Green energy teams sustainability goals

Designing Paladino and Company’s new Seattle office to be as green as possible was a no-brainer. However, as we began our discussions about the design, the collaborative spaces, the operable windows and the recycled finishes, I realized no one was talking about how to move into the space in a sustainable way.

Auburn University in Alabama recently stated that students recycled 15 tons of cardboard when moving into the dorms this fall. Though similar statistics on corporate moves are hard to find, there’s no question that moving creates a lot of waste, as well as a good amount of stress.

In a web search, I found little written about conducting a sustainable corporate move. We’d be starting from scratch when developing a process and policies to follow. But I was confident that with our background in sustainable frameworks we could come up with a successful procedure for moving our office to minimize waste and and create a better experience for staff.

Forming the Team and Establishing Goals

The first step was to form a moving taskforce with representatives from departments involved in the move – operations, talent management and IT. We asked several of my fellow consultants to provide technical knowledge and research. We also asked the Vice President of Talent Management to be our executive sponsor.

Then, our group established goals for the move organized under the Triple Top Line:

  • People: make the moving process less stressful for employees.
  • Planet: reduce waste, hire a green moving company.
  • Prosperity: reduce amount of ‘stuff’ to be moved; minimize downtime of workers during move.

We then surveyed the staff (click here for our survey questions) to identify their primary concerns and requests around the move using SurveyMonkey, a free online tool. These are the top three deliverables our employees wanted:

  • The move to be easy.
  • Training on how to maximize the green features of the new office.
  • A report on the sustainability results after the move.

Selecting a Moving Company

Our next task was to select a moving company. We created a list of criteria for a green mover. These criteria included:

  • Use reusable containers, boxing, or packaging.
  • Minimize trips between moving locations.
  • Use fuel efficient vehicles or alternative fuel vehicles.
  • Demonstrate a commitment to corporate sustainability (i.e. giving back to the community, donating, carbon offsetting, volunteering etc.).
  • Potentially have a LEED-rated headquarters.

Unfortunately there was a gap between what the web told us was possible, and what was available in our market (no moving trucks running on French fry grease in Seattle yet).

We then researched and interviewed several local companies requiring answers to a list of specific sustainability questions that they include in their proposal about how they would help us move sustainably. We selected our moving company, ACE Relocation Systems, based in part on our green criteria.

Source Reduction

A key strategy was to reduce the amount of material we’d be moving in the first place. This would ensure we could recycle, donate or responsibly dispose it, eliminate the energy (and cost) required to move it, and make it easier on staff to unpack in our new space.

Paladino hadn’t moved to a new building in over ten years, instead expanding to a second floor a few years ago. So there were duplicates of items like kitchen appliances, supplies and reference guides that we could ditch for the move to our new headquarters, which is on one floor.

A number of smaller moves of individuals or teams between floors had left us with boxes around the office that hadn’t been touched since they were packed (we all have these in our closets at home, right?).

We began by inventorying what we called company items – furniture, appliances, project binders, marketing materials, product samples, reference books, project plans and drawings – both stored in our office and in our off-site storage facility. Individuals in each department were asked to sort through the materials and identify what they needed to keep and what could be tossed. The CEO, Executive VP, and the longest tenured manager had the ultimate say in what could be disposed of.

Sorting company items
Sorting company items

Next, we worked with the staff to sort items at their workstations. We only wanted people to move items they’d actually use in the new space, so we developed guidelines and provided bins for people to sort their “keep” and “toss” items.

Items in the “toss” pile were sorted and separated by operations staff for recycling, donation, or shredding. We donated 153 binders via Craigslist to a start-up, sewing instructor and neighborhood groups, and took another 150 to Goodwill. We held a staff drawing for the appliances we wouldn’t be taking with us, and sold one of our refrigerators that was still in good working order.

Binders waiting to be donated
Binders waiting to be donated

We also kept much of the conference room furniture, desk chairs and bookshelves for use in our new space, as a lot of it was only a few years old and in very good condition. Finishes in the new space were selected to coordinate with our colorful green and yellow conference chairs.

This strategy helped reduce the impact of packaging and shipping of new items.

Waste Reduction and Space Optimization

To reduce waste during the move itself, we rented reusable plastic crates instead of purchasing boxes and the movers used blankets for padding instead of single use foam or bubble wrap. We also convinced the movers not to shrink wrap filing cabinets, instead requiring employees to lock them up to keep them closed during transport.

Reusable crates made packing easy and reduced waste
Reusable crates made packing easy and reduced waste

Our moving company charged us by both weight and volume in their trucks. More truck trips would increase emissions. We addressed the weight through source reduction. To reduce volume and the number of crates to rent, we encouraged employees to fill their filing cabinets first as the cabinets would take the same amount of space in the truck whether or not they were full.

Improving the Employee Experience

Moving can take a toll on employees. It’s disruptive, it can create a mess and it requires employees to take time out of their busy schedules to sort through materials and pack. The interruption also has a business cost as it reduces productivity and clients may be inconvenienced.

We reduced the impact of the move on employees and the business through a number of strategies:

  • Conducting training, so everyone would understand milestone dates (when crates needed to be packed and unpacked) and what was expected of them.
  • Designating one afternoon as packing time – while employees packed up their desks and personal belongings on a Thursday afternoon, IT shut down the servers and phone and moved equipment to the new space. By Friday morning, employees were able to work remotely while operations packed the rest of the space in preparation for the weekend move.
  • Holding a breakfast orientation in the new space the following Monday to explain how features of the building worked and celebrate the successful move! Thanks to operations and IT putting in hard work over the weekend setting up our equipment, we were able to get right to work after breakfast.
  • Giving employees the opportunity to provide feedback about what’s working and what’s not through email communication and a post-move survey.

Results and Lessons Learned

What worked well for us was starting early and engaging with representatives from across the company to ensure all stakeholders had an opportunity to provide input into the process. While the source reduction process required an investment of time up front, it made for an easier move and unpacking process when we got to the office.

While reusing old furniture might not seem as “fun,” putting it in a new space brings a little bit of new life to it. We ensured the conference rooms all have the same color chairs. The colors match the finishes in the room and it looks much more polished than it did in our old space!

It also pays to coordinate with the design team to ensure that the storage capacity of the new space matches the amount of materials you will be moving in. Although  we reduced a lot of material, we still had overflow after losing our large library.

Our moving company told us we had three to four times less waste left over in our space than the typical company our size. Because we tracked our waste, we were able to determine that of the 4357 pounds of waste from our move, we diverted 4077 pounds through recycling, donations and sales. That is a 94% diversion rate!

Through source reduction and maximizing space in the trucks, we estimated that we saved approximately two truckloads or four round trips. We only moved a mile from our old office, so that only means we saved 0.4 gallon of gas and 3.5kg CO2 emissions.  However, if you extrapolate that data to a 100-mile move, the potential savings are significant.

A corporate move may seem stressful enough without adding additional tasks to make it green. However, as our own move demonstrates, with careful planning and dedicated stakeholders, a sustainable move can pay off with big results for the environment and employees.

Candice Goldsmith is an Associate Green Building Consultant, FMP, LEED® AP O+M in Paladino’s Seattle Office

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