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Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016 12:08 am

From green to well-being

Sustainability moves beyond environment to people

The green Denny’s in Joliet.
Photo courtesy of Joe Terrell.

 

Joe Terrell’s story starts not with a light bulb turning on above his head, but rather with one going out.

It was the late ’90s, and Terrell owned a Denny’s restaurant franchise in Mokena, Illinois. When one of the light bulbs at the restaurant failed, Terrell wanted to replace it with a compact fluorescent light bulb he had recently picked up at a home show. At the time, most CFL bulbs needed special connectors, so Terrell called an electrician friend to wire one up. It was purely an experiment to see whether the light output of a 13-watt CFL could compete with that of a traditional 100-watt incandescent bulb.

The result? He immediately replaced every bulb in his restaurant and eventually built an entirely new restaurant in Joliet focused on energy savings and sustainability. Now retired, Terrell shared his experience in Springfield as keynote speaker of the 13th Annual Green Symposium on Sept. 22.

Organized by Cindy Davis, president and CEO of Resource One Interior Solutions & Design in Springfield, the symposium brings together architects and designers to discuss green building design and business practices. This year, the discussion took on a new dimension: expanding sustainability efforts to include the well-being of workers and customers.

In Terrell’s case, that meant adopting not only energy-saving designs like skylights and a reflective roof coating on his restaurant, but also systems to protect his employees. About 20 years ago, one of Terrell’s cooks was burned when he slipped on some ice while carrying hot cooking oil to the grease bin. The restaurant now has a pump system which empties the four deep fryers into a large tub. The company that empties the tub actually pays for the used oil, which is recycled into biodiesel and animal feed. The employee who was burned still works at the restaurant, Terrell said.

Paul Siebert, director of design and innovation for office furniture company InMovement, says a common danger in many workplaces is sitting all day. InMovement focuses on building movement into work spaces, and Siebert notes that the most environmentally friendly business may have sedentary work going on inside.

According to Mayo Clinic, long periods of sitting are associated with an increased risk of heart disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes and premature death.

Siebert recalls that, when he first started his career, architects typically tried to place everything a worker would need within 50 feet, eliminating the need for much movement. He says that’s changing, and the idea of “strategic inconvenience” can build non-exercise movement into a worker’s day.

Although his company makes treadmill desks, Siebert jokes that they remind him of the early days of automobiles, when drivers glued radios to their dashboards. The company is designing work stations that facilitate “walking meetings” and build physical activity into group projects, among other concepts.

“It’s always easier to design from a vision backwards, instead of from a product portfolio into the fog of the future,” Siebert said.

Gene Luebbehusen, a corporate trainer for Indiana-based furniture maker Jasper Group, says another danger in the workplace is chemicals which may have unknown effects on humans. He points to the national Healthier Hospitals Initiative, created by several large U.S. hospital systems, as one example of businesses trying to eliminate carcinogens like formaldehyde, which is sometimes used to make resins that coat furniture.

“They’re finding new chemicals every day,” he said. “It’s just a matter of mixing some of these other chemicals together, and we don’t know what kinds of hazards it has.”

Luebbehusen says Jasper Group is headquartered in a rural area of Indiana where there is no local recycling service. The company allows its neighbors to bring their recyclable waste to its factory for disposal.

“We all want to leave this world a better place than when we got here,” Luebbehusen said.

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