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Q&A With Green the Capitol Executive Director Grant Scherling

Green the Capitol Executive Director Grant Scherling with Deputy Director Perry Plumart and Education and Outreach Coordinator Alli RogersGrant Scherling serves as Executive Director for the Green the Capitol Office. He is responsible for leading the House of Representatives forward in the arena of sustainability. Coming into his seventh year at the House, Scherling brings extensive Hill knowledge to the Speaker’s new initiative. As Executive Director, his mission is to achieve organizational change in the pursuit of environmental sustainability at the House.

Read more about Grant Scherling
Read about Perry Plumart, Deputy Director
Read about Allison Rogers, Program Manager

Q: Dan Beard likes to say that “going green” is not “rocket science,” but that it isn’t easy either. What is the most challenging part of running the Green the Capitol Office?

A: The challenge is getting all 10,000 staff here at the House to change everyday practices. For example, almost everything we do here on the Hill uses or produces paper. If everyone took a moment to think before hitting the “print” button, we could save an impressive amount of trees. Or turn off your computer monitor on the way out the door.  If everyone makes small changes everyday, collectively, we can have a significant impact on what our environment looks like in the future.

Q: Are the Green the Capitol Office’s goals too ambitious? Is there such a thing?

A: Greening the Capitol has to be ambitious. We are setting a leadership example for the country on how to address some of the most vexing problems we face, like global warming.  We need to use what we have more efficiently, like energy and water.   We need to increase recycling and do composting. And we can save money and resources by going green. The road ahead will not be easy, especially given the age and nature of the buildings within which we are operating.   However, if our country is to address the many environmental challenges we face, we need to think ambitiously and innovatively about how to create a sustainable Capitol.

Q: People have noticed that you are passionate about your position. What inspires you to do your part to save the environment?

A: I am excited about the potential of this initiative to be a showcase for the nation. I want people who visit the Capitol to be inspired about the progress we are making here. It is important for the House of Representatives to “lead by example.” The nation looks toward Washington for leadership and we are showing them that we are serious about protecting the environment. It is our responsibility to protect the environment for future generations.

Q: What would a completely eco-friendly House look like if you could do everything you feel needs to be done tomorrow?

A: Lighting would be controlled by motion sensors so we’re not using more than we need. The bulbs, of course, would be highly efficient, as would all office equipment. Our staff and visitors would be amazed by the greenness of our dining services. Locally grown, organic food would be served on compostable plates, and beverages in compostable cups. In the House gift shop, you would see 100% post consumer recycled stationery and other recycled and eco-friendly products. And just when you’re leaving to get on the Metro to go home, you’d see one staff member getting into a Zipcar or Flexcar, another on a bike, and another using an electric motorcycle. All who enter will be so inspired by their Member’s office, and the House in general, that they’d want to go home to start greening their own house!

Q: Have you already identified “greening” opportunities beyond what was in the initial report? If so, what are they?

A: We are pleased to announce that we are examining the feasibility of a green roof for the Longworth cafeteria. We continue to think creatively about how we can expand our Outreach and Education. We’ve been conducting informal interviews and talking with staff here at the House about what would get them inspired to “go green” – from competitions to incentives to fun social events.  If you have suggestions, we’d love to know!

Q: Is the Green the Capitol Office just about switching out light bulbs and promoting the use of recycled paper?

A: These are just beginning steps.  Compact florescent bulbs (CFLs) and recycled paper are great, but there is so much more we can do to make the House environmentally sustainable.  From the smallest recycling bin to re-lighting the Capitol Dome, we are examining every possible way to go green.  We’ve partnered with Zipcar and Flexcar to create car-sharing options for staff.  We’re looking into additional bike space and showers so more people can bike to work.  We’ve been working with a team of researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to improve our Capitol Power Plant, our energy usage, our heating and cooling, data centers, and many other areas.

Q: What’s the difference between “recycling” and “going green”? Do you think people confuse the concepts?

A: Recycling is probably the base minimum – something we can each do very easily everyday and that is usually why it is the first action we think of.  But there is so much more to “going green” than recycling.  Going green is really about reducing our ecological footprint: finding ways to reduce our energy use, to switch to renewable energy sources, and to make it second nature to make daily choices that allow us to live in an environmentally sustainable way.

Q: Give a few examples of how you yourself lead a greener lifestyle?

A: I am continuously learning new ways of greening my own lifestyle, which has been a really enlightening process.  Right now I am renovating my house to make it more energy efficient.  In the office, I print on 100% post consumer recycled paper, use a reusable mug for my drinking water, am committed to recycling, and I turn off my lights and computer when I go home at night.  I am always on the lookout for more ways to green my own actions here at the House.  And whenever I am able to take a vacation, I am eager to check out one of the many eco-lodges that are popping up around the world!

Q: Why is it important to get all employees of the House on board with an initiative like this?

A: The Green the Capitol staff are hard at work making our buildings as green as possible.  However, a truly “green House” will come not just with greening our buildings, but by greening our individual actions everyday. With 10,000 staff here at the House, our individual actions add up very quickly to make a major cumulative impact. This initiative is about preserving our planet and our future, but it is also about improving the quality of life today for all House staff.

Q: What are a couple of things that people can do right now as employees of the House to go green?

A: Here are my Top 5 ways to get started:

  • Make sure your office has enough recycling bins and that they are placed next to trash cans whenever possible.
  • Turn off all lights and computers at night when you leave the office.
  • Use electronic means to review and store documents to avoid using excess paper.
  • When purchasing new appliances or new products, choose Energy Star or other energy-efficient/environmentally friendly choices.
  • Contact the Green the Capitol Office to have someone in your office join our Green Team, so you can stay up to date with more ways to get involved.