Recently SRG Partnership was awarded a Gold Certification with Sustainability at Work, which celebrates our sustainability efforts as a business and gives guidelines and tools for continued improvement.
Before moving to Portland, I rarely heard or said the word sustainability. I had a vague idea of what it meant, or at least I thought I did. Sustainability is more than just being "green"; it's meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. I have young nephews who mean the world to me, and I am inspired to make decisions-environmentally, socially, and financially-that ensure they will have the same quality of life that I've enjoyed.
At SRG, sustainability is a big deal. Besides our efforts to create LEED certified buildings, we also aspire to run a sustainable office. The City of Portland has a division called Sustainability at Work that provides businesses with the tools and motivation to conserve resources, improve efficiency, and provide a healthy, quality workspace for employees. They also provide certifications for businesses that have reached specified levels of sustainable consciousness.
I was tasked with helping SRG renew its Sustainability at Work certification in early 2015. The three certification levels (Certified, Silver, and Gold) are based on a specified number of pre-designated points. As a result of our ongoing behaviors, such as composting, having timers on overhead lights, and offering TriMet passes to all employees, we had already attained the Silver designation. Only a dozen more points separated us from securing Gold.
I spent the next couple of months slowly working on reaching the Gold level. I divided the list of remaining points into three sections:
- Likely - things requiring minimal effort or cost (such as adding aerators to the kitchen and bathroom faucets)
- Possible - things that required more effort or cost (such as replacing the office appliances with Energy Star ones)
- Impractical - things for which the effort and cost would be difficult to justify (such as replacing all desktop computers with laptops)
There were also a handful of points related to the building itself, such as having a green roof and double-pane windows, which as a lessee are out of our control.
I began by tackling items on the "Likely" list. Using examples from other companies for inspiration, I wrote a Sustainability Plan that lays out the guidelines for SRG in three areas: environmental, social, and financial. The next step was to identify goals to further reduce waste, save energy, and contribute to the community. We added public transit information to our website to encourage alternate commutes for our visitors. We also ordered a bicycle tire repair kit, a lock, and an air pump for our bike room to fortify our commitment of being a bicycle-friendly employer. In addition, the SRG Sustainability Team created an incentive program for employees who bike or walk to work.
As we progressed to the "Possible" list, we had some pleasant surprises: the exit signs in our office already used LED bulbs. We overlooked the section in the certification application allowing us to create up to three of our own points-things we were already doing as a business that weren't pre-designated. And four points later, we had reached the Gold level.
While it is great to be recognized by the City, the most important aspect of our certification and relationship with Sustainability at Work is that there is always room for improvement; we strive to improve our practices each and every day. Now that we have accomplished one tier of sustainable action, we can broaden our efforts. One of the next steps we have identified is reducing our carbon footprint. We also intend to explore how to communicate more effectively with clients when it comes to choosing green materials over the less expensive, less green options.
Sustainability at Work for the City of Portland has awarded SRG with the Gold Certification, and because other cities-even foreign countries-consistently look to Portland for ideas on sustainability, our efforts are literally having a global impact.
Now that's a big deal.