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Ask the Conservationist

March 2010: Is the Conservancy's Headquarters Sustainable?

Reduce, reuse, recycle. We've all heard this common phrase, but is the world's largest conservation organization "walking to the talk" when it comes to sustainability? A nature.org reader asked us that very question.

Go inside the Conservancy's headquarters and see how we're reducing our carbon footprint.

And when you're done, send us your questions on any conservation subject for one of the Conservancy's 720 staff scientists. (Note: We regret that we can only answer one or two questions each month and that we cannot answer the others offline.)
A nature.org reader writes:

“How is The Nature Conservancy sustainable? What are the observable sustainable behaviors of the people who work at The Nature Conservancy? Do your policies include reduce, reuse and recycle? How do these policies affect the vendors and supporting organizations that work for and with you?"


Rebecca Goodstein:

Recycling — The Nature Conservancy recycles just about everything you can imagine: paper, glass, aluminum, plastics #1-7 and a variety of "non-traditional" items (running shoes, cell phones, light bulbs, corks, batteries, eye glasses). In our kitchens, we reinforce the use of filtered water to cut down our plastic bottle waste. The Conservancy also recommends setting computer defaults to two-sided printing and we've just completed a vendor selection process to change our printers to greener models.

In our kitchens — Nature Conservancy employees are never caught without their "green kits!" GROW hosts a "green kit dish drive" every few months where each employee is given a donated green kit (which includes reusable mugs, cups, plate and utensils) in exchange for signing a pledge to not use disposables in the office. In addition to the kits, employees use 100% recycled paper towels, Seventh Generation cleaning products, and drink organically, fair trade and/or shade grown coffees in our kitchens. We also have a robust composting program with two composting tumblers, which provide compost for our native plant garden!

Native plant garden — By planting natives in our backyard, we are helping to preserve biodiversity, allowing natives to thrive and not be overrun by invasive species. In addition, the garden provides habitat for local wildlife, including birds and butterflies. It reduces and potentially eliminates the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides and improves water quality. We have garden volunteer days for our employees and members to educate gardeners on the beauty and ease of native gardening.

Green commuting committee — This group focuses on providing resources and incentives for green commuting. Detailed "how-to" guides for different green commuting options are displayed in a kiosk in our lobby, along with a bike map and information on bicycling, carpooling, slugging, mass transit and telecommuting. We host fun competitions and events including bike tune-up days, group rides and an organization-wide green commuting challenge.

Energy use building efficiency — Our light switches are on timers and our building structure and windows make the best use of ambient light. In addition, the Worldwide Office now offsets 100 percent of its energy usage.

Purchasing/vendors — Our purchasing standard operating procedures were written with sustainability in mind. We have relationships with green vendors who give us discounts on green office supplies, paper and technology. There is also a "reuse room" where we store office supplies and encourage employees to check there before ordering something new. We also have a relationship with green caterers in the area and work with them for meetings and events (they're delicious!).

In our bathrooms — Aerators on the faucets and low flush toilets help to reduce water consumption. Our janitorial contractor, Pioneer Building Services, is Green LEED GS-42 Certified. This means their paper products are 100 percent recycled and all cleaning chemicals meet the Green Seal GS-37 Requirements.

Green meetings — There are lots of great tips to conducting a successful green meeting: offer reusable dishware, compost leftovers, hire green caterers, recycle and don't print out meeting materials when possible. Videoconferencing and Skype can help reduce travel costs, too (to our environment and pocketbooks).

Education — GROW hosts a series of presentations on a variety of topics educating our colleagues on ways to be more green at work and at home. Topics have included everything from "Green Architecture and Building" and "Where Does Your Recycling Go?"

With over 400 employees at our Worldwide Office, it's easy to see how small changes to our daily routines can make a big impact when it comes to being a sustainable organization.


About the Conservationist

A volunteer committee of employees cleverly named GROW (GReening Our Worldwide office) helps The Nature Conservancy stay green. Thanks to the efforts of Rebecca Goodstein and other members of GROW, the group helps promote improvements that will reduce the carbon footprint of the staff and the building at the Worldwide Office in Arlington, VA.

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