Green Team Assemble!

Green teams can help A&D professionals deliver increased value—here are five steps to assembling your green dream team.

From operational cost savings and natural resource conservation to enhanced occupant productivity and public recognition, the benefits of sustainable practices have clients intrigued. Advising clients on optimal green strategies is becoming a part of an interior designer's everyday work, but forming a green team can help you deliver increased value.

Whether you are working on construction projects or helping clients address issues of sustainability within their organizations, green teams are excellent ways to leverage individual areas of expertise, focus your efforts and secure success.

Green teams serve different purposes depending on the scope. On a construction project, a green team keeps the sustainable objectives at the forefront and inspires accountability among multiple team members. The construction project team provides the key players of a green team. Depending on the project type, you may also have a green team lead or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) consultant already in place to drive the sustainable objectives.

Sustainability in the construction industry is becoming commonplace for architects and designers, but it can leave a gap for building occupants and staff after construction. An operations and maintenance green team, at a facility and/or tenant level, brings together stakeholders who don't necessarily talk everyday but engage in practices that influence each other. These team members can help a company create or adjust policies and processes to align with the organization's green goals, and provide the essential people to implement targeted actions.

"Understanding the driving forces of sustainability and how you fit into the bigger picture will help you ascertain why you want a green team and how to implement it."

Regardless of the reason you assemble a green team or where you are in the process, here are five steps that will help you create a directed, highly effective team for outstanding results.

step no. 1: understand
The first priority is to be familiar with why sustainability is important from an environmental stance, as well as why it's important to you or your organization. How does sustainability affect your corporate goals? Understanding the driving forces of sustainability and how you fit into the bigger picture will help you ascertain why you want a green team and how to implement it. It will also help you justify decisions, understand where your market opportunities are and identify what government incentives might be available to support your efforts. For example, the Energy Trust of Oregon offers a cash incentive for conducting and reporting the results from an early project team meeting that addresses energy efficiency during the schematic phase.

Next, understand your areas of influence. If you are undertaking a tenant improvement project, you will most likely need the landlord's participation to achieve a sustainable retrofit. If you are greening a company's practices, employees and vendors will become key players to success.

step no. 2: aspire
What are your highest ideals? If the project or organization achieved its goals in the ultimate form, what would that look like? Reach for the stars and don't worry about what might be practical or financially viable at this point. Is a desire to reduce environmental impacts paramount or are cost savings the main drivers? The responses you provide will be critical to prioritizing the team's efforts and developing clear markers that determine if you are reaching your goals. The vision will help further motivate you, and may even trigger your mind to seek opportunities you might not have considered if you had focused only on smaller, individual goals.

Begin incorporating sustainability into your project or organization by making green features and strategies available to everyone. For example, create tangible markers like signs instructing employees to turn off light switches and include an explanation of why it's important to the company. This might generate interest and help identify green team members within an office. At project construction meetings, bring sustainable concepts into the everyday language and inspire your team to think outside the box.

step no. 3: approach
Develop a method to implement your sustainable goals. Consider who might be your best green team members based on their roles, interests and experience in sustainability, and invite stakeholders to participate. If it's an operations and maintenance green team, include facility management, human resources personnel, the receptionist and key vendors. For a commercial interiors project green team, ask the key players from each discipline to join. Teams with top management leadership have the advantage of powerful buy-in, but some of the most effective teams can come from the bottom up if they are built on strong personal interests in sustainability.

Hold a brainstorming session or eco-charrette with all the key players and engage them in a discussion on the goals. Get their input and establish the priorities and processes that the group will need to move forward. Identify what's missing as well. Perhaps you will recognize the need for an additional member with specific experience, uncover a lack of formalized policies within the organization or find that your team needs some basic education on green building strategies to get them all on the same page.

step no. 4: act
Roll out the approach to the team you've assembled. Have a project kick-off meeting to assign roles and responsibilities. Assign tasks to individuals that align with the needed actions and determine how the information will come back to the team. For example, if someone is tasked with finding the best green flooring, will they produce a report for the group, a shortlist of options or have several vendors offer presentations?

If you are the green team leader, set appropriate expectations for individual members and give them the support to succeed. After the initial kick-off meeting, you may want the green team to meet monthly, but it can be very helpful to establish committees that meet more frequently. Committees also allow people to collaborate on completing tasks and help them proactively work toward the goals.

Engage the greater community as well. Have a corporate or full project team meeting to share all the identified priorities, the actions underway and what results the group can expect to see. Open communication is critical, and spreading information and education will help ensure you don't end up with a green team "island." Provide a clear and constant pathway for members to receive feedback and voice their concerns if they run into obstacles while working on their tasks.

step no. 5: reflect
Once you have accomplished your goals, celebrate and acknowledge what your green team did right. Recognize that sustainability is a moving target and identify what's missing now that you've reached a new plateau. Fold this information into a feedback loop by sharing your successes and findings with the company or full project team. Then evolve. Have your operations and maintenance team start to address new goals based on your discoveries, or take your newly acquired knowledge into your next construction project. If your green team was successful during a construction project, you may want to offer your services to help create a green team within your client's organization to help them maintain and achieve new sustainable objectives over the long term.

Forming a green team takes the responsibility for achieving sustainable objectives off one individual's shoulder and allows you to gain from the insights, expertise, research and work products of many. These five steps provide you with a structure to implement a green team but they don't always happen in a linear manner. Allow yourself and your team enough flexibility to assess and reassess what's important, what can be compromised or what is absolutely needed. With a motivated group working toward a common goal, green teams can even offer additional benefits by discovering unexpected ways to save money and creating a stronger sense of teamwork within an organization.

Alicia Snyder-Carlson, LEED AP ID+C, IIDA Associate is a project consultant at Green Building Services Inc., one of the most comprehensive sustainable consulting firms in the nation. She facilitates LEED certification and the incorporation of green building strategies to companies throughout the United States. Alicia can be reached at (866) 743-4277 or via email at