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Hanley Sustainability Institute

HSI grad assistants kick off office ecology project to help campus offices' sustainability

By Mark Gokavi

Hanley Sustainability Institute graduate students Tess Isemann and Lauren Wolford are working with the Center for Leadership on a pilot project to increase awareness of everyday habits in University of Dayton work spaces that they hope will lead to sustainability improvements.

The duo examined procurement, catering and work food habits including the use of paper plates or one-time plastic bags/utensils, office plants, transportation to work and using powerstrips that get turned off at the end of the workday, among other items. They plan to compile and present their findings early this semester.

“We’re not looking to change up everything that you’re doing,” Isemann said. “We’re looking to make your (office’s) current way of life better for the planet and people. Our team is able to identify where the operations of the office are now, and develop strategies to help the office meet goals, which ultimately help the university meet our climate commitments."

April Mescher, strategic partnerships and marketing director at the Center for Leadership, jumped at the opportunity for the Center for Leadership to be the case study after a “Lunch and Learn” put on by HSI.

Hosting more than 100 senior executives, emerging leaders, front-line supervisors and professionals from corporate, non-profit, education and government organizations weekly in their space, made it the perfect spot to pilot the program, according to Isemann and Wolford. There were plenty of opportunities in a controlled space to observe and monitor everything from how the space is performing, team operations and preparations, printed items and catering, and food waste.

“By nature, I am always looking to ensure we are leaving the planet a better place, anyway,” Mescher said, who added that Isemann told her, “You know your team is already doing a lot of the right things, but I think that we could offer some suggestions and alternatives.”

Mescher said she hopes other UD offices take advantage of the program.

“I think we should be leveraging these types of opportunities to make us stronger and more sustainable,” she said. “It’s painless. They are bright people that will help us all be better. It’s really a zero effort to host the audit on the office that’s being assessed. You need to allow them (to work) and be open to their feedback.”

Though the center’s assessment isn’t finished, Isemann said, “We were actually able to celebrate a lot of really good best practices that they are already accomplishing.” Wolford added, “The pilot of this program went very well, and we're looking forward to adding on a few more offices in the spring semester.”

This office ecology project piggy-backs the HSI's Green Office Initiative that offered certifications to recognize best practices in work spaces. The Green Office Initiative was part of the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) effort, which ultimately resulted in the University of Dayton earning a gold rating from the Association for the Advancement in Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).

Wolford and Isemann hope other students pick up the baton from them beyond this semester and that their initiative morphs into office “ambassadors” training others on best practices.

“Lauren and I had the bigger dreams of, well, what if the employee engagement was to make their offices more sustainable? Then, you’d hit two birds with one stone,” Isemann said. “You’d have employee education and you’d have peers teaching peers how to be more sustainable.”

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