Greening Your Office
by Ruth Stafford, ASLA

One of the goals of our Professional Practice Network is to advance the practice of sustainable design in landscape architecture and our allied professions. This comes from our commitment to balancing environmental, social, and economic sustainability. Not only can landscape architects demonstrate this through our plans and designs, but in our daily business operations as well. By “greening” our offices, landscape architects can do even more to promote sustainability within and beyond the profession. What follows is a discussion of the benefits of greening your office, and some steps you can take to have a greener landscape architecture practice. We encourage you to green your office, and share your tips and successes with other members of ASLA!

Benefits of Green

Depending on the green office practices that are implemented, a potentially great number of environmental, social, and economic benefits can result. These can include:

  • reduced business operating expenses
  • reduced carbon footprint (through reduced power and automobile use)
  • reduced use of water and raw materials
  • reduced demand for landfill space
  • lowered use of harmful substances
  • improved air quality and other office conditions for occupants
  • increased healthy physical activity
  • demonstration of green practices to those visiting the office
  • increased overall demand for green products and services

Green Operations in Practice

Many professionals already employ green business practices to varying degrees, often informally. However, some design firms have taken this concept further, by systematically evaluating and/or instituting a comprehensive green business program. This not only promotes the multiple benefits of green operations, but also extends a sustainability philosophy to daily office practices. For example, EDAW recently completed a Sustainability Report that assesses the firm’s current status across multiple sustainability categories, and provides a benchmark against which future sustainability evaluations can be conducted. As another example, Wallace Roberts & Todd prepared a Green Operations Plan that takes a scorecard approach to assessing sustainability in different categories (e.g., office products, energy, transportation, and service providers). Other examples are discussed more extensively in the May 2009 Landscape Architecture Magazine article by Daniel Jost, “Walking the talk: what some landscape architects are doing to make their offices more sustainable.” This article also includes an extensive resource list for more information.

Guidelines for Greening Your Office

  • A good starting point is to contact federal, state, and local agencies that offer tips (and sometimes rebates) for energy- and water-reduction measures to implement in an office environment (e.g., efficient lighting, weatherization, programmable thermostats, energy-efficient appliances and machines). All these methods can also reduce operating costs. If your firm is one occupant in a multi-tenant building, this will likely require a discussion on how to improve energy and water use with the landlord or property manager.
  • Take advantage of existing recycling and other green programs in your area (paper and cardboard recycling, specialty waste disposal programs for electronic waste and fluorescent bulbs, etc.), and be sure recycling bins are conveniently placed for employees to use.
  • Conduct an assessment of your office to determine “low hanging fruit” for simple ways to reduce energy use and printing costs. Question how office resources are used. Which light fixtures need to be on all the time? Can any lights be converted to motion sensors or ambient light sensors?  Can the thermostat be set for more efficient energy use? Are all computers and monitors turned off at the end of the day? Can printers be set to print double-sided by default? Does your office encourage viewing digital documents and other files on monitors as much as possible, rather than printing these? Can large drawing sets be printed half-size or smaller for redlining?
  • If possible, work with housekeeping staff to encourage use of non-toxic cleaning supplies.
  • Evaluate employees’ commuting methods, as well as the frequency of driving and flying to attend meetings, site visits, and other business travel, and seek ways to reduce transportation impacts.
  • Conduct a carbon footprint analysis of commuting and business travel, to determine which aspects of travel are the most resource-intensive and identify areas for improvement. A good site is TerraPass, which can help your company to demonstrate its environmental leadership by measuring, reducing, and offsetting the carbon footprint of your business.
  • Encourage employees to commute by carpooling, public transportation, bicycling, and walking. Make these options convenient (e.g., provide secure bicycle parking), and offer other incentives if possible (e.g., pre-tax income deductions to pay for transit passes, or prime parking for carpool vehicles)
  • If the opportunity to move your office arises, locate it near bus and/or passenger rail or ferry service to allow convenient use of existing public transportation by employees
  • Work with clients and consultants to have more meetings via teleconference and online document sharing, rather than physical meetings that require many people to drive or fly.
  • Assess your office procurement practices. Purchase office supplies with more recycled content, less packaging, and non-toxic materials. For catered meetings and other events at your office, choose service providers who use local and organically produced food. Direct more of your business to vendors and subconsultants who also engage in green and socially just business practices.
  • If possible, design and maintain your office landscape to reflect sustainable design for your area, to serve as a demonstration to visitors and passers-by.

Ruth Stafford, ASLA, is an Associate at Wallace Roberts & Todd, Inc. and can be reached at:

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