Bringing Sustainable Practices to the Workplace

Last Thursday, the first Pittsburgh Green Workplace Challenge (GWC) wrapped up and the final results placed Global Links in fifth place in the Observer category. The GWC is a friendly competition hosted by Sustainable Pittsburgh for Southwestern Pennsylvania businesses and organizations which awards points for specific, verifiable actions that promote sustainability. These actions range from implementing recycling programs and eco-friendly purchasing policies to decreasing energy and water use.

In many cases, participants had already implemented many of these actions, and the GWC created a forum in which they could receive recognition for their efforts to reduce environmental impact. In other cases, the GWC provided new ideas for sustainability measures, and assisted participants in implementing these actions by fostering partnerships and providing educational workshops. The GWC also pushed participants to measure and track utility use and cost, data essential in making the financial case for reducing energy and water use. Furthermore, as all actions must be documented in order to be verified by GWC staff, the end result is a portfolio of sustainability measures that can be useful in publicity and grant writing. The Pittsburgh GWC distinguishes itself from similar competitions through its stringent verification of all actions, assured confidentiality, and the relative weights of points afforded to various actions which promote walking the walk over talking the talk.

The collective results of the GWC were summarized in the recent GWC press release:

Combined, the 50+ forward-thinking organizations participating in the Green Workplace Challenge saved enough energy to power 5,842 average U.S. homes for a year (67,159,765 kWh of energy savings). This equates to more than all of the occupied homes in East Allegheny (1252 homes), Friendship (1071), Hays (166), Polish Hill (697), Regent Square (456), and Southside Slopes (2130) for a year. Additionally, enough water was saved to fill Heinz Field with 13 feet of water! (Nearly 91 million gallons saved!) In terms of reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, participants saved over 18,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, translates to roughly 452 airline flights of 500 miles: 3.1 days worth of all flights leaving Pittsburgh International Airport on a given day.

This means that with the dedication of employees under the guidance of one green team, or one sustainability coordinator, or one facilities manager, or one employee that works on sustainability in addition to their other responsibilities, on average enough energy was saved by each GWC participant to power over 100 U.S. homes for one year. This exemplifies the importance of businesses in reducing human impact on the environment, and shows how benefits to the environment can be multiplied by bringing the eco-friendly passion that guides home decisions to the workplace.

One example of the impact of workplace greening is recycling. Consider kitchen recycling alone: at Global Links, on average about 25 people eat lunch, producing about 25 meals worth of recyclable yogurt cups or soda cans daily. In my house, there are three people who eat breakfast and dinner at home, producing 6 meals worth of recyclables daily. By institutionalizing recycling in the kitchen at Global Links, that impact is quadrupled. In reality, the impact is much greater, because our recycling policy at Global Links extends to office and warehouse recycling, as well as certain surplus medical materials. The same idea applies to cleaning products: our green cleaning purchasing policy affects many more gallons of cleaning supplies used per year than my household would go through. When these green choices which are part of my lifestyle and personal commitment to sustainability are transferred to the workplace, the benefit to the environment is increased many-fold.

The Green Workplace Challenge wrapped up at the extremely green Phipps Conservatory.

Our achievements also included tracking our utility use, calculating our carbon footprint, creating other sustainability and eco-friendly policies, guidelines, and plans, retrofitting our trucks, establishing a green team, increasing environmental messaging and awareness, and participating in community environmental events. For this round of the competition, we were unable to implement many of the suggested measures because we currently rent our workspace. We are looking forward to the completion of our move to our new space, which we own, as this will enable us to tackle our impact on the environment in many new and highly effective ways.

Read more about Global Links commitment to the environment.

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