Sunday, August 7, 2011

Podcast with the Carnegie Council on Business Ethics

I had the great pleasure of speaking with the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs on The Green Workplace and my latest research. Click on link below to listen.

Monday, July 25, 2011

All the World's a Stage for Work

Before movies, there was only theater. And for a long time the theatrical set of the theater, with a stage, lighting above and in front, sets off to the side and actors moving to and from the stage defined how stories were told. Most of the activity occured behind what is called the proscenium, or an archway in front of the curtain. This opening separates the audience from the performance. Anything that happens behind the proscenium can become any place imaginable, as long at the actors make it believable.

When film was first invented, early movies were conceived to behave like a theatrical stage, with a "still" camera and actors moving back and forth. The fact that moving pictures existed at all was very exciting, and just aiming a camera at a stage was acceptable. However, at some point, filmmakers decided to "splice" the film and shoot one scene, and then cut to a completely different scene. There was concern that this would be very confusing to the audience, but once filmakers tried it there was no going back. Filmmakers also realized that you could change the point of view that the audience might see... close ups and worm's eye view shots were now possible. The results of these changes in perspective was transformative. Here's a wonderful example of this from Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train.

Now of course we have movies conceived from the start in 3D like James Cameron's Avatar.

I got to thinking last night... We have technology that allows us to truly work anywhere, and just about any way we want. Why are we still shooting the proscenium and working in cube-like environments all day? And what are we missing in terms of a rich, collaborative, meaningful and innovative work experience by defining our "office" as a single place? Let's break out of dilbert-ville, turn our idea of the workplace upside down and break a paradigm or two.

If all the world's a stage now, WHY ARE WE NOT USING IT?

Biomimicry in the Workplace (Part 5)

This is the fifth of several posts explaining how we are looking to nature's principles (Life's Principles) to develop new ways of thinking about our workplace:

Optimize the system rather than maximizing components. Creatures always have to balance multiple cost/benefit dimensions, there are no single-minded goals (like being bigger, faster, etc.)
- Perform as many functions with as few components as possible
- Think Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome

Examples from nature:
- The spider web is a nest, a means for catching prey, infinitely flexible and made from the minimum amount of material.
- The Native American tipi is made of sticks and stretched animal skins. It is infinitely flexible and easily transportable with minimal material required.

Workplace implications:
- Consider the many variables involved, like life-cycle cost, culture change, training needed, space, technology or policy implications
- Use technology, policies, space, and materials as wisely as possible

Biomimicry in the Workplace (Part 4)

This is the fourth of several posts explaining how we are looking to nature's principles (Life's Principles) to develop new ways of thinking about our workplace:

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts – design for swarm. Design lots of little, simple things that together can do sophisticated things. Design for “swarm” (individual bee has a small brain and simple behavior, but a swarm of bee is like an organism all it’s own).

Examples from nature:
Bees, bats, birds and fish all move in fluid groups designed to move over, under and around objects over thousands of miles. They form infinite patterns to be flexible and accommodate movement.

Workplace Implications:
- Organizations change constantly in the workplace. Any assumptions made early on the design process are out of date by the time space is ready for occupancy. One way to avoid this, and design for the organice movement of people, is to use a simple kit of parts that can easily be assembled and reassembled (space types, furniture, etc.)
- Don’t make large financial investments in a single specialized space

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Biomimicry in the Workplace (Part 3)

This is the third of several posts explaining how we are looking to nature's principles (Life's Principles) to develop new ways of thinking about our workplace:

Organize fractally. Nature creates beautiful and functional elements that occur over and over again. Self-similarity is a way of planning for several different scales at once.

Examples from nature:
Fibonacci spirals don't occur all over the place in nature because they're pretty, they occur all over because they're an algorithm that allows perpetual growth to any size without having to readjust or plan ahead. They appear in shells, the solar system, weather patterns and pine cones.

Workplace Implications:
- Consider designing at the individual, group and community level simultaneously
- Consider building with smaller, more flexible modules

Monday, July 18, 2011

Biomimicry in the Workplace (Part 2)

This is the second of several posts explaining how we are looking to nature's principles (Life's Principles to be exact) to develop new ways of thinking about our workplace:

Don’t foul your nest. What do we mean by that exactly? Don't use or build with harmful materials or effluents, design with healthy environment in mind and consider Biophilia – human’s preference to be in nature.

Examples from nature:
Throughout nature, there are examples of how animals create “productive”, effective and efficient environments that support life. The unique needs of each species determine what the right environment should be.

Workplace implications:
- Consider air quality and thermal comfort
- Maximize access to natural light
- Maximize views to windows and nature
- Consider green plants, natural materials in the desig
- Provide furniture, technology, task lighting and equipment that support ergonomics

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Biomimicry in the Workplace (Part 1)

I'm working with a client on some new ideas for creating a workplace to support them over the coming years. As we started thinking about concepts for creating the right environment moving forward, we looked to Biomimicry.

What is Biomimicry?
Biomimicry (from bios, meaning life, and mimesis, meaning to imitate) is a relatively new science that studies the models, systems, processes, and elements of nature, and then imitates, or takes creative inspiration from, them to solve human problems sustainably. In her 1997 book, Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, Janine M. Benyus introduces the concept: “Our planet mates (plants, animals and microbes) have been patiently perfecting their wares for more than 3.8 billion years . . . turning rock and sea into a life friendly home. What better models could there be?”

This is the first of several posts explaining how we are looking to nature's principles (Life's Principles to be exact) to develop new ways of thinking about our workplace:

Evolve solutions, don’t plan them. As Kevin Kelly put it, "letting go, with dignity." This means, design without authorship – not the traditional process of artists and their works, but creating the right context for possibilities to emerge from. Iterative design is making multiple prototypes, user-testing them to find the favorites, then mixing and matching elements to create another generation of prototypes which are in turn user-tested, ad infinitum.

Examples from nature (and man-made structures inspired from nature):
- As the hermit crab grows, and becomes too big for it’s shell, it is susceptible to being eaten by predators. It will leave it’s shell and either find a new larger one or create a new one of it’s own. - In African villages, a young couple will build a single one-room mud hut when they marry. As they have children and money to expand their home, they build it, one room at a time. They don’t try and solve for everything at once. The village evolves naturally. Workplace implications:
- Don’t design for a particular person or particular group (they will change!)
- Think of workplace as opportunity for rapid prototyping (or rapid piloting)
- Learn from each project to create the next generation of prototypes

Friday, May 20, 2011

The World's Largest Workplace Survey is LIVE!

I'm working on a project with my colleagues at HOK... we're using Facebook to survey thousands of people across the planet to understand work patterns, changes caused by technology and our impact on the planet.


It takes 5 minutes and you can see high level results immediately. We'll also regularly post detailed results as well as tips on how to reduce stress at your workplace, wherever that may be!

Image: Bagels & Beans, Amsterdam

Monday, March 21, 2011

Top Green Blog Lists

Thanks to our friends at Engineering Degree Online for featuring The Green Workplace as one of their list of Top 35 Green Architecture Blogs. They've classified them as "niche," "informative," "building" and "remodeling."

We also are on a somewhat related list of Top 50 Construction Blogs by Construction Management Degree Online. Includes topics such as "architecture," "green home construction," "local green construction," "blogs by an individual," "blogs by a group" and "specialty" blogs.

Great lists... including many on our blog roll.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

When Plastic is Good

I work with a number of "Boomer" architects, planners and designers. And every once in a while they remind me that back in the 1970s during the Carter Administration they did a lot of innovative thinking on the green front. While those of us swept up in this recent wave of greenitis think that we invented the mindset, it's actually been around for a long time -actually a VERY long time - even before my boomer colleagues.

Reading yesterday's OP-ED in the NYTimes by Susan Freinkel, she give me some context on plastic I hadn't thought of before. While I have recently become fairly anti-plastic - particularly with the concern over toys manufactured in China (I have a newborn) - Freinkel suggests that plastic, at one time, was the answer to our environmental problems:

The earliest plastics were invented as the substitutes for dwindling supplies of natural materials like ivory or tortoiseshell. When the American John Wesley Hyatt patented celluloid in 1869, his company pledged that the new man made material, used in jewelry, cobs, buttons and other items would bring "respite" to the elephant and tortoise because it would 'no longer be necessary to ransack the earth in pursuit of substances which are constantly growing scarcer.
Freinkel goes on to comment that the problem is not in fact plastic itself, but how we make and use it today. We make it into disposable products and then throw these products away within 24 hours of use. I couldn't agree more. It is true that much of the focus of environmental efforts is on recycling rather than reduction. We feel we can justify buying lots of "stuff" and packaging if we just dispose of it correctly. Truth be told, I'm absolutely one of those people. I get all self-righteous that I'm putting things in the right bin before I take ownership of the fact that I shouldn't have bought all that stuff in the first place.

So I guess I need to revise previous statements I've made about plastic. I'm not against ALL plastic, just the stuff made to be tossed that leeches away in our garbage dumps like one-time-use bottles and bags. I LIKE plastic in solar panels, lighter cars and planes (reducing fossil fuel use) and medical devices that keep people alive. I also like the plastic that helps my clothes last longer, prevents my 5 year old from breaking glass (thank goodness for reusable cups and plates) and makes lots of things affordable.

Image: Flickr galessa's plastics' photostream

Friday, March 18, 2011

Let there be (more energy efficient) light!

For those of you who follow Washington politics, a somewhat frightening change is afoot. Just under 4 years ago Congress passed a law requiring more efficient lightbulbs as part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007- kind of like Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for automobiles, but for lightbulbs. Specifically, the act called for roughly 25 percent greater efficiency for light bulbs, phased in from 2012 through 2014.

Republicans in Congress are trying to repeal it. Senator Mike Enzi (R) from Wyoming is pushing a bill to repeal law and give consumers the choice to buy any light bulbs they want. He is joined by 27 Republican Senators.

Enzi claims, "Government doesn't need to be in the business of telling people what light bulb they have to use. If left alone, the best bulb will win its rightful standing in the marketplace."

While I generally applaud choice in the market, I think we can safely say that companies will not produce more energy efficient ANYTHING withough a little regulatory push. To use the lightbulb example, it has only been in the last few years that the flouresent lightbulb has even become a viable option. Before then, we depended on incandescent bulbs - the same technology invented in 1879. That's 114 years of relatively minor improvements in energy efficiency.

Enzi's bill, and related measures in the House, "would push aside innovation, derail plans for new job-creating lighting factories and eliminate an estimated $10 billion in annual energy costs savings – taking as much as $200 per year out of the checkbooks of every U.S. household," said Bob Keefe, a spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that backs the 2007 law.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Ecolok Furniture: Have they out-IKEAed IKEA?

One of my best sources for great new green "stuff" is the front section of Green Building and Design (gb&d) magazine. They recently featured a company called Ecolok ( The furniture is made of interlocking pieces of solid wood. Similar to IKEA furniture, it is shipped flat... unlike IKEA furniture, it does not require any nuts, bolts, fasteners or allen wrenches.

Apparently all of their furniture is customizable (just what designers like to hear!), and you can etch in countless designs to their tabletops or shelving. I like their more minimalist designs however... this glasstop coffee table is especially nice.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Tastes Great, Less... Glass?

Over the holidays my husband and I received lots of great wine. I normally focus my attention on the label around the body of the glass, but a gold label around the cork of a nice bottle of California cabernet (Three Wishes) caught my attention. The label suggested that the bottle was made of "eco-glass." Eco-Glass ( is actually a wine bottle made of 25% less glass than the typical. Less glass means less raw material needed to produce the bottle and less "weight" required to transport the wine, reducing transportation carbon emissions.

Despite the lighter bottle weight, the bottle still seemed very hefty... honestly I would never have noticed without the label. I have to wonder... how many other little changes like this could we adopt to save money and carbon footprint without feeling a thing?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

EcoLabels & Certifications: Multiple Attribute Certifications

Today is the final installment of Deborah Fuller's Eco-Labels and Certifications series. This post focuses on Multiple Attribute Certifications.

SCS-Sustainable Choice & EPP
SCS certifies selected"Environmentally Preferable Products, Services, and Technologies“ –EPP. It applies to many products besides electronics. For any product, service or technology, the SCS determination of environmental preferably starts by assessing its environmental impacts at each life-cycle stage, and SCS uses a combination of techniques to complete this assessment. These techniques include life-cycle impact assessment, supplemented by information from other scientific studies such as Environmental Impact Assessment, Risk Assessment, and Environmental Resource-based studies, and knowledge about "best available" technologies and practices in a given industry.

Examples of attributes that have been certified for various products include:

  • Recycled content
  • Recovered content
  • Salvaged wood from urban sources
  • Biodegradability
  • No Ozone depleting chemicals
  • No VOCs/Low VOCs
  • No added formaldehyde emissions
  • Organic ingredients
  • Poison-free/alternatives to poisons
  • Water efficient

Contributes to: USGBC –LEED credits MRc7 –Certified Wood
for profit organization

Cradle to Cradle (C2C)
C2C looks at multiple attributes based on cradle-to-cradle philosophy. C2C has certified a variety of building products and materials, from office chairs to piping components to a concrete admixture, as well as consumer items, including a cleaning product and a diaper.

Three key concepts for environmental design:

  • waste equals food
  • use current solar income
  • respect diversity

“Waste equals food” is the conceptual basis for the cradle-to-cradle philosophy that all products should be made using materials that can be recycled indefinitely with minimal environmental impact.

Based on ratings in each of these categories, a product can be certified by MBDC as C2C Silver, Gold, or Platinum. MBDC evaluates a product in each of the five areas, and its final score is the lowest of its five individual scores. MBDC also performs a more limited evaluation, using only the two materials categories, to certify a simple product as a “technical nutrient” or a “biological nutrient.”

Contributes to: USGBC –LEED credits ID 1.1-1.4

for profit organization

SMaRT Certified
Provide Substantial Global Benefits for Building Products, Fabric, Apparel, Textile & Flooring covering over 60% of the world’s products. Environmental, Social, & Economic:

  • Rating System: Sustainable, Sustainable Silver, Sustainable Gold & Sustainable Platinum
  • Multiple Environmental, Social, & Economic Benefits over the supplychain
  • Business Benefits: cost savings, design innovation, product differentiation, long termcustomer relationships, liability reduction
  • Market Definition of Sustainable Products
  • Life Cycle Environmental Performance Requirements for Sustainable Products
  • Social Performance Requirements for Sustainable Products over thesupply chain
  • Define Sustainable Agriculture
  • Maximum Credit/Recognition over all product stages/entire supply chain

Contributes to: USGBC –LEED credits ID 1.1-4
non profit

Green Seal
Green Seal certified products meet science-based environmental certification standards that are credible and transparent. Green Seal utilizes a life-cycle approach.

A 501(c) (3) nonprofit, Green Seal has certified products since 1992. Green Seal now provides third-party certification for a wide range of products, including paints, adhesives, lamps, chillers, windows, cleaners, and occupancy sensors. Green Seal follows the ISO process for open standard development but is not ANSI-approved.

Following ISO requirements, Green Seal considers impacts over the entire life cycle of a product in developing a standard. It then develops criteria relating to the most significant impacts for which roughly 20% of existing products have superior performance. Green Seal reviews its standards every three years and updates them when it sees a shift in the market.Green Seal’s certifications are based on data from accredited laboratories and audits of manufacturing facilities.

Contributes to: USGBC –LEED credits EQ 4.2 Paints & Coatings
non profit organization

EcoLogo is North America’s most respected and established multi-attribute environmental standard and certification mark.In a skeptical marketplace, EcoLogobuilds the trust needed by providing scientific credibility and proof of environmental leadership.

  • A founding member of the Global EcoLabelingNetwork (GEN), an association of third-party environmental performance labeling organizations dedicated to improving and promoting the eco-labeling of products and services.
  • The only North American eco-labeling program approved by GEN as meeting internationally recognized ISO 14024 requirements.
  • A multi-attribute criteria certification program developed based on the lifecycle of a product or service.

Industry organization

NSF-140-2007 Standard

In the carpet industry, The Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) set out to provide the commercial market with a single easy-rating certification system for carpet and rugs. With the assistance of NSF International, a leader in standards development and product certification, a Sustainable Carpet Assessment Standard was created.

This standard for carpet includes a rating system with established performance requirements and quantifiable metrics energy and energy efficiency; bio-based, recycled content materials; environmentally preferable materials; manufacturing; and reclamation and end-of-life management.throughout the supply chain for: public health and environment; NSF 140 was designed to establish a system with varying levels of certification to define sustainable carpet.

This establishes performance requirements for public health and environment, and addresses the triple bottom line –economic-environmental-social, throughout the supply chain.NFS 140 is the first multi-attribute American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard for environmentally preferable building materials in the construction industry.

SCS Certified/BIFMA Standards
SCS Certified -Furniture brings a new level of verified environmental performance to furniture certification. Based on both environmental and social criteria set forth in the BIFMA Sustainability Standard (BIFMA SS), a product’s entire supply chain is assessed to insure that the product meets measurable milestones of environmental performance at every step of development. SCS Sustainable Choice Certification includes an evaluation of specific corporate policies and guidelines and an assessment of associated company manufacturing facilities. Products must meet rigorous, quantitative criteria in four categories: materials, energy and atmosphere, human and ecosystem health, and social responsibility.

Certification verifies a manufacturer’s commitment to environmentally and socially responsible products and business practices.

Contributes to: USGBC –LEED credits MRc4.1 –Recycled Content, MRc4.2 –Recycled Content, MRc6 –Rapid Renewable, MRc7 –Certified Wood, EQc4.5 –Furniture, ID 1.1-4 Innovation In Design
for profit organization

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