UW Today

February 2, 2011

‘Lean and green — and a showcase for office sustainability

News and Information

At first glance, the Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability office looks like any other campus work area: Desks, tables, chairs, filing cabinets — check.

Staff assistant Aubrey Batchelor, left, and interns Martin Su and Jennifer Perkins talk at a stand-up table immediately available in their office. | Photo by Mary Levin.

Staff assistant Aubrey Batchelor, left, and interns Martin Su and Jennifer Perkins talk at a stand-up table immediately available in their office. | Photo by Mary Levin.

But wait, look again. This small office, in the basement of Gerberding Hall (B40), is now a sort of showcase for sustainability in office furnishings. Which makes a certain sense, after all, given its name.

Aubrey Batchelor, staff assistant in Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability, headed the project under the leadership of Senior Vice President VElla Warren and Ruth Johnston, associate president of finance and facilities, who leads the office.

“We just finished the project and we had two main goals,” she said. “The first was to create a sort of sustainability showcase room where we could purchase the most environmentally friendly products we could find, and show the University what those might look like.”

It saves time and effort to be able to replace individual parts in office furniture. That's the case with this work station, where intern Jennifer Perkins works in the Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability Office. | Photo by Mary Levin.

Their second goal, she said, was to develop a space that shows off  “lean” product practices, which focus on boosting efficiency while reducing waste and using the most environmentally sound practices and materials reasonably available. Its consistent with a management philosophy devised by the Toyota company in the 1990s.

“Lean projects involve streamlining practices and increasing efficiency,” Batchelor said. “And part of how that can be accomplished is through design of the work space. So we created a work space that enhances collaboration, is multipurposeful, and really helps people be as efficient as they can be through the tools that you provide them.” (Read our previous article about “lean” implementation at the UW.) She added, “Its a continuing process that you go through, identifying areas that can be made more efficient.”

One of the main points is to have moveable furniture, she said, “so whatever your needs are at that moment, you have a way to accommodate that.” The office is equipped with screens that can be easily moved to create improvisational meeting spaces. “And where for example you might need a quick standup meeting, we have a standing-type desk where people can turn to, stand up and talk to each other.”

Thats for efficiency and convenience. But Batchelor is also proud of the environmental aspect of the office design. Various chairs chosen for the office contain about 30 to 40 percent recycled content, and are 80 to 90 percent recyclable after their use. She said Steelcase, the manufacturer of many of the products, goes to lengths to use as much recycled steel as possible.

But as important as the type of materials used is the way theyre sold — by the piece. “You have to pick out what leg you want for a desk, and what finish you want on the leg. So we picked out each piece by piece — which is good because if something breaks you just replace one piece.” Fabrics used on furniture are similarly replaceable individually.

The same thinking applies to the office carpet. “We had a little bit of flexibility in who our carpet vendor was, so we did some shopping around.” She found a carpet made from 75 percent recycled content that is 100 percent recyclable after its use.

And it, too, is purchased by the piece: “We got the tiles, so that if part of the carpet wears out, you can just pull one tile instead of having to pull up the whole carpet.” It also uses more environmentally friendly backing and glue. Batchelor added, “The company actually purchased an offset for us, so that our carpet is completely carbon neutral.”

Batchelor said Warren was the original inspiration. “She really wanted us to do this. And she wanted to show people how you can use a space differently. It makes a lot of sense.

“She said, ‘Make it lean and green,” Batchelor said with pride. And they did, and invite you to stop by and see.

You can learn more about lean manufacturing on the Environmental Protection Agency website (and, of course, at Wikipedia). And learn more about all the work done by the UW Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability on its website.