Chief Environmental Commitment Officer, Chief Green Officer, Chief Sustainability Officer, and Environment Coordinator. Whatever the title, executives charged with greening operations and products are a growing sector of the green economy. The increased emergence of these titles reflects sustainability’s growth as a profession, as well as a core business strategy.
Who are these newly appointed sustainability pioneers, and what are their qualifications? A report released by the Weinreb Group in 2011 looked at public firms who have appointed Chief Sustainability Officers (CSOs) and found that most were “business leaders with significant experience, a solid understanding of their sector and a history of handling a diverse spectrum of responsibilities.” While experience and education varied, none had experience deeply rooted specifically in sustainability. As the field continues to evolve, CSOs are seeking education and resources to continue blazing the trail toward sustainable business practices.
The USGBC’s guidelines for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification are a great resource for sustainability officers. Even if a CSO is not planning to jump into a LEED project, understanding LEED guidelines can serve as a road map for greening operations, products, and supply chains.
Within the LEED system, impact categories were developed to determine what LEED is intended to accomplish. While definitions of a CSO’s role are diverse, LEED’s impact categories are likely to be aligned with the goals of a sustainability officer:
• Reduce contribution to climate change
• Protect and restore water resources
• Protect, enhance, and restore biodiversity and ecosystem services
• Promote sustainable and regenerative material resource cycles
• Build a greener economy
• Enhance community: social equity, environmental justice, and quality of life
The basis for LEED guidelines is compiled in a checklist that can assist a sustainability officer in evaluating the environmental impact of their organization. From how occupants utilize the building to the processes that are happening within it, there are opportunities to conserve, protect, and save. The categories in the checklist prompt questions for possible areas of improvement, including:
• Site: Is the site located and equipped properly so that alternate means of transportation can be encouraged? Is there a way to maximize open space on the site?
• Water: How can water be conserved both indoors and out?
• Energy & Atmosphere: How can energy be conserved by building occupants and in processes? Are there opportunities to implement renewable energy?
• Materials and Resources: What opportunities are there for recycling and composting? Can a green purchasing policy be developed to encourage use of local materials that are produced responsibly?
• Indoor Environmental Quality: Is the HVAC system functioning properly and at maximum efficiency? What kinds of cleaning products are being used and can they be improved to reduce chemical exposure? Is lighting efficient?
The Credit and Point System
When charged with making the company more sustainable, sustainability officers are challenged to prioritize changes and improvements. How does one determine what changes will have the most impact? Beyond estimates of potential savings, it can be difficult to measure environmental impact. Within LEED, points are assigned to credits based on the outcomes associated with achieving the requirements of that credit. Using this system, a sustainability officer can operate under the assumption that a sustainability measure worth more points has the potential for greater environmental impact.
To learn more about LEED accreditation and how this specialized training can jump-start or enhance a career in sustainability, visit Everblue’s LEED Training Programs.
By Amy Malloy