Green Challenge Showcase: Boston Public Health Commission

Net Impact, a group of future and current leaders who use business to create positive change invited student and professional members to compete in the annual Net Impact Green Challenge. The task: to use their business skills to reduce their organization’s environmental footprint. Jonoathan Sherman helped create a “Green Committee” of the Boston Public Health Commission. Here is his story:
The “Green Committee” of the Boston Public Health Commission was started in the winter of 07-08′ by several people, in an agency of 1200 employees, who had a few ideas about how to make the Commission a more environmentally-friendly operation. Now with over 20 members, 3 subcommittees, and numerous ongoing projects, the Green Committee has quickly grown from an upstart to a successful working group making real impacts across the Commission. Our success has happened for several reasons. First, no matter what industry one is in, now is the right time for environmental considerations to take a place in the forefront – so our timing was good. Second, the Green Committee was, and still is, open to anyone in the Commission to join at anytime. The more people we have, and from more departments and hierarchy, equals the more leverage we have when implementing a project.

Now, with the right timing and people, it was time to develop strategies on how to implement and prove a project. Since the Commission is largely decentralized in structure (50+ programs, ranging from EMS to tobacco control, and 16+ multi-use properties), our short-term goals were to identify several simple projects we can quickly act upon, demonstrate success in, and gain momentum from in order to tackle more complex projects. Also, the projects had to be cost-neutral or cost-savers. The projects we identified to meet this criteria were piloting a green cleaning program at one of our properties, piloting a “single-stream” recycling program at another property, piloting a paper conservation program in the Executive Office, converting the entire agency to 30% post-consumer copy paper, making a procurement policy to only buy “double-siding” printers, piloting a water filtration cooler, and beginning an employee education campaign to conserve electricity.
We realized that these were a lot of tasks to lump into one, so we formed 3 subcommittees to each focus on a portion of the aforementioned projects. The subcommittees met on their own to establish initial measurements, implementation and performance tracking methods. The subcommittees would then report back results to the overarching Green Committee and receive further direction as necessary. This operational structure has proved successful, as we are now expanding all of the aforementioned pilot programs across the Commission, contracting for 30% post-consumer copy paper at less cost than the previous virgin paper contract, purchasing only “double-sided” printers, and expanding our employee education campaign.
All projects have been cost-neutral, save for the single-stream recycling program, for which we secured a modest fund for start-up materials. However, these successes don’t come with out hindrance. Behavior change is always a struggle. Measurement and performance tracking can be difficult, especially with pilot projects being confined to a particular area and data has historically been collected in a greater aggregate. Also, outdated infrastructure and technology often pose significant hurdles, examples being a fleet of “single-side” only printers and having to work in aging buildings with all their problems. However, as we continue to steward our ongoing projects and gain esteem, we can hopefully include these more complex projects into our long-term goals, of which there are still many possibilities. To do this, the Green Committee will have to continue and better our measurements and performance tracking, increase employee participation, coordinate more with outside groups and resources, and improve our infrastructure and technology. The good news is that we have been successful thus far, and it is the right time for further progress.
Jonathan Sherman manages procurement and related activities for the General Counsel’s Office of the Boston Public Health Commission. Additionally, Jonathan currently heads the “Green Committee” at the Commission, which was formed to implement sustainable practices in operations, facilities management and workplace culture. Prior to his current lot, Jonathan has experience in community outreach, communications, political consulting and geological exploration. He holds a dual degree in Political Science and International Affairs from the University of New Hampshire.

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