Building green impressions

| by John Johnson
Building green impressions

With the ever-present availability of wireless communications and technology, most people bring work home with them on a regular basis. Employees who work at green corporate offices such as Biogen Idec or the Union for Concerned Scientists often bring home much more.

As earth-friendly office buildings become more common, employees who work for highly sustainable companies are incorporating those green habits into their personal lives, as well. The end result is an eco-friendlier lifestyle, a win-win for the company that made the green investment for employees and for the environment.

While it is hard to come up with firm statistics, Jen Boynton, office manager and sustainability coordinator for the Union of Concerned Scientists said that plenty of anecdotal evidence exists to suggest that employees are transferring green practices from the office to their personal lives.

"There is a strong correlation, because the habits you fall into at work easily translate into practices at home," said Boynton, who works at the non-profit’s office in Berkeley, Calif. "This is especially true considering you spend so much of your day at work. A lot of employees might think certain green initiatives are a good idea, but find that they don’t have the time to do them at home."

Boynton points to a food waste recycling plan that was rolled out in Berkeley two years ago. At the time, just a couple of employees participated in the program. Now, the office diverts 75 percent of its waste from food and packaging, and many employees also do the same at home. Employees who don’t want to recycle food waste at home can bring it to the office and utilize the company’s program. The Berkeley workers put pressure on their colleagues in Cambridge, Mass., to initiate a similar program.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, a science-based non-profit that aims for a healthy environment and safer world, recently completed a green renovation of its Cambridge headquarters. In addition to forming a set of sustainability commitments, the company’s sustainability task force -- comprised of staff from all three offices and every organizational department -- created a five-year plan that sets benchmarks for the organization to meet sustainability commitments through 2012. The task force meets monthly to stay on track.

Boynton expects the employees in the Cambridge office to adopt additional green principles in the future, such as the Community Supported Agriculture program in place at Berkeley, where locally grown produce is delivered to the office each week for employees to purchase.

Lois Vitt Sale, the chief sustainability officer at Wight & Co., said that it’s a natural follow-through for employees to mimic the green practices used by their employers. Her company, an integrated architecture and construction firm based in Chicago, celebrated Earth Day for an entire week this year. The company invited employees to bring in buckets to make worm composting piles, and also invited a green energy provider to talk to employees. About 10 percent of the staff brought composting buckets home to use, while several others are considering converting to 100 percent green power, which Wight & Co. has already done.

"All these things are connecting with our employees," said Vitt Sale, who blogs about her green experiences for ProudGreenHome. "From my own experience at Wight, there have been some instances where people take their green practices home. We do a lot of things to reinforce that."

According to the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), as of June 1 there were 5,787 LEED certified commercial buildings in the U.S., compared to 6,378 LEED certified residential units, which includes single family homes and multi-unit buildings. However, given that hundreds of employees can work at a corporate office, the commercial sector has a huge potential for impacting the green home movement.

Marie Coleman, a spokesperson for the USGBC, said that while they have not tracked the relation between working in a sustainable building to green practices at home, "hopefully this translates over into their home life."

Coleman has heard numerous stories about occupants within a LEED building having "internal competitions" to see which department can be the greenest, similar to the friendly competitions that Union of Concerns Scientists has between its three buildings.

"Certainly with the level of public awareness surrounding the environment and personal conservation efforts, people who work in a LEED building might be more inclined to input green practices within their homes," said Coleman.

Coleman added that human health is huge benefit for occupants of green offices. One of the foremost tenets of LEED is that occupants have access to daylight, preferably a direct view to outside. And studies have shown having access to sunlight and plants makes employees more productive and happier.

"LEED buildings have higher indoor air quality, making it physically a healthier environment," said Coleman. "Employees have fewer sick days as a result. Additionally, many LEED buildings are built innovatively with aesthetics and technological features designed to make employees’ time at work more flexible, easier to function within and pleasant to work in."

Who wouldn’t want to extend those benefits to their home, as well?

Topics: Trends / Statistics

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