’Canes Central team rallies to adopt sustainable office practices

While participating in the Green Office Certification Program, the co-workers united to incorporate changes. And they even earned platinum-level status, the first achieved by any group at the University.
’Canes Central team rallies to adopt sustainable office practices
Photo: Evan Garcia/University of Miami

Determined to make real sustainability changes in her office, Samantha Valea, senior associate at ’Canes Central, took on a new leadership role in fall 2021 with one main goal—complete the checklist to qualify for the Green Office Certification Program. During the process, Valea and the team at ’Canes Central surpassed the program requirements and earned platinum status—a level achieved for the first time at the University.

Run by the Office of Sustainability, the program is available to any department at the University of Miami determined to complete changes outlined in the program’s sustainability checklist, which addresses energy usage, waste reduction, and recycling, as well as educational components. Many departments have applied over the years, some reaching the gold level, but ’Canes Central is the first group to suggest additional checklist items, which contributed to their platinum-level designation.

As a Green Liaison, Valea attended workshops, shared weekly tips on sustainable practices, and kept the team on track to meet their shared goal. “It was really fun,” said Valea, who joined the University in 2018 and has been part of the ’Canes Central team since its inception in February 2020. “It’s not the typical work project, so the team was excited about that. Some people came up to me with ideas,” she added.

“Samantha worked closely with our director, Betsy Lopez, to foster buy-in from the team,” said Sean Kilpatrick, executive director of ’Canes Central. “It’s been great to see Samantha’s hard work in action, and it’s been very neat to see how our team rallied around this common goal.”

Valea’s strategy involved getting the team excited and committed while making it fun. During regularly scheduled weekly meetings, she took a few minutes to update the group on its progress and invited everyone to ask questions and share ideas. “I introduced small incentives and distributed prizes, such as reusable utensils and other environmentally-friendly swag, to individuals who completed checklist items,” she pointed out. 

With 17 full-time employees and eight part-time student employees, the ’Canes Central team has seen an immediate impact in the break room. The group no longer uses disposable utensils and straws. Also, the office incorporated large, centralized garbage cans instead of individual bins at each desk. With the help of Teddy Lhoutellier, director of sustainability, and Eric Riedmiller, Green U intern for the past two years and a senior majoring in ecosystem science and policy, the group learned about proper recycling practices. These included nuances such as the kind of plastics accepted in the single stream bin, which excludes any loose plastic, wraps, or plastic bags. It also learned all about the University’s approach to recycling that entails recycling empty bottles and cans, clean paper, and cardboard—and keeping food, liquid, and loose plastic out of the recycling bins. 

The newly named Harold Long Jr. and H.T. Smith Student Services Building, which houses ’Canes Central, officially opened its doors in August 2020 and was created with sustainability in mind, having already completed some of the items on the checklist long before the group decided to commit to this project. Looking ahead, the team will continue building on the Green U certification with additional initiatives. Valea noted that she plans to continue sharing information about sustainable practices with the team, as well as with visitors to their building. “We are also planning team development outings, such as working in the garden on campus or taking a tour of Green U buildings."

Throughout the process, Valea said that she learned that projects like this are a great way to promote collaboration and team development. “This project gave our team a chance to be creative,” she noted. “Everyone was happy we worked toward our certification, and the project boosted the group’s morale.” 

If other groups or individuals are thinking about taking on a similar project in their area, Valea suggests being flexible and adaptable. “Welcome ideas from the team,” she said, noting how much she appreciated their input. “It takes the whole team to buy in and make changes to be successful. At the end of the day, have fun. But don’t forget to establish a deadline to make sure you make consistent progress.”

For its efforts in making sustainability changes, the ’Canes Central team was nominated for the 2022 Roberta ‘Bosey’ Fulbright Foote Prize.
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