You Have a Green Building; Now What?

EDF Climate Corps fellow | June 17, 2009

By Greg Buzzell (MBA candidate, University of Michigan), 2009 Climate Corps fellow at Accenture

Living and working in the epicenter of the green revolution that is San Francisco, it is easy to believe that everyone in the country thinks and acts ‘green.' Seemingly everybody recycles, drinks from reusable bottles, rides their bike or takes public transportation. These personal efforts to be green are beginning to be adopted into corporate culture as well. Many companies in the Bay Area are retroactively and proactively becoming more sustainable. Most new construction is LEED certified, and many retrofits are becoming LEED-EB certified. Companies and organizations are figuring out that being green is good for the earth and good corporate citizenship, and oh by the way it doesn't hurt when it saves them a sizeable chunk of money too. So that's it right? Nope - it's just the beginning.

Corporations that have green office spaces have only just begun the process to becoming sustainable. The effort to become LEED certified doesn't absolve them from further commitment to the environment. These buildings must now be operated sustainably. A ‘green' building is only as sustainable as how it is operated on a daily basis. The effectiveness of energy efficient light bulbs is diminished if lights are left on when no one is in the room. Low flow faucets don't save water if no one turns them off when they are finished. Companies with green office space must now rely on the employees' efforts working in the office space to truly make them green.

The Accenture office in San Francisco (LEED certified) where I have settled for the summer, has provided great examples of continuous improvement efforts that are being done on a daily basis: recycling bins are everywhere, all printers default to double sided, motion sensors are in every office, Styrofoam cups were phased out by biodegradable paper cups which are being phased out by reusable ceramic mugs, and composting is beginning to gather momentum. Anyone would be proud of these accomplishments and could sit back and admire their efforts. But the people in the office are striving for even more. This past Friday, in conjunction with World Environment Day, the local Eco-Team surveyed all employees in the office to gather suggestions for improving the sustainability of the office. These suggestions were collected and prioritized; opportunities with the highest potential impact could be implemented in the very near future.

The projects I will be working on this summer revolve around improving energy efficiency in many of Accenture's office locations around the world. Most of my summer will be spent developing a business case for implementing energy efficiency initiatives by measuring their financial and environmental benefits. These measures will save money and reduce the consumption of carbon emitting energy. The rest of my summer will be spent helping to improve the environmental footprint of Accenture's San Francisco office specifically. This will include developing prioritization criteria for implementing new environmental initiatives, examining potential financial incentives for energy efficiency, and measuring and quantifying some of the improvements that have been implemented previously.

Just because an office space is built ‘green' doesn't mean that it is ‘green'. It is imperative that we don't settle for the status quo; companies must continue to strive to improve their environmental footprint. Offices like Accenture's San Francisco office, which is always striving to improve on their sustainability performance, are a great example of a ‘green' office space that is working towards truly embracing sustainability.