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Development of Sustainability Program

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Reflection on 2021

Monday, December 20, 2021  by qrelihan

Moving forward with the Development & Implementation of the Sustainability Program:

              Before, we can look forward to all the plans and goals set for the Sustainability Program in 2022, I would like to reflect on the steps that have been taken in the past 7-8 months. For the most part, I have spent the past 8 months researching every sustainability related question under the sun.  However, one that I have circled back to many times looked like this, what is the first step in developing a sustainability program?  In fact, I tried many iterations of that same question because I was hoping that somewhere out there was a simple, obvious answer to a very complex question.  What I have discovered is that the answer to that question differs for everyone and it depends on what type of products or services a company provides.  Therefore, many ideas were written down, discussed, and eventually brought to company stakeholders, who were able to provide more insight regarding the feasibility of a particular initiative. 

              One of the most important lessons I learned this past year is that a Sustainability Program will not be built overnight, even if it what needs to be done to create an effective one seems obvious. This may seem like a silly realization, but it is easy to get excited and overly ambitious when you are first starting out.  I knew the basic components of what makes a company environmentally sustainable, however there is a large gap between information gathering and the implementation of information.  For example, before we can work towards lowering our company’s greenhouse gas emissions, we need to identify what business operations generates the most and then monitor those areas for a few months to gain benchmark data. Over the past 7-8 months I have spent a great deal of time collecting and recording data points that I thought would be helpful in determining next steps and setting benchmark goals.  However, what I have realized is some of the data points that I spent months tracking may not be useful to the development of the Sustainability Program.  As frustrating as this may seem, it is also an indication that I am making progress, because I have eliminated some metrics that will not be necessary to the success of the Sustainability Program.

              Therefore, I have outlined some takeaways from this year that I hope to not only refer to but also help others learn from my mistakes.

  1. Not every metric you measure is going to be useful and that is ok
  2. Conversations with company stakeholders are just as important as researching potential sustainability initiatives
  3. Keep up with environmental news stories
  4. Go out and experience what business operations look like firsthand
  5. Make connections in every department of your company since it is important to discuss how an initiative will affect their daily operations
  6. Ask questions
  7. Keep an organized document library to house all your research, data gathering and meeting notes
  8. Have a rough timeline that outlines where you want to be by certain dates

           I have learned a lot about the process of developing and implementing a Sustainability Program this past year.  I fully intend to continue learning and growing so that this time next year I will have an even longer list of takeaways to offer. 

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Defining Net Zero & Its Importance To Sustainability

Monday, November 29, 2021  by qrelihan

What is net zero?

              Also referred to as carbon neutrality, net zero is “the balance between the amount of greenhouse gas produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere” (National Grid 2021). This means that we are trying to find ways to offset the carbon emissions that our daily activities produce.  However, this also involves reducing your current carbon emissions, so that offsetting your carbon emissions is much more feasible. 

How is it achieved?

              One of the most obvious ways to achieve net zero is to source your lighting and HVAC systems from a renewable energy source.  Among these sources that can help a building become net zero include solar, geothermal and wind energy.  If any of those renewable energy sources are available to you and affordable then it is an easier way for your office to achieve the goal of net zero.  However, not everyone has the financial capital or the desired geographic location to access renewable energy sources therefore they must find alternative ways to become carbon neutral. 

              Among those ways is to focus on the waste that is produced in the office and where it gets disposed.  This can be done by diverting waste from landfills and identifying opportunities for beneficial reuse.  Alternative waste disposal methods include, composting, recycling, and reusing waste whenever possible so that it can be repurposed at least once prior to going to a landfill. If there is excess product that is in good condition, then there is an opportunity for you to contact the manufacturer to see if they will take the product back.  Once again this is keeping waste out of landfills which decreases the amount of methane emissions that are emitted to the atmosphere.  

What can I do as an individual?

              On an individual level net zero can be much more difficult since we cannot control where the energy that powers our homes comes from.  However, that does not mean its impossible, because just as there are many ways for offices to achieve carbon neutrality on a large scale, there are many ways to do it on a small scale as well. 

              For instance, you can be responsible for knowing where the goods you purchase come from and what the process looks like to manufacture it. Try your best to buy and shop local whenever you can to reduce the carbon footprint of the products you purchase.  Ask questions and do your own research about products to learn about how they are made where they are made and what is in them so that you can make environmentally responsible decisions.  Overall, the best way to start a net zero lifestyle is to reduce your carbon emissions from daily activities whenever possible. 

How can we encourage the industry?

              Part of living a net zero lifestyle is encouraging those around us to do so as well so that we can reduce everyone’s impact on the environment.  One of the most powerful tools an individual has is their ability to ask questions and do their own research. For instance, be aware of the environmental impact of the products you purchase by finding out where it comes from and how it is made. This means asking industries to do better, by opting to purchase products that have a more sustainable manufacturing and distribution process over those that emit greater amounts of greenhouse gases. One way you can do this is to start buying the same product from a company that does a better job at reducing their carbon emissions.  The hope is that it will become the industry standard to find environmentally sustainable processes so that more companies will make be encouraged to do so.  

First steps that can be taken at home & at the office to work towards a net zero world:

  1. Recycle, compost, or find alternative methods for diverting waste from landfills
  2. Participate in local clean-up events
  3. Purchase green paper products for your home & office
  4. Carpool or take public transportation whenever possible
  5. Use reusable water bottles instead of plastic water bottles
  6. Turn off lights when you are done in a room
  7. Unplug devices when they are finished charging or not being used
  8. Shop local
  9. Ask questions & do your own research

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Phase I: Different Definitions of Sustainability

Monday, October 11, 2021  by qrelihan

   As Phase I of the Sustainability Program continues to progress, I am learning that everyone's understanding of how sustainability fits into the workplace are different. Some are going to focus on the financial aspects of implementing a sustainability program while others will be more concerned with the impact the program will have on the environment & society. Neither party is wrong, because in today's world a business needs to be able to make money and be environmentally friendly to be sustainable.

   Sustainability is developing business operations that will stand the test of time and generate profit or savings for a company. However, sustainability is also being aware of the impact that your daily business operations have on the environment and natural resources. In fact, companies cannot be sustainable unless they responsibly manage the financial and environmental aspects of their day-to-day operations. This is because without the environment and natural resources there are no products or services that can be produced or provided. If there is no way to make products or provide services, then a company is not making money and will likely go out of business.

   Responsibility, awareness, and accountability play a large role in creating a robust sustainability program that is successful at addressing every facet of a business plan. The goal of the sustainability program at MER is to find ways to be financially & environmentally sustainable.   From now on when you think of what it means to be a sustainable company, I want you to not only think of the impacts its operations have on the environment, but I also encourage you to think of it as efficient ways to generate profits or savings. 

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Phase I: Research & Data Gathering

Tuesday, August 31, 2021  by qrelihan

Global Warming. Climate Change. Eco-friendly. Green. Sustainability.

All the words above are often referred to as buzzwords rather than calls to action.  However, our goal is for Sustainability at MER to be synonymous with action and commitment.  Therefore, our plan of attack for developing this program is to identify feasible and effective targets for the company to meet.  To determine these benchmarks goals, a great deal of research and data gathering must be done to identify areas in need of improvement.  

For that reason, Phase I of the Sustainability Program is going to involve research and data collection. This includes identifying what business operations and office activities contribute the most to greenhouse gas emissions.  So far it has been determined that fleet fuel emissions, waste disposal methods, recycling and energy use are the top contributors.  Therefore, the next steps include gathering data on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that came from each of the top contributors.  

Among some of the metrics that have been calculated are idle time, waste transported to landfills, recycling amenities and the purchasing of sustainable paper goods.  This information will be collected for each office, starting with the Corporate Headquarters in Randolph, MA.  The objective of collecting this data is to determine benchmark goals with timelines for each of them to be completed by.  Some of the information can be found by using Excel sheets while others require input from employees and managers.  Therefore, to gain a basic understanding of what environmentally sustainable operations and activities each office has, a survey was sent out to the office managers asking them to answer a few questions.  

The results of this survey revealed that there are many small initiatives that if implemented, could make the Sustainability Program stronger and more robust.  For instance, something as simple as making sure that all offices have recycling bins can make a big difference in the amount of waste that the office sends to landfills. Since waste disposal methods is one of the top contributors of greenhouse gases, any waste that can be diverted from landfills is a step in the right direction.

Phase I will be ongoing since it requires monthly tracking and recording of different metrics.  However, once we have base numbers for top contributors, the next Phase II: Planning & Development can start.  

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Introduction to the Blog

Wednesday, August 11, 2021  by qrelihan

My name is Quinn Relihan, and I was brought on in April of 2021 as an Environmental & Sustainability Research Analyst.  I have been tasked to help further develop the company’s Environmental Sustainability Program by identifying ways the company can become greener.  The four phases of the program are tracking and data gathering, planning & development, engagement & education, and record keeping & communication. These blogs will be posted on a regular basis as I will continue to document and share this process with all of you. 

My plan is to organize my posts into three different categories:

  1. The process of implementing different phases of the Sustainability Program 
  2. Actions that employees can take to be more eco-friendly 
  3. News stories that are relevant to the goals of our sustainability program 

Therefore, if you have any ideas, comments, questions, or concerns about the sustainability program, I encourage you to reach out to me at qrelihan@moranenvironmental.com

 

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