Thinking of Launching Green Teams? Follow These Best Practices

Employee engagement plays an outsized role in increasing the effectiveness of any company’s sustainability and efficiency efforts.  You can only mandate so much from the top before you realize that having the larger team involved is critical to maintaining momentum.  Luckily, there are a lot of people passionate about efficiency and sustainability and want to get on-board.  One effort I had the privilege of watching unfold first hand was the launch of our Green Team effort at CA Technologies. The initiative has been very successful on multiple levels, from employee engagement to energy reduction to food waste reduction to recycling improvements.  Since the completion of their pilot Green Team projects, CA has taken the lessons learned and refined the processes we put in place and quickly scaled up to over 20 green Green Teams running in locations around the world.  

Jen Dudgeon, a sustainability pro with experience launching and managing a green team initiative for a Fortune 500 company, shared three key processes and best practices with me that have been found to be important in developing and launching effective and productive Green Teams.

Effectively Recruiting Green Team Members

"There is no Green Team unless you can identify local leadership," says Dudgeon.  "It is a priority to recruit local green team leaders via internal emails, through notices on the corporate website and by reaching out to local managers.  The great news is that there will likely be a lot of team members that are very interested in sustainability and want to be involved."
Once interested candidates have been identified, reach out to them to discuss the considerations that have to be taken into account before they can take on the role.  Some guidelines to consider:
  • It must be clear that they limit the amount of work time dedicated to the Green Team to 5% (max) of their work hours
  • Leading the Green Team cannot impact their performance relative to their existing job responsibilities
  • They must review the role and responsibilities with their manager and receive approval to take on the task
  • They also need to understand that this role will become part of their job description and that it will become a component of their review
Once the Captains are approved, they are responsible for recruiting local team members.  "We provide them with suggestions and materials to help them recruit and kick things off," says Dudgeon.  Once a team is defined, we work together to organize a kick-off meeting to review expectations and get the ball rolling.

Defining Business Expectations for Green Teams

The first step for every Green Team is to define a list of potential ideas that is important to the individual office / locale.  "We provide a list of dozens of potential project ideas, but there is not as much variation in projects as you would think," Dudgeon says.  "Every office I've worked with has done a recycling-improvement project and a "Turn it Off" campaign to encourage employees to turn off computers before leaving for the night and shut off lights in rooms that are not in use.  It makes sense, as these are very visible, low-cost projects.  That is not to say that there are not differences.  There have been some very cool regionally focused projects like a food waste reduction project in India that reduced food waste sent to composting by over 80% in just a few months."

Once the projects have been decided upon, consider making each Green Team responsible for developing a business case for the project and executing in a professional and timely manner.  Some of the expectations for each team include:
  • Developing a plan for each project.  "We provide a business plan template to make the process easier, and in many cases we even have much of the template pre-populated for projects that other teams have executed on already."
  • Gathering as much baseline data as possible on each project for use in ongoing metrics and analysis.
  • Participating in team calls with the Office of Sustainability and other Green Teams and reporting on progress
  • Measuring results and ROI
  • Sharing findings, both positive and negative, with other Green Teams
By defining expectations up front and holding the teams to a high standard of business success, positive results are more likely to follow.

Green Team Project Leadership

"One of the challenges we've had to address is that the team leaders may take too much personal responsibility for success and start to burn out," Dudgeon says.  "We work with the team leaders to help them develop team management skills and to find ways to keep the team motivated and ensure they execute."  

One key area of focus is working with teams to help make the transition from the planning stage of the project to the execution stage more successful.  Sharing success stories and challenges from other teams provides a sense of camaraderie and keeps involvement high.  An example would be defining reasonable timelines for project execution.  "By pacing projects appropriately, teams can more easily meet expectations and avoid the feeling of panic that can come with not meeting a deadline.  These projects are important to the business and have real societal benefits, but if the team members are only working on them for a few hours a week, reasonable expectations are key"

Being sure to define expectations and responsibilities in advance, while providing tools and support to make their jobs easier can result in highly productive local Green Teams and tremendous results.  

How Energy Star Built A Market For Energy Efficient Buildings

When it comes to promoting the use of energy efficient products and systems, few programs can claim the success that the Energy Star labeling system has had. Since its introduction in 1992, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Energy Star system has provided research and technical information that allows consumers and businesses to choose the most energy-efficient solutions and systems available. Here at The Efficiency Buyer, we’re huge fans of the Energy Star program, not to mention the billions of dollars it saves individuals and businesses each year.

When the EPA expanded the Energy Star program in 1995 to include buildings, it was with the help of Bob Sauchelli, who had joined the agency one year prior and has recently retired from the agency. I  spent time talking with Bob (you can hear the whole interview here), and asked him about some of the major accomplishments of the Energy Star Buildings program, the challenges the initiative needed to overcome and where he sees it heading in the future. We also talked about Energy Efficiency project investment, and the ROI metrics used by various industries to measure success.

Origins of the Energy Star Buildings Program

When Bob joined Energy Star in 1994, the program was in its infancy. What he brought to Energy Star initially was a background in business, having spent the early part of his career developing operational improvements in banking. He realized that the conversation around energy needed to be refocused around the business advantages of creating more energy efficient buildings. Bob began promoting the operational aspect, or what he called the “saving money” part of energy efficiency.

“As an MBA, I had a different perspective than most of the engineers and energy policy-makers working within the Energy Star program. I understood the decision-making process for capital improvements in business, and what drives the decision to adopt energy efficiency.”

Creating a Market for Energy Efficient Buildings

Early on it was clear that if the program were to be a success it would need to stimulate market demand for energy efficient buildings and design. It wasn’t enough to promote the environmental aspect or even the direct rebate side of the story; it had to make sense from a business standpoint. Not only did energy efficiency need to be able to compete with other types of capital improvements in buildings, but it also had to be perceived as low-risk and a credible solution.

This takes advantage of the energy efficiency equation. On the one side you have market demand for energy efficient buildings, while on the other you have to have the products and the services that are credible, that are proven, and that can be implemented in cost-effective ways.  Out of the need to get the market engaged evolved the four major elements that became the cornerstone of this innovative program.

Making It Easy For Businesses To See How Their Buildings Stacked Up

First was the energy performance rating tool called Portfolio Manager, used to measure the actual energy performance of a building.  This tool allows property owners to us to enter information about their building and it will normalize the data for weather, location, building type, use and climate so that businesses could compare buildings in different areas of the country and get an apples-to-apples comparison.  “Allowing businesses to see their building performance against their peers regardless of location was a real eye opener for many companies,” said Sauchelli.  Additionally, many municipalities are now requiring commercial buildings over a certain size to complete the Portfolio Manager process and publish the results publicly.

Proof of Building Performance

One buildings have successfully completed the Portfolio Manager process, they can be presented with a Statement of Energy Performance.  This is a legal document from the E.P.A. representing the Energy Efficiency performance of a building and can be used in public records, for marketing of a building and for annual reports.

Competing to be a Star

A third pillar was the establishment of the Energy Star Certification for buildings that scored  in the top 25% amongst similar buildings across the country in energy efficiency.  “Building owners started to compete to be above the 75th percentile,” explained Sauchelli, “as having an Energy Star building was a meaningful differentiator in the market and delivered a level of credibility.”

Finding Credible Products and Services for Energy Efficiency Projects

The fourth area of focus was making sure that commercial property owners had access to a comprehensive list of products and services that could help them execute on energy efficiency initiatives.  “To increase the likelihood that businesses would succeed in their efficiency projects, we needed to connect them with service providers that could help them execute. EPA has working with, training and pulling together comprehensive lists of credible service providers for building owners to work with for years,” said Sauchelli.  And of course, don’t forget about Energy Star rated products.

How Energy Efficiency Investment Varies by Industry

Of course different businesses make decisions about energy efficiency in different ways. For example, a non-profit sees it one way, while a hotel or restaurant sees it differently, and a commercial property company sees it still another way.  Return-on-investment is a common criteria, with most energy efficiency projects delivering a 2-3 year ROI.

It’s important to look at not only what the cost of energy is for a particular location, but also the role that energy plays in that business. Some businesses are more energy-intensive than others. For example, in commercial real estate, 35 percent of the operating expenses of a building is energy costs.  
The energy efficiency costs for an industry that is highly energy-intensive are more easily financially justifiable. On the other hand, a warehouse has less opportunity to save energy due to the already low levels of consumption. Other considerations include hours of operation of the business, levels of lighting required, cooling needs,  the cost of energy in a particular region, the cost of materials and services, etc.

The Bottom Line

There’s no doubt that the Energy Star Buildings program has been a tremendous success both in reducing energy consumption and increasing the profitability of businesses. The groundwork has been laid for the continued success of Energy Star and other initiatives in energy efficiency. With the recent adoption of climate change commitments at the COP21 talks in Paris, measuring energy use is more important than ever.
“Energy Star and the EPA still play a major role in not only energy efficiency, but also in the reduction of carbon emissions. Through the Portfolio Manager tool we can measure not only the energy savings of a building, but also the emissions caused by its energy consumption.”

Our heartfelt thanks go out to Bob for not only his time and insights, but for the great work he’s done on promoting energy efficiency throughout the years.  We’ll stay in touch as he works to bring the lessons learned from Energy Star to countries around the world.

Podcast - Energy Star and Energy Efficiency in Commercial Buildings

Take a listen to this fascinating interview with Bob Sauchelli,  one of the originators of Energy Star Buildings, as we discuss the history of Energy Star for commercial buildings and how it helped establish a market for energy and resource efficiency projects.  We discuss the successes of the program, the challenges it needed to overcome, how different industries and regions evaluate project investment criteria and how Bob, now retired from the EPA, is working to take 20+ years of Energy Star best practices and share them with other countries looking to tackle energy efficiency.   

A quick note to let you know the thoughts expressed in this interview are Bob's and are not those of the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Podcast: Financing and Executing on Deep energy Retrofits in Commercial Buildings

With energy efficiency project delivering returns-on-investment in just a few years, you would think that every building owner would scrambling to find contractors. But that is not always the case.  In this informative podcast with Charlie Lord from Renew Energy Partners, we discuss the components of a typical deep energy retrofit project, the types of ROI and benefits that businesses are looking for and the financing approaches that are available to help get these important projects off the ground.

How to Eliminate Styrofoam Cups in Your Enterprise

I don’t know about you, but styrofoam cups make me a little crazy.  Everytime I use one I think, “Wow, that’s going to sit in a landfill for a looooong time.”  So when I started working with Cynthia Curtis, who was the Chief Sustainability Officer of CA Technologies at the time, and realized how many styrofoam cups they  were still using in cafeterias and break rooms, it came as no surprise that getting rid of them was a priority for her.  And she wasn’t alone.

When CA distributed an employee survey to judge reaction to potential sustainability projects, eliminating styrofoam cups was a very close #2 in North America (where the vast majority of styrofoam was being used).  Seems like an easy project, right?  Not so fast.  Although the sustainability team worked hard to plan effectively and the project was ultimately a success, they hit some bumps in the road along the way.   Here’s how they did it, some (painful) lessons learned and, ultimately, some pretty impressive results.

Strategy for Eliminating Styrofoam Cups in the Enterprise

The goal was to eliminate use of styrofoam cups entirely in North America, the region with the greatest use.  The initial discussion among stakeholders and employees were so positive that it was  decided to expand the scope and use this as an opportunity to eliminate all disposable cups.  A tall (or potentially Venti) order.  To accomplish this, the company planned to:
  • Give every employee their own CA branded mug
  • Provide mugs and additional reuseable mugs and tumblers in the cafeterias and disposable cups in the pantries for use by visitors
  • Put each employee in charge of washing and maintaining their own cup
  • Effectively communicate - in conjunction with marketing - to employees through multiple channels to announce the initiative
  • Work closely with facility management to implement
  • Use metrics and employee feedback to gauge success and define areas for improvement or modification

Launch - The Beginning of the End for Styrofoam

Making sure that employees were prepared for this shift required careful planning.  It just so happened  CA was going through a re-branding exercise at the time and were able to work with marketing to coordinate efforts.  The CA Technologies coffee mug actually became an important part of the internal re-branding effort and each cup came with one of CA’s four core principles printed on it.  
They also included the news in departmental newsletters, published blog posts, put signage in place and distributed details with the mugs as they were distributed.  You can’t over communicate on this.  Everyone loves their morning cup of coffee and you are bound to ruffle some feathers when you change their daily rituals.


In order to deploy the reusable cup strategy, and eliminate styrofoam from all locations, Cynthia worked hand-in-hand with the facility management team as they are responsible for stocking pantries and cafeteria management at our locations.  With their help CA made sure there were extra mugs and tumblers available at all locations, clear signage was put in place describing the effort and employees responsibilities, and that all disposable cups were taken out of circulation.

Lessons Learned

  • Don’t eliminate all “to-go” cups at once:  It turns out that styrofoam and “to-go” are not the same thing.  When they decided to eliminate all disposable cups, CA bit off a little more than they could chew.  There were situations where visitors could not find an available mug for their coffee, and employees heading out for meetings or to the airport had no way to grab a cup of coffee or water for the road. I was told a story about a guest who ended up using a soup bowl for coffee. Ouch!
  • CA quickly reintroduced a limited number of disposable cups at each location.  They are made from recycled materials and are compostable.  Since the team has become used to using mugs, not only do the new reusable cups having a much lighter footprint, the team is using substantially fewer to-go cups overall.
  • Overestimate cleaning supply needs:  With thousands of employees suddenly responsible for washing dishes in the sink every day, CA found that ensuring the sink area was properly stocked was a challenge.  Be sure to order more sponges and dish soap and put a process in place for refreshing them consistently.  Nobody likes cleaning their coffee cup with a nasty old sponge.
  • Listen for employee feedback:  As with any sustainability initiative, it is important to pay attention to feedback from the team.  While some criticism will always be expected, legitimate concerns will turn into themes, and those should be acted upon.

Results - That’s a Whole Lot of Million-Year Waste Being Avoided

Almost 36 Sears Towers.
That’s how tall the 1.236 million styrofoam cups that CA did not used in the first 10 months of this initiative would reach if they were stacked one on top of another.  CA also eliminated over 2070kg of waste that would otherwise go to a landfill (it would be a lot more, but styrofoam is wicked light!).  Finally, they’ve eliminated that nagging voice in the back of your head reminding you that the styrofoam cup you just threw out is going to be around for another million years.
Categories:  Facilities, employee engagement, materials reduction

Tags:  facilities management, environment, employee engagement, materials reduction, sustainability, best practices

America's e-Waste Problem. #Infographic

E-Waste is an enormous and growing issue in America and around the globe.  Don't believe me?  Just open the junk drawers in your house and look to see how many old phones, iPods and Nintendo DS'es are still sitting in there.  And that doesn't even scratch the surface of the total e-waste problem.  Here are some of the stats boiled down in a handy infographic.

Podcast: Energy Efficiency in Hotels with Boston Green Tourism

Efficiency in hotels is more than just agreeing to use your towel more than once, as you will find out in this terrific podcast interview with Dan Ruben of Boston Green Tourism.  We dig into the types of projects that deliver consistent ROI, how hotels and hotel chains make decisions on investing in efficiency projects and the types of new technologies that are coming onto the market and making a difference.

Take a listen.  You'll be glad you did.