Kickstarting a firm-wide sustainability policy

On Earth Day 2018, IMEG launched a corporate-wide sustainability policy to implement actions to conserve energy and water and reduce carbon emissions and waste at the firm’s 40+ offices. Taylor Gawthorp, coordinator of the policy’s implementation across these offices, answers the following questions about the process, challenges, successes, and lessons learned during the first year.

Taylor Gawthorp, WELL AP, is a mechanical engineer working out of IMEG’s office in Madison, Wis. She has a strong commitment to integrating social and environmental considerations in all aspects of her life, using her work as a medium to influence the community and environment around her to create sustainable change.

Q: What are the primary goals of IMEG’s sustainability policy?
A: We wanted to develop sustainable strategies to implement across the country in the four categories that very important to IMEG: 1) Place, which deals with our offices around the country and how they operate, 2) People, making sure they are engaged and being mindful of them in our efforts, 3) Projects, focusing on our commitment to our clients, and 4) Profits, so that we can understand the monetary benefit to implementing this policy. Our ultimate goal, through the work we do, is to make a tangible impact on the future environmental footprint of the United States. Our policy will continue our leadership in sustainability not only through our design but also through our everyday actions and how we interact with the environment.

Q: Where did IMEG turn for guidance as it formed the policy?
A: Many of the first policies added to the document were common sense actions that we already were doing –recycling, encouraging our committees to support local organizations with strong sustainable commitments, etc., But we wanted to push the company further. To do that, we looked at the published standards in the sustainability community. Wanting to ensure the well-being of our employees, a lot of what we have in our sustainability plan can also be referenced in standards like The WELL Building Standard. We even reviewed examples of policy documents that our clients/peers share publicly.

Q: How did you get it off the ground at each office?
A:  We launched the policy companywide, asking for team members to become an advocate for their office location. We then developed a Sustainability Plan Implementation Committee of these office “champions,” all of whom are passionate about sustainability and want to be a positive force of change in all our locations. Each champion has an implementation checklist that lists mandatory compliance actions as well as 22 optional targeted goals from which they choose 12 that work for their location.

Q: How did you maintain progress and assist the offices in reaching their goals?
A:  Our Implementation Committee meets once a month to discuss challenges offices are seeing and problem solve together as a group. This is also a great medium for the committee to get to know others who are passionate about sustainability and share their success stories as well. If an office location is struggling to reach their goals, we will meet one-on-one to figure out the best strategy for success. Our office champions also ask questions and share resources and ideas via a team chat group we have established.

Q: What metrics are you tracking and what outcomes do you hope to see in year two?
A: In general, we are of course tracking each office’s progress and any common barriers to success. More specifically we are tracking disposables saved from landfills, water and electric usage at each office location, cost savings from implementing sustainable strategies, success stories throughout our locations, and much more. In the next year I would love to see all our locations at 100% compliance.

Q: What success or successes – quantifiable or not – stand out so far?
A:  For me any positive sustainable change stands out, and just seeing all the different things each one of our offices around the country has done is just incredible. We’re really starting to look at the cost savings from implementing these strategies, which is great for showing a financial benefit to people who may be more focused on the business side of things. We have quite a few offices collecting compost to donate to local farmers; our Naperville employees donated their aluminum cans to their Humane Society to raise money for the shelter; and our downtown Chicago office reprogrammed and donated 19 computers to Chicago Hopes for Kids, keeping those heavy metals out of the landfill and giving homeless children resources to succeed academically. It’s the success stories like these that truly make every part of the Sustainability Plan worth it, and I can’t help but smile.

Q: Any final advice for other firms considering starting their own sustainability policy?
A: Don’t let the daunting idea of developing and implementing a policy deter you from trying to make sustainable change within your organization. Identify others who are passionate and start with the little things – making sure everyone has a recycling bin and knows what they can recycle, print double sided, organize carpools, etc. Adding up all those little changes can make a BIG impact.

Read IMEG’s sustainability policy.