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Green Offices: Setting a Standard

University Business, June 2011
Members of the --green team-- at LASPAU: Academic and Professional Programs for the Americas--a nonprofit affiliated with Harvard--show off their re-usable coffee mugs. LASPAU achieved Green Office Leaf One recognition in fall 2010.

Programs that allow campus offices to become officially certified green in operations can pack a one-two staff engagement punch. In Bowen Close's experience overseeing sustainability as assistant director of facilities and campus services at Pomona College (Calif.), initially people already interested in improving their environmental impacts get engaged in the structure and assistance that such a program offers. As they work to get their colleagues involved in the effort, their enthusiasm is contagious. Pomona's program piloted in 2009, and Close is beginning to notice a new phase--people who previously weren't that interested in sustainability wanting to do their part because it's a priority and commitment of the institution.

Judy Schaffer, national director of social responsibility at E&I Cooperative Purchasing, says she sees green office certification programs as a potential "driving force in getting faculty and staff to actively participate in a sustainable lifestyle at work."

The programs aren't yet mainstream, but Niles Barnes, projects coordinator at AASHE, notes they are a growing trend being implemented at institutions of all sizes. A 2010 AASHE conference session focused on the topic. "There are multiple cascading benefits to green office programs," Barnes says. "Helping move individual offices in a more sustainable direction is certainly one of them. It is also an opportunity to offer training and education to staff, potentially qualifying for credit in our STARS program, [which tracks and assesses sustainability efforts]."

Many green office programs include award ceremonies and promote the certified offices in campus publications. At Harvard, where there are four certification "Leaf" levels, the program has provided a rare way for departments at the decentralized university to compare themselves to each other, says Sustainability Engagement Manager Elaine Strunk. "This friendly competition has motivated many groups to continually improve and push themselves further in the Leaf process." Some areas, such as the Harvard College Library and the Harvard Divinity School, have set goals for each of their offices to become green office recognized. Harvard's Green Office website ( offers tips and resources for greening campus offices in each of nine areas.

Harvard's program requires that at least 75 percent of office members, including the head, sign the checklist of items needed for certification--ensuring the Green Office "is not one person's efforts, but a collective effort and that the majority of the group is aware of the sustainable goals being pursued by both the office and the university," Strunk says. The program doesn't include a formal audit, but status is subject to review. At other institutions, such as UCLA, initial and final audits are a formal part of the certification process.


For sustainability offices looking to start a green office certification program, consider a pilot phase before the official launch. "The final application we used was very different from what we originally envisioned," shares Jeff Severin, director of the Center for Sustainability at The University of Kansas. The small group piloting the project helped "identify challenges that departments might face when trying to complete the application, practices that couldn't be adopted due to factors outside of the departments' control, and more simplified ways of identifying whether or not a department had adopted a specific practice," he explains.

As your program matures, keep potential ways of measuring its success--beyond just the growth in participation--in mind. Barnes says metrics are just now emerging as the number of these programs grows. Consider also the cascading effect of encouraging green operations. As Schaffer notes, these programs help institutions meet their environmental goals, but also send "a powerful message to students that we are all in this together." --Melissa Ezarik