It might sound less than flattering to be crowned winner of an ugly mug contest, but Norah Webster, a program development specialist at Rotary International, 1560 Sherman Ave., welcomed the opportunity to clear a garish, Florida-themed ceramic coffee cup from the back of her kitchen cabinet.
“I have no idea where it came from,” said Ms. Webster of her champion mug, which features pink flamingos sipping cocktails. “I brought it in so I could get rid of it.”
The contest, one of several initiatives put forth this year by Rotary’s environmental committee, was an effort to collect reusable mugs to stock in the office break rooms. As Rotary staffers here speak more than 70 languages, many of the mugs assembled flaunt international flavor.
Between sips from a porcelain mug decorated with a painting by Colombian artist Fernando Botero, employee Greg Franks of the Pan-American department said he “used to just grab a Styrofoam cup, grab coffee and throw it away.”
Rotary’s environmental committee, a team of volunteer staff, stepped up efforts in the past year. The group’s accomplishments include improving opportunities for recycling, holding screenings of “An Inconvenient Truth” at the office and supporting paperless meetings.
The committee recently put out an internal environmental awareness bulletin that spurred David Alexander of Rotary’s public relations division to engage his three children in creating a compost pile in their yard at home.
“[The green movement] is something I believe in and I see it validated where I work,” said Mr. Alexander, who says he finds it rewarding that his employer shares the same values he is trying to teach his children. “Things like that keep me going.”
Kathy Kessenich, a manager at Rotary who chairs the green committee, said while she has seen a “real shift in consciousness across the staff,” the most dramatic eco-friendly changes are being made to the non-profit’s physical building, which is owned by Rotary but shared with many tenants.
Members of the Rotary staff are working in conjunction with building manager Cushman and Wakefield to become LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)-certified at the silver level within the next year.
LEED certification involves adherence to a set of guidelines designated by the U.S. Green Building Council, according to Cushman and Wakefield employee Bernie Nash, chief building engineer and accredited LEED professional.
LEED certification is a rigorous process, Mr. Nash said, with a complicated point system that determines various levels of accomplishment. In the simplest sense, he explained, it is an effort to have a building comply with green standards for energy efficiency and uphold overall environmentally friendly practices.
Some of the community’s environmental advocates point out that becoming LEED-certified has more to do with another kind of green – money.
“On a large scale,” said Jonathan Perman, executive director of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce, a Rotary building tenant, “society will be motivated more by cost savings than by humanistic concern for the environment.”
Despite the argument that investment in green infrastructure results in long-term cost savings, organizations might not have enough cash flow to put towards such sweeping projects, especially amidst a teetering economy.
“The motivation will be if it saves your business or community money, not because it’s the green thing to do,” said Mr. Perman, who was unaware of the LEED-certification project underway in his building.
Ms. Kessenich, who said Rotary acknowledges LEED certification as a cost-effective measure, encouraged employers who lack the budget for a green overhaul to start small in their efforts.
“A lot of the awareness initiatives have no real price tag on them,” said Ms. Kessenich, citing double-sided printing as an example, “but all these things we’re asking people to do save the organization money.”
In the future, Evanston businesses might not have the luxury of weighing the benefits of becoming LEED-certified, according to Carolyn Collopy, City of Evanston sustainable programs coordinator.
A Citywide green building ordinance is under review at the committee level. If passed as currently drafted, Ms. Collopy said the ordinance would require all new commercial buildings with more than 10,000 square feet, along with new City buildings, to be LEED-certified at the silver level.