Sustainable Business Practices
Putting the green in business, from construction to everyday operations.
By Vannessa Salvia
Local leaders are working hard to help more businesses realize that the benefits of placing sustainability at the center of business strategy outweigh the costs.
We talked to Carolyn Stein of BRING, a local resource for materials and knowledge; John Stapleton of PIVOT Architecture about designing sustainability into buildings; and Jodi Sommers from Essex General Construction, about how greener construction helps everyone.
Architect John Stapleton of Pivot Architecture notes that buildings consume the majority of resources, so the building design has to be a core solution for sustainability. He says that LEED standards revolutionized green building, but for many people it was just a checklist.
“As they were operating their building they would say, ‘We can’t support this’ and start turning things off,” he says. “Aligning the building with the company’s strategy for using it is crucial.”
Stapleton sees his responsibility as ensuring that a building’s features emphasize things the company actually cares about and are explained in a way that speaks the client’s language. For instance, a building owner’s perspective might be that the electric bill is just a sliver of the expenses of maintaining a building for 500 employees. In one example he provides, hanging lighting meant disrupting what was perceived as the important daily work for minimal payout. “We needed to introduce language around their language of value,” he explains.
He received new reinforcement when people started doing data-driven studies on how lighting affects productivity. “Then the conversation can be about getting a 1/2 percent more productivity out of everyone in the building if I give them good lighting,” he says. “That’s a bigger number than the electric bill.”
In 2016, Essex General Construction won Mayor Piercy’s Top Green Business award and the Bold Steps Award, which recognizes Eugene-based sustainable businesses. “Essex brings sustainability into everything we do, from how we function in our office to our job sites,” Sommers says. “We are BRING Rethink certified; we use recycled products that are eco-friendly, we recycle, and we’re energy and resource efficient.”
Around their west Eugene building, Essex installed plantings and a roof drainage system to reduce and filter rainwater runoff before it flows into storm sewers. They use solar panels, EWEB green power, and Sommers says the staff recycles “everything possible,” including Styrofoam and electronics. When gift giving, the company considers only fair trade items and they host zero-waste events. “Our biggest crowd was 175 people and the total of waste to the landfill from that was less than a trash can,” she says.
Highly sustainable projects they’ve built include Hummingbird Wholesale’s Mahonia Building and three LEED Platinum apartment building projects.
Essex’s responsibility extends to the job site. “We always try to deal with the waste that comes off the site responsibly,” she says. “We try and recover any extra material and we bring it back and save it to donate or to reuse in another project, or just find another use for it.”
BRING works to help businesses find ways to reduce waste across all of their operations. Executive Director Carolyn Stein says that may be through waste prevention, dealing with a troublesome waste product, sourcing energy-efficient equipment or reducing toxins.
“It’s hands-on technical assistance,” Stein says. “It helps businesses drill down the triple bottom line philosophy which is helping the planet, doing good for the people, and showing how they can have a healthy business, as well.”
BRING is known for being the place to source reusable construction materials, whether it’s a unique lighting fixture or reclaimed barn wood, and many of the materials they sell are reclaimed from deconstructions.
“We’re kind of a resource all the way around for ways that business can conserve resources or save money,” she says.
The Bold Steps award, celebrated by the City of Eugene, recognizes local businesses leading the way on sustainability. Check out the past and present winners of this prestigious award here.
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