THE GREEN OFFICE PROJECT
Because the Cedar Tree Foundation supports and promotes environmental protection and health, we strive to implement best possible environmental practices in our work place. While we continually look for new ideas and areas of improvement, here is what we’ve done so far:
In April of 2007, Cedar Tree moved into a newly rented office space in a 19th century office building located in downtown Boston. We worked to incorporate environmental improvements during the renovation of the space prior to taking occupancy.
Commercial carpet can be a significant environmental health hazard. Carpet backing, which holds the fibers together, and the adhesive used to stick carpet to the floor, have both been linked to sources of indoor air pollution. New carpets emit hazardous chemicals into the air (off-gas), and these chemicals can cause health issues from headaches to more serious neurological problems. Our new carpet is certified green with the commercial carpet industry's first fully sustainable, cradle to cradle carpet backing. The carpet contains 25% recycled materials and when we are done with it, the company will take it back and recycle it into their new carpets. The adhesive is non-toxic and low-emissions certified.
Paint, which often contains a high level of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), is also a source of harmful air pollution. VOCs are linked to upper respiratory irritation, headaches, and nausea. With this in mind, we chose to use Eco-spec, an eco-friendly, non-toxic, latex-based paint with lower levels of VOCs than traditional brands.
We asked the building management to try to limit the use of vinyl in our new office. The production and disposal of vinyl is a high-polluting health hazard. Instead of vinyl baseboards and kitchen flooring, we requested rubber base-boards and kitchen linoleum (a more sustainable, environmental flooring alternative).
Each individual office has its own pump for heating and cooling. This allows us to better control our energy use, saving energy on more temperate days and turning cooling/heating off when staff members are out of town. In addition, offices are fitted with detector light switches that also give staff the option of turning on half the overhead lights on brighter days.
The addition of a kitchen to our office space allows employees to bring and/or cook lunch in the office, using silverware and dishes that can be washed and reused. This reduces our dependence on highly processed lunch items, carry out containers, and disposable utensils and plates. As an alternative to Styrofoam or paper cups, staff members and guests are provided with ceramic mugs to cut down on waste.
The staff also participates in Project Oscar, Boston’s 24-hour community compost program. Food scraps are collected in the office and are deposited in the City Hall Plaza compost bin--one of six throughout the city.
Plastics and Aluminum
The building’s management company facilitates the recycling of bottles and cans on a daily basis.
Due to the results of staff research that indicates bottled water may be no healthier than tap water, and may actually be even more contaminated (unless marked as distilled), we have discontinued our practice of purchasing bottled water. Any negative health impact on the employees is assumed to be nonexistent and we are no longer demanding (through our purchase practice) the creation and transport of plastic bottles. Reusable water bottles and a carbonator are made available to the staff for daily use.
We purchased the main reception unit from Teknion, a company that uses recycled raw materials in its production. The reception unit was constructed of 53% recycled material and is green guard certified for low amounts of formaldehyde, TVOC, aldehydes and 4-phrnlcyclohexene. We are continuing to explore product options with this company or one with similar environmental/sustainable policies for future furniture purchases.
The production of recycled paper uses less energy and contributes less water and air pollution than the process of using fresh lumber to produce paper. In addition, the practice of continually harvesting trees leads to nutrient erosion in the soil, which is often offset by the use of chemical fertilizers. Paper purchased for Cedar Tree office use (including office stationary) is 100 % post consumer waste recycled. Staff members at the Cedar Tree Foundation take a conservative approach to in-house printing, often taking advantage of the designated printer stocked with scrap paper or print double sided whenever possible. All empty ink and toner cartridges are returned to the manufacturer for recycling. In addition, Cedar Tree disposes of all paperwaste through the building’s recycling program. To reduce printing overall, the Cedar Tree staff uses an intranet server that allows employees to access documents via the network without having to print separate copies of shared documents. This also increases access for staff to work remotely to reduce travel impact.
Outsourced printing is completed by Red Sun Press, a printing and design union shop that shares Cedar Tree’s strong commitment to the environment. Red Sun uses a variety of recycled papers with high post-consumer waste content and vegetable based inks in place of traditional oil based options. In 2000, Red Sun received the Commonwealth of Massachusetts “Buy Recycled and Environmentally Preferred Products” Business Award for their pioneering role in recycled paper printing.
Binders and Folders
Standard 3 rings binders used in an office setting are usually vinyl, a plastic material that contains harmful phthalates. Cedar Tree has chosen to replace these non-biodegradable products with Guided's recycled binders. This product contains a minimum of 35% post consumer recycled material and is 100% recyclable. These binders are assembled with a reusable screw and rings making it easy to replace old covers. In addition to using this Guided product, Cedar Tree stocks their recycled pocket folders, dividers, and cd/dvd cases. File folders are produced from 100% Post-Consumer content.
Traditional household/office cleaning products often contain chemicals that have been linked to a range of conditions including cancer, asthma, allergies, hormone disruption, and reproductive and developmental disorders. At Cedar Tree, we only purchase non-toxic cleaning products for office use.
Cedar Tree recently transitioned to a fully electronic grant application process. All letters of inquiry, grant proposals and reports are submitted through the foundation’s online portal rather than paper form. In the past, Cedar Tree would print a full binder of all proposals on the docket for each Board member. This information is now provided to the Board on discs.
Transportation and Commuting
To encourage the use of public transportation, we have a commuter program available to staff that allows them to put money aside on a pretax basis for commuting expenses. This program also provides extra convenience by delivering monthly train/bus passes to employees’ home addresses.
The Foundation’s primary banking relationship is with a Boston based community bank which has a stated commitment to a community strategy with environmental protection as one of the goals. For example, in 2013 Eastern Bank provided $42 million of financing for the creation of four solar farms. They also have more LEED certified branches than any other Bank in Massachusetts.
Mission Related Investing
We view our investments as an integrated component of our mission and believe adding social value to the management of the investment portfolio and reducing the dissonance between the philanthropic mission of the Foundation and the management of its assets serves as both a return enhancement and risk mitigation strategy. Cedar Tree’s Board targets at least 75% of the Foundation’s portfolio to be managed in accordance with mission. RBC's Socially Responsible Investing Wealth Management Group serves as the Foundation’s investment consultant. The RBC team has the capability to completely customize the foundation's investment portfolio in accordance with its MRI policy and approach doing so with the philosophy that they will provide competitive market returns.
RBC (Royal Bank of Canada) is also a leader in corporate commitment to issues of sustainability and diversity. Each investment manager in the portfolio is assigned a shade of green depending on how closely they align investment selection with environmental concerns : lighter green managers ensure that the worst environmental performers are not included in portfolios while darker green managers proactively invest in innovative companies producing or providing environmental solutions and or the sustainable management of natural resources. Currently over 90% of the Foundation’s portfolio is some shade of green.
To offset the Foundation’s carbon footprint, the staff reviews their everyday commute, work travel, annual meetings and office utilities to calculate their entire output. Offsets are purchased through Native Energy and will be used to support a different environmental project each year. In its inaugural year, Cedar Tree’s carbon offset purchase supported the construction of a wind turbine at the Capricorn Ridge Wind Energy Center in Texas. This year, Cedar Tree’s carbon offsets will be used in support of the Seneca Meadows Landfill Gas To Energy Project in Waterloo, NY. This project collects methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and collects it from 413 landfill gas extraction wells, converting it into enough energy to power over 20,000 homes and businesses. In addition to the landfill gas-to-energy project, Seneca Meadows has a LEED certified education center and a wetlands preserve.
For the Future
The Cedar Tree Foundation will continue to enact and incorporate the values and philosophy that shape our grant making into all our activities. We continually test new ideas to reduce our environmental footprint; and we are encouraged by the fact that the changes detailed above have improved the quality of office life while, for the most part, costing the same or less than conventional choices.