How much can an office evolve in two years?
At the beginning of 2019, a group of RS&H associates in the engineering, architecture and consulting firm’s Denver office formed a grassroots committee with a singular mission to create a culture of sustainable practices in the workplace.
Now in 2021, it’s clear the Denver Sustainability Committee’s mission has brought about success. RS&H is now one of the few AEC firms to complete the rigorous process to become a Certifiably Green Business with the City and County of Denver – a program managed by the Denver Department of Environmental Health to provide education and recognition to businesses for exemplary environmental achievement.
“Our vision from day one was to achieve this certification, and the path evolved to meet associate needs, current trends and of course to make our environmentally sustainable initiatives fun,” said Steven Derengowski, an RS&H aviation planner and current Chair of the Denver Sustainability Committee. “It was great to see first-hand how our initiatives generated so much interest in environmental sustainability in the workplace.”
Practicing Sustainability on the Job
The genesis of the committee began with conversations around sustainability and resiliency regularly had with clients.
“I remember discussing how airports could be sustainably focused with my fellow associates and realized there was an opportunity to put our words into action,” Derengowski said. “I realized we needed to take the same sustainable actions in our office space.”
Soon, a handful of RS&H Denver associates formed the committee, kicking off associate-led initiatives borne out of an awareness for small things that could be changed around the office. The Denver office transitioned from single-use products to using permanent flatware, glasses and dishes. Every associate received a recycling bin and receptacles for battery recycling were made available.
These initiatives were just the start.
In August 2019, the committee launched a competition to promote more sustainable practices among associates, including biking to work and taking public transportation, walking during lunch and taking meetings outside the office to take advantage of the natural light and save energy.
Sarah Knue, current co-chair of the committee, joined the RS&H Denver office as an aviation water resources associate in 2019 and was excited to get her recycling bin and to find reusable coffee mugs instead of single-use paper cups. She joined the committee soon after.
“This is a huge differentiator for us, especially among young professionals who are looking for firms that take sustainability to heart,” Knue said. “Being able to offer visitors a cup of coffee from a mug instead of a paper cup makes a small but noticeable difference.”
When COVID-19 moved everyone from the office to their homes, the committee surveyed associates on how everyone could implement sustainable practices in their home environment.
They found that even after associates had settled into their new routines, one thing remained the same – maintaining a lifestyle of environmentally sustainable practices was still a priority.
Sustainability Efforts Grow
With the recent accreditation, RS&H joins a community of almost 2,000 Denver businesses working with Certifiably Green Denver to make Denver a more sustainable city. The City and County of Denver accredits businesses based on criteria that include water management, waste reduction, associate interest and leading environmentally sustainable community events.
All the while, sustainability continues to grow into the fabric of RS&H’s Denver office and beyond. The Denver Sustainability Committee is coordinating with the company to promote sustainable workplace practices across all offices.
“As a committee, we continue to grow environmentally sustainable practices by improving our workspaces and encouraging associates to consider the environment when making decisions,” Derengowski said. “Our growth stems from a grassroots approach, seeking to understand each associate’s perception of environmental sustainability and building plans to meet our objectives.”
In 2021, the committee plans to continue fostering environmentally sustainable practices in the workplace with ambitious and diverse goals.
The committee plans to lead green design strategy webinars, promote community clean-up engagement initiatives, encourage environmentally sustainable forms of transportation and more.
“Associates were top-of-mind when we begin these initiatives,” Knue said. “As we grow as a committee and company, the well-being of our associates and the environment will continue to drive our sustainability vision.”
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