Jeff Darling, Senior Purchasing Agent and Sustainability Officer, give a talk on sustainability purchasing at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado February 23, 2012. CAMERA/MARK LEFFINGWELL
Jeff Darling, Senior Purchasing Agent and Sustainability Officer, give a talk on sustainability purchasing at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado February 23, 2012. CAMERA/MARK LEFFINGWELL

A University of Colorado program is helping departments on the Boulder campus extend their sustainability efforts through education and access to affordable green products.

The Green Offices program — a certification program developed by the Environmental Center in 2002 — has helped nearly 20 departments increase the sustainability of their offices and educated employees about eco-friendly efforts.

Rachel Hawkins, a CU graduate student and program coordinator, said interested departments begin with a self-assessment of their current sustainability, followed by a walk-through with Hawkins. Hawkins makes recommendations to the department about how to increase sustainability through purchases or staff training before a presentation certifies the department as a green office.

Eventually, the program’s website will include each department’s score, comparing each office’s green efforts and encouraging discussions between departments.

Wardenburg Health Center received their certification almost three weeks ago, making them the newest participant of the program.

Javier Portillo, building manager for Wardenburg, volunteered to be the department’s eco-leader — a staff member from each office who leads the department’s green efforts.

Portillo said he completed the self-assessment to find out how the department compared to campus-wide sustainability efforts. After becoming certified, Wardenburg is already discussing plans for new lighting and changes to their printing services.

“Throughout the years, we’ve done so much to the building but never anything like this,” Portillo said. “So we did the self assessment to see how we compare. We found out that we’ve done so much in this building already, we should have been considered green a long time ago.”

Portillo said they updated the lighting in the building about two years ago, including the installment of sensors throughout the facility. Through the program, Portillo said he learned about other changes that could be made in the near future to further increase the building’s sustainability.

“We are looking at options to consolidate our printers,” Portillo said. “We talked about using a new color-printing wax that would reduce ink use and some other things.”

There are also discussions of putting LED lights throughout the building and adding larger recycle bins to the facility to make recycling more accessible for staff.

“Our culture is pretty positive about recycling,so we are just trying to make it more practical for them,” Portillo said.

Hawkins said a common misconception is that green improvements are costly. While replacing carpet, lights or changing paper or printer options does cost money, Hawkins said it can be comparable — or in some cases cheaper — for the department.

Initial costs can be more, but the lifespan of the products is often worth an increased cost up front, she said.

“We talk to departments about the bigger picture,” Hawkins said. “If they’re willing to make the investment now, it will help them in the long run.”

CU’s Career Services was one of the first departments to receive Green Office Certification in 2007 and Cherie Wilcox, the department’s eco-leader, said they’re constantly looking for ways to improve their sustainability.

Wilcox said the assessments and certification helped unite the staff making departmental changes easier.

“It helped to have someone outside our office be the experts, rather than a staff member trying to get everyone on board,” Wilcox said. “It’s more accepted this way.”

Wilcox said the department is currently weighing options for greener printing practices but some of the most significant changes have come from the efforts of staff.

“We started encouraging employers to stop bringing so much plastic, non-reusable items — like bobble heads and plastic toys — to our career fairs and we have definitely seen a decrease since then,” Wilcox said. “On that same note, our department is constantly reviewing how we advertise our events and use environmentally friendly marketing materials, like flower seed packets, gum, print on environmentally friendly materials.”

Wilcox said the Environmental Center has provided training for the department multiple times since the certification and Career Services will continue to look for ways to extend their sustainability efforts.