Green Office Certification Profile - Julie Childers & Kathleen McHugh
Green Office Certification Profile by Mary Ann Wilson
Julie Childers, Assistant Director & Kathleen McHugh, Director
Center for the Study of Women
You’re platinum so you’re special. How did you come to the decision to do the Green Office program?
We were one of the first ones to implement the Green Office program because we had just renovated our space and were committed to being a green center, so we got attention for that. We had an administrative assistant, Jessie Babiarz, who at the time was fresh out of college and is now studying for an MBA at USC. She was very interested in recycling and us being very careful with our resources. We also had an assistant director, April de Stefano, who was very sympathetic to those things, so they came to our director, Kathleen McHugh asking for her support, and she said, “Okay, let’s look at what the costs are,” because we have to answer to the bottom line, and it turned out it was cheaper to be green. It certainly took care of the bottom line -- transitioning to paperless and recycling and systematically going through everything that we were doing. So we would have to credit our very young staff person with getting things going, the former assistant director being interested in this, and our director for being very supportive of it. Since then we’ve set up Green Tips @ http://www.csw.ucla.edu/about/green-policy/keep-it-green.
How long did it take you to complete certification?
We were the original green office. There were different efforts going on at the same time -- while UCLA Sustainability was trying to develop certain scales, we were already in compliance with a lot of our own initiatives. UCLA Sustainability used our office as a way to try to determine what was possible in order to develop a scale, so we actually set the standard for certification. In the years 2010-11, UCLA Sustainability developed the certification, so they tried out the scale on us and that’s when we got the platinum award.
So obviously you didn’t need to motivate your department and you didn’t have any resistance at all.
Right. They say strong leadership is really important, which we have in our director Kathleen McHugh. Having the will and the vision at the top of the organization is very important, both to set the tone and to approve the changes, some of which are really easy to do, some of which require upfront expense but pay for themselves in the long run. So when we were in the process of renovating this office to move into a few years ago, we made the decision to have motion-sensitive lights, and that was part of the plan in developing the office from the beginning. It’s easy in some ways to implement a vision but you have to have a leader who’s going to agree to that and understand why it’s important.
Was everyone so enthusiastic that it was easy to get platinum? How did you do that?
There is an office culture, an organization culture, and once everyone gets on board and there’s buy in , then everyone is able to contribute in various ways and come up with different ways to continue to improve our green policies. Everyone finds their way into green policy and what concerns them, whether it’s health or issues of reducing waste, improving things so they’re more efficient -- it’s definitely something that has to become an ethic of the office.
Did you have any up-front costs to implement any of these changes?
Some of those cost decisions were easy to make because we were already remodeling the space and they weren’t ones that required us to make additional investments in infrastructure. Some of them were really simple and actually save us money. For instance, the paper we print on has already been printed on, and as such is basically recycled or waste paper, so that’s paper we don’t have to buy. The university provided the smart power strips and they’re systematically doing that in all the buildings.
Did you see any savings as a result of implementing these changes? (e.g., lower energy costs, lower paper costs, no plastic ware, etc.)
We haven’t tracked it. We did this when we were in the second or third year of operation, when we had a very different budget. It’s been cut since, but then we’ve done fundraising so it’s kind of a wash. It was just that implementing these procedures; there were no over cost with it. And actually if you conserve by, for example, turning off the computers or use sustainable technologies, then you save money on electricity. That doesn’t necessarily save us anything, but it may help the university if everybody did it. There’s certainly a lot of data of how much the university saves over Christmas break by shutting everything down, so our savings are just small increments that might show on someone else’s budget rather than ours.
What were some of the more interesting innovation points?
Like we mentioned previously, we have one printer that is devoted to printing on the opposite side page of paper that has already been printed on before, and we know that that’s our paper for copies that aren’t going to be used for public consumption. When we want to print a spreadsheet to take a look at, we print it on that paper. We haven’t encountered any problems doing this with our printers.
The CSW mug is one of the new things that we did this year. All of our faculty, graduate students and staff are given these reusable mugs at the beginning of the academic year. So we encourage people, whether they’re drinking water or getting coffee from Jimmy’s across the way, to use that mug. And that’s their mug and it stays here, and we have a little color code system so people have a way to identify theirs. That way they always have something to use rather than getting something disposable from Jimmy’s. We also made sure the mugs were BPA free and that was a health concern that intersected with our environmental concerns.
At all our events, we pay for composting, which is an additional $60 per event, and we only use compostable containers for our beverage, food, silverware and napkins. We don’t even have recycle bins anymore, since everything is compostable. When an office tries to improve their efficiencies or tries to meet the green office standards, there can be rapid ramp-up and a lot of innovations are made. And then when you’re in the maintenance phase you try to keep doing those things and not backslide in other areas, so the innovations are slower and they’re made along the way where we encounter something that would fit in with what we’re already doing. One of those things was composting, which we started doing last year. We sponsor a lot of events for the UCLA community so it’s an important part of the work that we do. We had trash recycling and composting at two big events, and it went poorly, because people were really confused. We ended up with compost that was not recycled because people put recycling in the composting bin. We’ve trained people to recycle but we haven’t trained them to compost, so people weren’t sure if they should put their plates and cups in recycling or composting bins. We had to figure out how people actually use bins outside of our office community and came to the realization that it would be easier to eliminate recycling and have everything compostable -- the food, cups, plates, silverware, everything.
Our commitment to the environment can be seen as concentric circles. Our efforts work really well in our office of five or six staff and anywhere between 10 and 20 undergraduate and graduate students. We feel we’ve really figured out the system in a way that works well here. As we move out to the broader UCLA community through our events, we‘re also always reminding people how to have green practice. So another example is rather than just distributing paper for a seminar or academic conference that we sponsor, we do it electronically.
What are the challenges, if any, in maintaining a green office?
It feels like we’re in the second phase of the process, which is how we bring in new people. So when we hire new people we have to acculturate them to our green office culture. This is true for the undergraduates and graduate students who work with as well as new staff and faculty. At the beginning of this year, we had students and staff who didn’t know how to turn on their computers. They were turning them on and pressing the button again and again and they couldn’t figure out why the computers weren’t coming on. It was because we had to turn off the power strips at the end of the night so that the computers don’t hog that extra electricity. So people just have to be trained to turn them on and off in addition to the way that they start up their desktops. So that’s really easy to do but it also requires getting people in the habit of turning off the power strips.
One of the things that we thought would work really was using the bicycle for transportation. We were part of the bicycle program and we received one for free. Our students distribute a lot of flyers and other mail around campus and we thought that would work well. But in the end it didn’t work well for us because the students have to make so many stops and starts as they go around to different buildings and it was too much time to get off the bike, lock it up, go back, unlock it and go to the next stop.
I don’t remember the bicycle being part of the green office program.
This was another program. We ended up not using it and we gave it back. It’s important to understand that not every green office suggestion will work for every office and that it’s okay if it doesn’t fit in with the way your office works.
So you haven’t had any trouble maintaining the green office program then?
No. One of our staff members who didn’t have a hybrid vehicle when we were certified just recently bought a hybrid vehicle. So what we do at work influences our personal life and may reinforce what we may already be doing at home.
Have you gained any insights from implementing this program that may be helpful to others?
It’s really a lot easier than you think it would be. We welcome any staff or faculty from other offices to visit us here and we can talk with them about ways we’ve implemented it and we would be glad to share our insights. We’re really at the point where it just seems so second nature; it’s just the normal way that we do business now. And we find it pretty easy, so hopefully that’s inspirational. We see it as part of our commitment to social justice.
Another thing we do to reach the community is in our monthly newsletter we have a green tip. And these are things that are not necessarily related to office practices, two of the ones we had last year were related to consumer public practices. There is the possibility now you can buy reusable dry cleaning bags and they’re actually much better for your clothes as well. It’s great when green practices have other benefits that are also important to your daily life. Another one was carbon offset for holiday travel. You can contribute through organizations that offset your carbon footprint especially when you’re doing air travel.
Here are some links on our website that might be helpful:
Our green policy: http://www.csw.ucla.edu/about/green-policy
Sustainability Tips and Techniques: http://www.csw.ucla.edu/about/green-policy/keep-it-green
Green Links: http://www.csw.ucla.edu/about/green-policy/green-links
Published: Monday, December 19, 2011