“Green Teams” Meet the Challenge to Reduce Our Footprint
Supporting the growth of vibrant communities means that the Urban Systems team is often adding new expertise, passion and energy in each of the Western Canadian branches. Over the years, that has meant office expansion or moves to accommodate much-needed workspace. The challenge is how to make those changes without creating unnecessary waste, and encourage a more sustainable approach to office-life.
To address this, Urban Systems developed a Sustainability Charter in 2012 that is reviewed annually and looks at concerns around the company-wide footprint and provide achievable solutions. As the Charter’s vision statement asserts:
We believe in doing the right things today in order to sustain opportunities for future generations. We are passionate about doing our part to help build sustainable communities, both through our work as individual professionals and through our collective efforts to reduce the ecological footprint of our business operations.
Each branch has a “Green Team”, thought leaders that assist in developing and executing local sustainability action plans. An annual commitment to goals is made, aimed at eliminating barriers to achievement and providing opportunities to celebrate them throughout the year. Action plans contain initiatives both big and small, depending on local needs. Over the course of the last several years, three branches in particular have aimed high due to expected growth, and, using varied but equally sustainable approaches, are meeting the challenge to have minimal impact on their local communities.
Reducing and Reusing Their Way Forward
“Throughout my time with Urban Systems, there has always been a goal to reduce, reuse and recycle.” states Ila Sutherland, sustainability team member in the Kamloops branch. “With our renovations, that has been focused on what we do with older furniture.”
The Kamloops branch is in the early stages of planning a renovation to enable better connections between staff but also make room for new teams members. Instead of purchasing new furnishing, the branch is committed to repurposing existing furniture. Having been able to store previously unused furniture, much of that will be brought back to life in the updated space. “We want to do our best to make sure nothing goes to the landfill.” Ila explains.
For items that they are unable to bring back due to age or lack of need, Kamloops looks for other ways to put them to use. Mark Hall, Kamloops Project Leader, is also a talented and creative carpenter, has helped turn old desks and shelves into more functional pieces like footrests and monitors stands. Those pieces that simply can’t be revitalized are sold to staff or members of the community, with proceeds going to the Urban Systems Foundation.
These efforts, combined with zero-waste stations throughout the office, and a commitment to using sustainable paints, finishes, flooring and lighting in the renovation, mean that Kamloops is making great strides in reducing their footprint in their community.
Paying it Forward to Limit Waste
In Northern BC, the Fort St. John office is preparing for an expansion into a larger, neighbouring office – a fresh new space to accommodate their growing practice. For them, repurposing the existing furniture is not an option, which was a concern for Edward Stanford and Chad Carlstrom, members of the branch sustainability team.
“We felt uncomfortable with the number of changes and the potential waste as a result, and wanted to know how to lessen our branch footprint.” says Edward. Both he and Chad acknowledge that planning an office move means thinking about what happens to the existing furniture. Is it kept, replaced, sold? In the case of the Fort St. John branch, they are paying it forward and donating it to others in need.
Jeryn Mackey, a summer student in the branch, worked closely with Niki Hedges, Community Development and Campaign Officer for the United Way and facilitator of the Making Connections Initiative. The branch donated all the furniture they couldn’t use to eight local not-for-profit organizations, including the Fort St. John Metis Society and Friendship Society, Nenan Dane Zaa Deh Zona Family Services Society, Stage North Theatre Society and the fort St. John Soccer Association.
“We have a pretty close relationship with the groups we donated to through our work with the Foundation.” Edward admits. “Coordinating with Niki allowed us to eliminate our angst around what to do with our old furniture and continue to support local organizations.” In fact, the donation, combined with those from two other local companies, helped to make up the largest inventory Making Connections has received.
As the move into the new space gets closer, the Fort St. John has an additional two donations to make, and are very happy to know their furniture won’t become waste in local landfills, going to people who will put it to good use.
Focusing on Options for Sustainable Travel
Staff in the Calgary office are also anticipating a move in the coming months, and are fortunate that they will be able to move some of their existing furniture from their Sunridge Way office to their new downtown location. The focus of the sustainability team there is instead focused on changing travel habits among their colleagues.
“As a team, we’ve tried to reach out in different ways to be a positive voice and champion sustainability.” identifies Lee Giddens, one of seven members of the sustainability team. She, along with the entire team, have been researching ways to encourage their peers to change their patterns thanks to a more central and accessible branch location. “Our goal is to make sure everyone in the office has an option to get to the new building in an accessible way.”
The team has been researching the logistical challenges staff face in choosing public transportation, cycling or walking as an alternative to driving, and recognize that it needs to be a flexible program, as some people may be travelling from locations that make those choices more challenging. “What’s important is that we are giving people the power and freedom to make travel decisions that make the most sense to them.” Lee explains matter-of-factly. “People are excited to do something different.”
Along with identifying more sustainable commuting routes, including two adjacent bus stops and proximity to Calgary’s relatively new downtown cycle-track network, the team has worked with the architects to ensure there is ample storage for bikes to encourage it as a viable mode. As Lee so simply puts it: “The path forward needs to be a more sustainable one.”
Commitment to Sustainability
The Kamloops, Fort St. John and Calgary branches are not the only ones committed to lowering their footprint and contributing to vibrant communities, but provide examples of what can be possible when companies look for sustainable options. Across all branches, teams have committed to reducing waste through recycling and zero-waste programs, sourcing locally-made products, limiting paper-usage, providing filtered water to reduce bottled water waste, and many staff are committed to actively commuting to work as much as possible.
As the Sustainability Charter states:
As a living company we are committed to investing in the future and doing all we can to minimize the environmental impact of our business operations. We believe it’s the small things we do each day that can have the biggest impact on the natural environment.