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Don't forget office life in protecting environment

For many of us, when we think about trimming our environmental footprint, we often resolve to carpool or recycle more.

But we tend to forget about our impact on the environment between 9 and 5. Retail and office buildings account for 18 percent of total U.S. energy consumption and half of the energy consumed by buildings nationwide.

Certified green buildings are sprouting up, and property owners are taking a look at their energy consumption, or better yet, their carbon footprint. But those efforts can be magnified if property managers help building occupants take responsibility.

Businesses can minimize their environmental impact by adopting some inexpensive practices. With education and a little effort, today's energy sinks can become tomorrow's models of efficiency, delivering monetary and environmental benefits in the process.

At Hines, a property owner and manager, we've been able to help our tenants do just that. Office workers want to help with their companies' environmental improvement efforts -- provided they receive the right tools and reminders.

For evidence, consider a free, voluntary program we call Hines Green Office, through which we designate tenants' spaces as more sustainable. Once companies agree to participate, we work with them to identify ways they can improve their indoor environment.

Shell Oil, for example, had already begun greening its Houston offices. Through the program, Shell boosted its recycling, incorporated greener office supplies and began using eco-friendly kitchen products.

In San Diego, the Paul Hastings law firm expanded its existing eco-friendly initiatives by replacing bottled water with water pitchers and disposable cups with washable mugs -- and by printing on both sides of recycled paper.

Each time an office makes a specific improvement -- like setting up safe bike storage to encourage employees to bike to work or switching to reusable mugs to avoid disposable cups -- it receives a certain number of "Leaf Credits." After collecting 70 Leaf Credits, a tenant is designated a Green Office.

Competition has been crucial to the program's success. As Arizona State University psychologist Robert Cialdini has found, nothing is more effective at inspiring others to modify their behavior than friendly peer pressure -- perhaps from the tenant next door.

In one study, Cialdini found that placards reading "Help Save the Environment" were far less effective at getting hotel guests to reuse towels than were placards telling them that "nearly 75 percent of guests who stayed here in Room 331 reused their towels."

We've seen firsthand that peer pressure can motivate positive environmental change. Individuals and businesses interested in improving their sustainability should take note.

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Ken Hubbard is executive vice president and chairman of Hines' Sustainability Task Force. He is also vice chairman and president of the Greenprint Foundation.

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