New initiative focuses on green offices

After receiving a C+ on the Sustainable Endowment Institute’s College Sustainability Report Card last year, USC is now looking to bolster its green practices by reaching out to both students and faculty with a new initiative that encourages offices to make their workplace greener.

The USC Green Office Certification Program, headed by USC Sustainability Program Manager Matthew Oden, aims to help offices within the university implement sustainable habits. The program, which kicks off with a training session Thursday, evaluates the sustainability of individual offices and awards them a bronze, silver, gold or platinum rating.

Oden said the certification program’s main goal is to educate people on types of activities and basic changes that can be made to “go green.”

“A common question I get asked by staff is always, ‘What can I do?’” Oden said.

Oden said he hopes that by supporting basic changes in USC’s workplaces, the program, which officially launched on Friday, can become a tool to make major strides toward sustainability at the university.

Through the program, offices will be evaluated based on factors such as tendency to recycle, choice of lighting fixtures and use of Energy Star-qualified electronics whenever possible. Offices will have access to a “green” calculator, where they can input information about their practices and see their green rating. An official evaluation is then conducted before a certificate noting the office’s green rating is awarded.

Though some think the program is a step in the right direction, others said they think motivating their offices to participate will be a challenge.

Mansour Rahimi, associate professor of industrial and systems engineering at Viterbi and an expert in workplace design, said although the program is a good step toward educating people, he thought it would be hard to convince staff members to participate.

“Staff are already under a tremendous time pressure,” he said. “For them to take extra time to perform new tasks takes away from their daily routine.”

Rahimi suggested that although the program may be an effective awareness campaign, it would need to be written into job descriptions and more attention would need to be paid to a clear task reward system.

Concerns were also raised about of the financial costs associated with going green — from buying Energy Star electronics to switching to fair-trade coffee.

But Oden insisted that costs would ultimately be minimal, and the program would help foot a small portion of the bill by providing complimentary signage and stickers for offices to publicize their green practices.

When it comes to the larger purchases, such as computers or printers, Oden said he doesn’t expect offices to purchase all new products immediately but to gradually change their purchasing habits.

“We want people to be thinking, ‘Next time we make that purchase, we’ll go and buy eco-products,’” he said.

The program aims to include both students and faculty members. According to Shana Rappaport, a graduate student studying communications management who is closely involved with the certification program, it makes the definition of “office” purposefully broad to be as inclusive as possible in inviting participants; even student organizations can participate.

“An office can be a room on a floor that has five people in it,” Rappaport said. “Or it can be an entire floor and multiple departments.”

Though there is no reward for earning a high rating — besides a certificate — Rappaport said offices should want to participate to make the school greener.

“USC takes a lot of pride in itself, and as environmental issues increase in importance, taking steps towards sustainability is something that our students, faculty and staff can all take pride in,” she said.

The hope is that once stickers and certificates make their way into offices as part of the Networking & Awareness category of the program, more people will be compelled to participate. Oden and Rappaport hope to have 100 offices certified by the end of the academic year.

2 replies
  1. Matt Oden - USC Sustainability Manager
    Matt Oden - USC Sustainability Manager says:

    The first training session was an incredible success!

    We trained close to 20 people to roll the program out in offices throughout the university.

    We’ve had 47 registrations for the training sessions since last Friday and they’re rolling in at an average of 1 per hour today.

    Today, we had informative dialogue and even identified a strategies to engage people who might be resistant to change.

    I think Dave is a bit narrow in his perception of where we are as a community. It’s all about mobilization and we are well on our way to being a leading university in the sustainability movement. Just ask my colleagues at the UC schools with whom I work closely.

    Dave should know that this is one element of a much larger strategy. If many people in our community don’t know what “phantom power” is, then we have to start with things like stickers to engage everyone where they are at.

    Many people are misinformed about basic things. For example, many think that our blue recycling bins are for paper only. WRONG – all recycling bins on the university are co-mingled (i.e., paper, glass, metal, plastic).

    We have to start from scratch on some things and move quickly to take a leadership role internationally.


    Matt Oden

  2. Dave
    Dave says:

    I’m sorry, but I don’t see stickers and certificates as a way for USC to improve on its C+ mark. Quite frankly, I feel USC has fallen so far behind other Universities (especially California universities), I don’t ever seeing them catching up. If can’t beleive the answer lies in a sticker.

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