Only YOU Can Prevent Workplace Waste

Thirty-nine percent of Chicago’s greenhouse gas emissions come from commercial buildings.
As an extension of Chicago’s Climate Action Plan, the Chicago Green Office Challenge attempts to reduce that number by daring office tenants and property managers to “go green.” The aim is to establish businesses in Chicago’s Central Business District as leaders moving toward a more sustainable future. As a reward for their participation, competitors are recognized in the media and through Mayoral honors.

The competition requires companies to rate their environmental performance in five categories: outreach, energy conservation, waste reduction, cleaner transportation, and property management. The companies are then offered training and strategic planning to help improve their score over the next year.

My hesitation sets in when I start to think about some of the “strategies” the Challenge offers up, which range from instructing participants to use power saving mode on printers and copiers, to using both sides of paper, to eliminating subsidized parking as an employee benefit. I simply can’t tell if this is moving the city’s work force in a more sustainable direction, or a massive greenwash campaign honoring businesses for using what should be common sense.

My skepticism aside, I’ll try to focus on what could truly be the positive outcomes of this competition: workers being more mindful of the environment in both their personal and professional lives, business asking for more sustainable design practices when the time does come for renovations, and, most importantly, a reduction in greenhouse emissions from Chicago’s built environment.

What I would truly appreciate is some feedback! The Challenge asks participants to set a goal of reducing their energy usage by 10percent, but is that enough? Do you think purchasing CO2 offsets or renewable energy credits is an effective strategy? If your company were to hold in-office sustainability educational sessions what would you find most interesting?

And lastly, as a young design professional, I don’t feel entirely equipped to make the most informed evaluation of a campaign like this. What should be my approach in forming an opinion when the trend appears to be one of criticism and negativity? Where should I place my focus?

— Brittany Hahn

Brittany Hahn, along with La Keisha Leek and Lisa Backus, is a design student who will regularly blog to share her design experiences at for the next year. Check back often to see what's the buzz among the next generation of designers, and be sure to share with them your feedback and design advice by commenting below.


  1. In the AEC industry, this may seem like common sense, but in a large city like Chicago, I am positive there are companies and offices that just don't think about this stuff yet. The great part about this is that it lasts a year, which seems like a plenty of time to form some good habits. Greenwash media campaign or not, any type of motivation can help.

  2. Thanks for sharing, Vanessa. I completely agree that there's always more we can do to encourage green habits, especially in larger corporations where it is difficult to enforce new behaviors that aren't necessarily convenient.