Grassroots Green Team Growing at DES

What started two years ago as a tiny sprout of green activity has developed into a full-grown sustainability effort at the Medical School’s Disability Evaluation Services (DES) department in Auburn. Showing how small steps can lead to big changes, the employee-initiated effort has motivated the entire department to be more environmentally responsible at work, and at home.

The initiative began in April 2008 after a member of the UMMS Sustainability Committee gave a presentation at DES. A small group of interested DES employees then began voluntarily meeting during their lunch breaks to talk about how they could make their workplace greener. Within months, the group was designated by management as an official Committee for Quality Improvement (CQI) with permission to meet during work time, and the DES Green Team was off and running.

As a result of their efforts, Cindy Donges, disability reviewer and Green Team facilitator at DES, estimates that 100 percent of the department’s 145 workers now “participate in at least some green activity, whether it’s using their own mug for coffee or cutting up used paper for hand-made scratch pads.”

By encouraging employees to bring in their own cups and glasses, the department has seen a decrease in paper cup usage from 31 cases in 2008 to 21 cases in 2009. A switch from five-gallon bottled water coolers to filtered tap water resulted in a cost savings of nearly $4,000 in one year, as well as a reduction in the amount of plastic going into the waste stream, Donges said.

Some local community groups are also benefitting from the DES green effort. Used printer and fax toner cartridges are collected for the Charlton School Department, which buys school supplies with the proceeds earned from recycling the cartridges. Returnable cans and plastic bottles are given to Auburn Boy Scout Troop 101, which uses redeemed deposit money for Scout activities.

The members of the DES Green Team meet monthly to discuss and plan sustainable activities, such as recycling and saving energy, and then work at educating their fellow staff members on how to participate. The team spreads the word by sending simple “Green Tip” emails every few weeks, posting signs around the building and writing a “Green Team Spot” column in the department’s quarterly newsletter. DES also now has its own annual Green Day Celebration.

“When I walk around the building now, I see people drinking from mugs and rinsing out their glasses, and when BFI comes to empty the co-mingled bins, they’re filled to the top,” said Donges. “A little knowledge and awareness goes a long way.”

In addition to Donges, the Green Team at DES includes: Nicole Andries, Sherry Campanelli, Eileen Cynamon, Ginger Donoghue, Justine Ferris, Marina Gregory, Marcia Klys, Claudia Montoya, Becky Riley, Jamie Sampsonis, Kristin Synder and David Wright.

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