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Save Money by Investing in Office “Greening”

By Linda Brughelli, Author, GreenworksGov and Chair, Green Office, California Attorney General’s Office

I grew up hearing my parents say “Waste not, want not”. It was an admonition to get me to turn off my bedroom light when I left the room, to eat the food I put on my plate, and to take care of my consumable possessions, which in those days were pencils, pens, and binder paper. After three years of heading up the California Attorney General’s Green Office-DOJ initiative, I have come to believe that is the fundamental concept that drives every effort to green an office. Our office channels the fight to counteract the effects of climate change by reducing our carbon footprint and being good stewards of the environment. In fiscally-strapped California, we have focused on those measures that save money and are environmentally-friendly business practices, a double meaning for “resource conservation.” Boiled down to its core, sustainability means not wasting limited resources. And in the short-run or the long-run, an investment in office greening is going to save money, too. It just makes good sense.

How does an Attorney General’s office establish a greening initiative? The most successful green office programs have top level support, rely on a mix of dedicated staff and volunteer employees, adopt measurable objectives, involve the business and IT functions, and communicate frequently with employees to increase awareness, build interest, support, and momentum. Our Green Office has a charter that our chief deputy issued to all employees to announce the initiative and give it direction and support. His message invited all employees to support the effort and participate as their work permitted up to 5 percent of their time. Our charter sets out the roles of the chair and the volunteer committees to identify local and statewide opportunities and make recommendations to management to adopt greener business practices. As the designated chair, I organized nine committees of about 100 volunteers, and with just 2 percent of our employees and a few hours a month, we have attained a 90 percent awareness rating among our employees. I am chalking the gap up to new employees or the perpetually oblivious. We also garnered a lot of goodwill from both employees and external contacts who commend the Attorney General for “walking the walk”.

But where should an Attorney General’s office start? I suggest an office focus on the low-hanging fruit. We started our green program over the issue of paper. We shifted our purchasing habits in favor of paper with higher post-consumer content for purely environmental reasons. This is a good thing, but before long we realized that even the small added cost of higher recycled content paper, or any recycled content supplies and equipment for that matter, would not garner institutional support if it reduced resources for other mission-critical expenditures. We coupled paper with printing and demonstrated that if we could provide employees with easier access to two-sided printers and copiers, that the paper saved would not only pay for the additional cost of the paper , but also would add to the environmental benefits by lowering the overall consumption of paper. This is a good example of the need and opportunity to be equally mindful of cost efficiency and environmental benefits.

One step that has a short “return on investment” is desktop power management software. It puts the PC and monitor into sleep mode and we have seen a 23 percent reduction in energy consumption. That translates to a smaller electric bill. We were able to offset a large portion of the cost of the software by obtaining rebates from our state utilities. Savvy IT staff can point to server virtualization and cloud computing as other significant energy and equipment saving strategies.

In the first year, we had some early and easy successes in boosting recycling just by better placement of bins and signage explaining what could be recycled in them. We added some where employees would find it easier to recycle paper, bottles, and cans. No money for bins? Cardboard boxes and clear labeling work fine. If your office doesn’t have a recycling service associated with trash collection, encourage employees to volunteer to take recyclables to a center for cash. The cash can serve as a good “kitty” builder for green endeavors when it is needed to buy promotional items, like re-useable bags or air-purifying plants to resell to employees as part of the awareness effort

It is great if the office can establish a dedicated unit with staff support, but it doesn’t require an investment of new resources to have an impact. I work half-time on our greening program with a student. We have over 4000 employees and 50 office locations, but most work in six large offices. We are a lean operation that respects the valuable time of our volunteers, so we know what it is to be cost-efficient and effective. What is essential, however, is having the support of executive management. In some cases, executive management will need to reach beyond the Attorney General’s office to the state administrative office that has policy and oversight responsibility for contracts for office supplies, building maintenance, recycling, and procurement. If the Attorney General’s office doesn’t control the decision-making in these areas, it can still find valuable allies in other state administrative agencies to advance green business practices.

An alternative to establishing any formal policies is to adopt an informational program. Employees value useful tips, resources and information in newsletters, the Intranet, and in “lunch and learn” sessions that they can use in their work or in their personal lives. That itself is a step in the direction of going green, and helps sustain a conversation that can evolve into more concrete actions. The important thing to do is to start.

GreenWorksGov is a website hosted by the Conference of Western Attorneys General. The website is dedicated to helping government offices green their operations. Visit the site and its weekly blog articles for more practical information, resources, and “how to” tips for success. There is an archive of more than 60 articles to help an office save some green and go green at the same time. GreenWorksGov would like to write about your efforts, what works and what doesn’t. Email me your stories to share. We have an international readership of 1500 who would appreciate and benefit from your experiences and lessons learned.

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LINDA BRUGHELLI.