A few months ago, Earth911 was on the hunt for a new office space. We wanted an area where we could work creatively, efficiently and effectively without putting a huge strain on the environment.
OK, we might be a little biased when it comes to our desire to work in a "green" building. After all, this is an environmental Web site, and most of our employees personally participate in "green" activities, like riding bikes to work, composting and gardening at home and driving hybrids.
But for the average American business, does the move to a green building make sense where it really counts, economically?
Green buildings are a rapidly growing sector in the commercial real estate market, and for good reason. A recent landmark study by CB Richard Ellis and the University of San Diego found that tenants in green buildings experienced increased productivity and fewer sick days.
Additionally, according to the study, "public image, recruitment and retention of employees are enhanced in green buildings."
If your office is looking for a new, green space (or if you just want some great ideas for the future), check out how Earth911 greened its new office.
1. Find a Green Building
Earth911 recently moved into LEED silver-certified SkySong, the Arizona State University Scottsdale Innovation Center. The building uses a number of eco-friendly upgrades to hit silver certification:
- The use of native plants and landscaping to save water as well as for dust control, designed by the award-winning landscape architects at Ten Eyck
- Eco-friendly construction materials, including recycled steel used for the building frames
- High indoor environmental quality, including low-emissions materials like carpet and paint and space designs that utilize natural light
- Comprehensive energy performance enhancements resulting in energy use that's more than 14 percent below the U.S. Green Building Council's base standards
- The purchase of 35 percent of the buildings' energy from green power
According to Matthew Pridemore, senior manager for Higgins Development Partners, the buildings themselves were designed with the local climate in mind. "Shade fins on the south elevation of both buildings, because of our climate and our position, protect from the high summer sun and allow light in during the low sun in the winter," he said. "The sawtooth designs on the north and south sides of the buildings are also a response to the desert climate, letting light and views in but minimizes the impact of the light at dawn and sunset."
To top it off, an iconic, 120-foot tall tent-like shade structure in the center of the complex reduces the heat-island effect common in the warm summer months in the Phoenix area.
2. Plan an Eco-Friendly Space
Earth911's Operations Director, Tony Ash, was tasked with creating an eco-conscious space that aligned with our organization's goals and the SkySong property.
"When planning a green office move or remodel, the primary concern should be for the individuals working within the space, how they will interact with the space and materials and how the space and materials will interact with them," said Ash. "With an emphasis on the latter, planning for environmental sustainability comes organically. We are what we eat and breathe, after all."
Through research and the cooperation of contractors, Ash found cost-effective, eco-friendly features to help make our space as aesthetically pleasing, functional and low-impact as possible.
If this process sounds daunting or restrictive, there's more flexibility in green materials may be apparent at first blush. "There are so many options available for every type of material and product that my creativity was almost entirely uninhibited," said Ash.
Some of the features we incorporated include:
- Zero-VOC paint, finishes and adhesives
- GreenGuard-certified furniture
- Recycled content carpet and chairs
- Recycled aluminum door frames
- Use of natural lighting, windows and open spaces throughout the office
- Infared light timers to automatically turn off lights (CFLs and fluourescents) when not in use
"There seems to be an ever growing mass of buildings, products and materials claiming to be 'green,' but when you look past the label, are not," said Ash. "That being said, the most important lesson I learned was to do some of my own research and double-check on things. Reading past the label and seeking independent, third-party opinions helped immensely."
If you are worried about increased costs by utilizing these products, Ash notes that it is a "common misconception" that you have to spend more to be eco-friendly. "Office furniture, flooring and wall covering manufacturers seem to have realized a few years ago that to remain competitive they would need to start creating 'green' product lines," he said.
3. Clear Out Your Clutter
Just like a residential move, your office move will probably uncover a host of outdated, unused and forgotten equipment.
As a company that is reliant on technology to function, we found that one of our most problematic sources of "junk" was e-waste that had compiled over the years at our old office.
Since we were already planning on dropping off our stuff at a local electronics recycler, we had an e-cycling event for our whole building, inviting other companies to drop off their e-waste in our office.
We also had a number of large recycling bins across the office as we all cleared out our desks. While our former building recycled paper, it didn't take any other materials. To offset this, our team members took home bags of recycling that could go in their curbside bins, rather than tossing everything in the trash.
Rather than trash our old furniture, we sold what we could on Craigslist and donated the rest. We were also able to use the money from our furniture sales to buy plants and other office decor for our new digs.
4. Lose the Boxes
Earth911 found movers that specialized in utilizing reusable items that kept our reliance on throwaway materials to a minimum. If you're not sure where to start in your city, utilize organizations such as Green Movers USA to find a reputable moving company.
While cardboard boxes may be the norm for most moves, we used reusable totes to transport the majority of our belongings. Additionally, we wrapped our electronics in reusable bubble wrap bags for protection and stored them on rolling shelves that were easily transported to our new offiec.
These measures helped make our move fast and efficient. Additionally, we weren't left with a ton of beat-up boxes and copious amounts of wrapping to deal with once we got to our new space.
5. Keep it Up
Now that you've arrived at your new, green space, cleaned out your clutter and recycled everything possible, the most important step is to keep your momentum going.
At Earth911, we have a number environmentally conscious practices in place to ensure our day-to-day operations are as green as possible.
In terms of waste management, not only do we have a bin for recyclables that aren't accepted by our building (which our employees graciously take home when necessary), but we also compost our food scraps and coffee grinds. This composting results in some delectable produce that's shared by the staff.
Also, we utilize reusable dishware in our kitchen, including coffee mugs and glassware. We purchased plates and utensils by Preserve, which recycles plastic #5 into new products. When these utensils need to be replaced, we can simply send our products back to Preserve for recycling.