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Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013 03:00 am

‘Green’ moves beyond recycling

Furniture, cleaning supplies and even human rights are the future of sustainability

 Forget about recycling for a minute. Being “green” is more than just keeping glass out of the landfill.

That was one message of the 10th Annual Green Symposium, a conference held in Springfield last week to promote sustainable business practices. Hosted by the American Institute of Architects and Resource One office furnishings of Springfield, speakers addressed trends in green design and urged companies from around central Illinois to think of green practices as part of a larger push toward sustainability.

Good environmental practices are becoming more advanced, according to several speakers who discussed topics like choosing environmentally friendly office furniture and automating lights and window shades to take advantage of daylight.

Vanessa Hartke, distribution development manager for furniture maker OSF Brands, said even the quality of air in a building should be considered part of being green because it affects the building’s inhabitants.

“We could spend months creating the perfect environment, and the night before it opens, the janitor could come through and ruin the air quality by using the wrong cleaner,” she said.

Kevin Roth, an architect and assistant professor at Southern Illinois University, said businesses and consumers must begin making products and purchases while keeping in mind the “total cost of ownership.” Roth said a product’s true cost depends on the four stages of its life: extracting raw materials, turning the materials into a useable item, purchasing and maintaining the item and eventually disposing of it.

“There’s a difference between price and cost,” Roth said.

Keynote speaker Nikos Avlonas, founder and president of the Chicago-based Centre for Sustainability and Excellence, said incorporating green designs is only a small part of being sustainable. Running a truly sustainable business means taking into account the effect a business has on human rights, supply chains, community development and more.

Avlonas said companies like Wal-Mart, Nike and Starbucks, which have faced past criticisms over labor policies and materials sourcing, now have sustainability plans in place. Wal-Mart even began building energy-efficient buildings, Avlonas noted. Though their sustainability plans may not be perfect, Avlonas said the companies see them as crucial to managing their public images.

“Even if Wal-Mart does great on the environment, if they have a bad relationship with their employees, they are not sustainable,” he said. “These companies realize that if they don’t create long-term sustainability plans, they are not going to survive. They had to address business risks.”

Chef Michael Higgins, owner of Maldaner’s Restaurant in Springfield, discussed the steps he has taken to make his business more sustainable. He began raising bees on the restaurant’s rooftop in 2011, then planted a rooftop garden the following year. Next he plans to install on the roof 58 solar panels, which he says will provide about 18 percent of the restaurant’s power. He also plans to upgrade the building’s electrical and lighting systems to reduce energy consumption.

Asked why he takes on the ambitious projects, Higgins said being green is good publicity; his bee project alone helped increase his business, he said. Higgins also believes being green is a form of philanthropy.

“People say, ‘Oh, you must be an environmentalist,” he said. “Yes, but I’m also a businessman. … We are only successful as businesses because of our community, so we have a responsibility to give back to the community.”

Lisa Clemmons-Stott is co-chair of the SDAT Action Committee, which is working to restore and enhance Springfield’s downtown. Clemmons-Stott said the committee is currently conducting a study of demand for downtown residential space and helping building owners find financing for renovation projects.

“Reusing existing buildings is one of the most sustainable business practices,” she said.

Paul O’Shea, a former architect and current planning and design coordinator for the City of Springfield Office of Planning and Economic Development, said he is pleased with the progress behind the downtown revitalization effort.

“The momentum is there,” he said. “It has to do with getting a lot of base hits. Maybe we haven’t hit the big home run yet – and we will – but we’re making things happen.”

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.


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