buy hybrid vehicles
  • NIKE offers TRAC (traveling responsibility – accept the challenge) a program that rewards the employees at its HQ who get to work without guzzling gas
  • Google provides free buses for commuters
Other ideas?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Environmental Incentives: Steal Ideas from Universities

In the hopes of finding my alma mater on the list of top 10 green universities (it isn’t…something to work on), I stumbled onto some interesting sustainable ideas.
· Incentivize environmentally-friendly activities. The winner of an energy-reduction competition won an energy-efficient flat panel TV.
· Use catchy (or scandalous) slogans. Maybe not appropriate in all workplaces (ok, most), but the “I heart slutty paper” campaign to do away with virgin resource paper might work in some environments.
· Give it away. Providing free CFLs : just because they wouldn’t necessarily be used in the office doesn’t mean that their benefit is lost!
Check out the article and see if your school made the list:

Monday, November 12, 2007

Kill the Vampire: Use the Sun

As I sit here with my cell phone plugged in and draining the grid, I remembered a cool product I ran across this weekend: a solar-powered messenger bag - what a great way to remove vampire electric suckers...ipod, cell phone, blackberry, etc!

Since I couldn't remember the manufacturer, I did a quick google search - there are tons of options out there:

Solar Style:

A couple of my coworkers have tried solar phone chargers with mixed success, but I think this might be worth a position on my holiday wish list!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The $100 Laptop

Has anyone heard of this? A couple of years ago One Laptop per Child was set up by faculty members at the MIT Media Lab to create the "$100 laptop." The purpose was to provide personal computer access to children all over the world, particularly to children in third world countries with poor infrastructure. The project's site is

The laptops are wireless, and were initially powered by a hand crank. This caused problems, so now they are powered by bike instead.

What a perfect sustainable solution! Be your own power source and get fit at the same time!

Saturday, November 10, 2007


I just read about GreenPrint on TreeHugger. Its a software that automatically removes blank pages so you're not printing a bunch of blank ones all the time. Go here for a demo. What a great idea!

You set Greenprint as your default printer and print; highlight the pages or images you want to delete, and then print to your favourite printer. A few extra seconds, a good look at what you are getting and that's it. It even comes with a little meter to tell you how much paper and ink you have saved to make you feel better.

I'm trying the 30 day free trial now. Works like a charm! It's $35 to download permanently and volume discounts offered.

Estimated $90 saved a year on wasted paper.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Green Office Leadership in NYC

I really enjoyed this 10/31 New York Times article about the LEED platinum rated Cook & Fox office in New York City:
Architects Go Green at the Office

The story highlights several ideas that could be very simple to replicate:

  • Using rows of plants instead of high workstation partitions to provide visual privacy without inhibiting access to daylight

  • Using ground up tires instead of gravel to cover planting soil

  • A composting program for disposing of coffee grounds and other food waste

  • Offering each employee an allowance to purchase a plant and thus play a role in personalizing their space

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Greening by Example

Where does the corporate facility role in enabling green behaviors begin and end?
I have been thinking about the numerous requests and suggestions that many facility planners and managers receive to enhance recycling, landscaping and other 'green' facility management practices. Most are usually delighted to observe heightened employee desire for eco-friendly workplace features and are eager to take on new challenges to meet the demand.
It seems ironic that when roles are reversed, and facility teams are challenging employees to develop 'green' work habits, the subsequent reactions range from subversive disregard to hostile rejection.

This is not a 'rant,' but an observation that facility management professionals are now faced with learning a new discipline - many are quickly becoming leaders in demonstrating the paperless office and showcasing the benefits of conducting paperless meetings. Why? 'Learning and greening by example' is a potent way to influence the business units we serve. It is no longer adequate to simply identify a business need in the workplace and then supply and support the service - we have to 'drink our own champagne' or 'eat our own dogfood,' depending on the way you want to look at it!

Many corporations are probably comparatively similar in the proportion of employees who have had the technical resources to digitize their office and conduct paperless meetings for years. Often, these are technologies that are hardly ever used.

What does it take to compel usage of these tools? Active use and demonstration - we have to be the first to pave the way. It seems odd to expect real estate professionals to take the lead in a 'technology' category, but here are some ideas:

  • When sharing documents, send links to shared drives or intranet location vs. document attachments in email to reinforce a 'think before you print' culture. (Information security teams also encourage this practice.)
  • Schedule use of projectors and groupware when conducting meetings with powerpoint presentations to eliminate the need for paper copies.
  • When using groupware, go out of your way to demonstrate electronic document markup techniques if possible.
  • After taking meeting notes on paper, scan to your email and file electronically. Then recycle the paper.
  • Go out of your way to drop recyclables in the appropriate container - it is slightly inconvenient to haul empty water bottles and diet coke cans, but others will notice and follow your lead.
  • Capitalize on opportunities to showcase how to use videoconference capability to eliminate business travel or to enhance team collaboration.
  • Offer incentives to reward behavior, like a prize drawing for attending training on digital work practices.
  • Enhance email auto signatures with 'green' slogans or links to articles that enhance awareness. Some slogan examples:

P Think before you print. 10 fewer pages/week/employee = 3619 trees saved.

P Please consider the environment before printing this email.

q This message is printed on 99.9% recycled electrons.

Please contribute any ideas that you have!

"Output" Awareness

Check out the notices recently placed on every output device on the Sprint campus in Overland Park.

Even the signs are printed on PressAbels so that they are removable and reusable.

The Paperless Office

We may never reach the promised land of the fully “paperless” office, but technology and smart thinking can certainly help dramatically reduce its use – and the amount of real estate it occupies.

Here are some specific strategies for reducing your “paper footprint” I've seen recently.

  • Develop an electronic document management system in lieu of paper files
  • Send/receive faxes directly to the computer
  • Mark up documents digitally
  • Use virtual conference room technology instead of hard copy hand outs
  • Scan and email documents rather than sending hard copies

Any other good ideas out there?

Saturday, November 3, 2007


Reduce, Reuse, Recyle. It's being taught in elementary schools across the country. But what does that mean for real estate organizations? Basically, it's all about thinking upstream in the procurement process. Do we really need that new building? Do we really need everything we buy? Can we precycle instead?

Here's a small example from a Fortune 500 company in Cleveland. The company's facilities group wanted to remove all polystyrene cups from their campus. Their real estate portfolio included hundreds of break areas and two full service cafeterias, all supplied with non-recyclable cups. Facilities went through all of their procurement contracts and wrote in language that required vendors to provide only ceramic or glass.

To raise awareness of the change, the company created coffee mugs with green logos for all employees. They also found a company that recycled polystyrene in massive hay bails. They took all of their existing cups and gave the hay bails a formal "farewell" party.

What's great about this example is that not only did this company remove disposable cups from their campus permanently, but they used it as a chance to showcase green behavior.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Measuring Your Carbon Footprint

For all of you real estate mangers being asked to respond to the Carbon Disclosure Project, and for those of you who aren't, take a minute and measure your own carbon footprint. It's really helpful for putting everything in perspective. The Carbon Calculator on The Inconvenient Truth website is a good one. It's a fast exercise.

I don't know about you, but I was surprised how travel dramatically affected my footprint. Without it I look really good. The U.S. average is 7.5 tones per year of carbon. Before travel, I'm at a 4.7. I live in a small space with two other people, I share a car with my husband and I walk to work a good deal. But add on travel and I'm at a 8.3!

Most of my travel last year was for work. Though many times its out of my control, I figure it's worth a shot to try and change. For example, I travel from DC to NY several times a year. Turns out I can save over 1 ton a year by taking the train rather than flying. Besides, the train is significantly more pleasant. Also, I'm also starting to change my tune about asking clients to meet virtually. Hey, it can't hurt to ask!

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