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Sustaining Sustainability

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Sustaining Sustainability

How can an organization effectively educate its people to incorporate environmentally sustainable business practices?

The question was on the minds of a diverse group of business and government officials who recently met at the Capitol Visitor Center for a roundtable discussion about sustainability education. Dan Beard, the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) of the U.S. House of Representatives, provided the group with some surprising answers.

At the meeting, organized by the National Environmental Education Foundation, Beard spoke about Green the Capitol with officials from organizations ranging from Intel and Dupont to the USDA and the White House Council on Environmental Quality. The office of the CAO, in cooperation with the office of the Architect of the Capitol (AOC) heads up Green the Capitol.

"The thinking was, how can we ask the American Public to do something if we haven't done it ourselves?" Beard recalled of Green the Capitol's inception in 2007. Since then, engaging House staff has been a central part of Green the Capitol's work.

By providing House offices with an interactive website called "My Green Office," Green the Capitol makes it easy for staff to learn about and adopt practices such as installing energy-efficient power strips and purchasing green office supplies. Staff can use the site to tally how much money their office has saved, how many pounds of landfill waste they've diverted and so on. Staff are inspired and empowered, not regulated.

"If we make a commitment to doing it and we just keep trying things, pretty soon our employees get infected with the kind of enthusiasm we have," Beard said.

As an example, Beard pointed to his own organization. The CAO's approximately 700 employees and 1,000 contractors are educated about the organization's "Zero Landfill" initiative, which seeks to reduce the CAO's landfill waste by 90 percent. CAO staff are encouraged to think of sustainability in every phase of their work and are empowered to make related suggestions.

The result is a work environment where even seemingly minor resources such as leather scraps from refurbished furniture are recycled or reused. Some of these initiatives are the result of employee suggestions. "We've had some tremendous ideas that have saved incredible amounts of energy and incredible amounts of money," Beard said.

Getting staff on board with sustainability initiatives involves a certain approach and awareness, Beard said. "Good intentions aren't enough. You really have to treat this as a management problem." That, according to Beard, requires support from upper management, a willingness to push on despite setbacks and a penchant for showing progress in the form of dollars saved.

Dollar savings alone are not enough to inspire change, Beard cautioned. In addition to large-scale projects that evidence major savings, sustainability initiatives need projects that regularly remind staff of their role. That's where food comes in.

"The one place everyone goes is the food service facility," Beard said. The compostable dining ware standard at House cafeterias is a daily reminder to staff of the House's commitment to sustainability. "It touches people's lives directly," Beard said.

Did You Know?

Fountain Water Reuse

Fountain Water Reuse

We are installing a system to convert condensate from an air handling unit in the Rayburn House Office Building to water for the Center Court fountain.

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