Feature Article - April 2015
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Going Green

Small Steps Make a Big Difference

By Deborah L. Vence

Making kitchens greener is another easy way to make facilities more environmentally friendly.

"Get rid of paper products, paper towels, etc. No disposable products. Go to LED light bulbs. You can reduce fluorescent lights from T12 to T8 and from 32 watts to 28 watts. And, what you also can do is [rather than] have three- or four-tube light fixtures, put in two tubes instead of four," Mattingly said.

If that's not enough, consider using green cleaning products and get rid of bleach.

"You don't need bleach to be sanitary," he said. "You can use hydrogen peroxide-based products. You can go out and find companies that will give you the equipment to get the materials that will kill germs. Bleach is harmful to breathe the vapors. But, also, you don't want bleach out into the water, when your water goes down the drain it ends up in the watershed."

Mattingly, who also led the effort to upgrade many aspects of the NRPA offices, including installing more LED lighting and optimizing performance of heating and cooling systems, suggested facilities conduct a water and energy audit as well.

"Leaky faucets are a water waster; and for an energy audit—track your energy bill. Look at the energy bill every month. Don't run things that don't need to be run. You don't want to be cooling closets and storage areas unless you have important papers or artifacts in there. Use natural light as well," he said. "We have lights in our atrium that we don't turn on anymore because we have a skylight and that lets light in."

Also, doing a waste stream audit is beneficial because it lets you know that you are recycling.

"Everything at a desk can be recycled. Everything that's wet. We have recycle bins, not trash cans anymore in people's offices here. It makes people get up and walk around, and saves time, too. We're saving on trash bags and time for the janitor," he said.

Meanwhile, Dolesh recommended that facilities create a rain garden to show commitment to water conservation in their operations. (A rain garden is defined as a planted depression or a hole that allows rainwater runoff from impervious urban areas, such as roofs, driveways, walkways, parking lots and compacted lawn areas, the chance to be absorbed.) To help pay for a rain garden, county agencies and city governments sometimes will provide small grants.

"I like the rain garden. It's an attractive landscape feature," Dolesh said, adding that one can be completed for between $500 and $3,000 (ballpark figure), although scale and location affect the cost, too.

Another good idea includes using rain barrels on downspouts. "The notion of putting in a rain barrel in a gutter is great for low and drought conditions," he said; and set up a pollinator's garden or way station.

"Monarchs have declined 95 percent and there's fear that they are becoming endangered," Dolesh said. "There is a huge volunteer group to help save Monarchs by planting milkweed, Monarch Watch. You can install a Monarch way station and other flowering plants that are beneficial for Monarchs."

If that's not enough, facilities also should look at environmentally responsible purchasing.

"And, that means evaluate what you do in and outside the building," Dolesh said. "What chemicals am I using for fertilizers, ice control, landscape and turf areas? What pesticides or insecticides [am I using] to control pests?"

But, sometimes, recreation facility managers get locked into patterns and don't want to change their ways. They might be reluctant to change in order to be greener if it means a price difference to buy environmentally responsible cleaning supplies. If it's more expensive, they might think, why bother?

"So, creating this culture of being willing to go the extra distance has to be founded on communicating values. The benefits are that staff and the public are going to be healthier, using less toxic substances and appreciate it even more. So, it's the one thing to make the decision to use it; if not essential consideration for doing it and why," Dolesh said, noting that the NRPA facility also has gone greener and switched to non-plastic cups, opting to use mugs instead.

In fact, its greener efforts this past year won the NRPA the Green Challenge Award in 2014. The NRPA, recognized at the annual Loudoun Dulles Green Business Challenge awards gala on Oct. 29, was selected as the winner of the Commercial Business Category over three other finalists. This also was the second year for the NRPA's participation, with the association achieving Gold in 2013. The challenge focuses on five specific categories: education and outreach, energy, water, waste and transportation.

The Green Business Challenge is a points-based competition and certification process that challenges and encourages businesses to implement more efficient and sustainable practices. Participation demonstrates leadership, an eye toward improving the bottom line, creating a healthier work environment for employees and minimizing the environmental impact organizations have on their communities.