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Creating Greener Spaces, No Office Required

Revamped Program Looks for Sustainability Ideas in Every Corner of Campus

By Lucy Hubbard ’24

two people work on laptops near plants and recycling bins; one person walks with bike

The Office of Sustainability is partnering with units around campus to innovate new ways to reduce environmental impact as part of a program launching campuswide this fall.

Illustration by Adobe Stock

Whether it’s lunchtime without disposable packaging or field trips to the campus greenhouse to plant seedlings, the University of Maryland’s Center for Young Children (CYC) is involving even the tiniest Terps in the mission of environmental sustainability.

“We are engaging in more conversations with them about how to take care of the planet, doing more gardening just to spur that conversation,” said teacher Sarah Baker. “We talk about keeping lights on and off and the use of water, so just implementing things to start that conversation.”

The CYC was one of five UMD units to participate in a pilot for the Office of Sustainability’s new Green Workspace Program, which will launch campuswide in Fall 2024. It’s a revamped version of the Green Office program designed to increase participation in a broader range of workspaces—or in the case of the CYC, learning spaces—by asking participants what works for them when it comes to adopting sustainable work environments.

“We are thinking a little bit more outside the box to include offices that aren't your typical office setting with a desk, a laptop and sitting down all day,” said Rose Rodriguez, a coordinator in the Office of Sustainability. “We wanted to be a little bit more inclusive.”

The reworked program involves semester-long partnerships between the Office of Sustainability and workspaces around campus to boost sustainable practices. To complete the Green Workspace certification, participants must make changes in five core categories: Consume mindfully, purchase thoughtfully, commute smart, conserve energy and create community.

The Office of Sustainability created a standard checklist that touches on all five, with suggestions like printing on both sides of paper, using energy-saving settings on electronic devices and composting food waste. But the checklist leaves room for offices to create their own sustainable practices.

“We built in these ‘innovation credit’ options so that people can come up with new and different actions outside of the ones that we're suggesting, in a way that works for them and that captures their creativity and the uniqueness of their office,” Sustainability Outreach Coordinator Taylor Brinks said.

The Scene Shop at The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center is one of the unconventional workspaces that participated in last fall’s pilot program. The large studio is filled with under-construction scenery pieces being prepared for the next semester’s slew of plays, but there are no desks with computers, banks of copiers or other office accouterments; in their place are rolling bins holding huge beams of wood and tables full of power tools.

The original checklist was filled with sections on ordering office supplies that had little relevance for this workspace, which is “a little untraditional,” said Scene Shop Coordinator Reuven Goren. “So, we kind of worked around that to see what we can make happen.”

Although some measures employed by the Scene Shop are widely applicable, like eliminating single-use coffee pods, sustainability here primarily means finding ways to reuse and revamp previous set materials for multiple production. Additionally, in the hallway outside the Scene Shop, leftover cardboard is collected and available for students to reuse for their own projects. The shop has also implemented a paperless workflow, opting to pull up set blueprints on TV monitors.

Brinks hopes that the revamped program will help build a stronger sustainability network on campus by uniting staff across campus in the push for greener workspaces.

“It allows people to share information, talk about what kind of innovative projects they want to implement, and collaborate on implementing those projects,” Brinks said. “It breathes new life into the sustainability initiatives happening on campus, especially when they're coming from staff.”

Schools & Departments:

Office of Sustainability

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