In 2018, I began working for the FSU Research Computing Center (RCC), and several months later, was asked to represent the division on the department's green team. I attended a couple meetings and then began pursuing RCC's green office certification with Florida State University's Sustainable Campus department. Sustainable Campus offers three levels of bi-annual certification, based upon satisfying percentages of four categorical sustainability initiatives they have defined. They provide an additional category for up to five possible "Innovation Points," that are defined and satisfied by organizations seeking certification. The levels increase for Green, Garnet and Gold certification, respectively.
In December 2019, RCC submitted its checklist of sustainable initiatives for certification, including three innovations for both of the office's locations, at Dirac Science Library and Sliger Building. Our initial pilot participation in the Green Office program satisfied one innovation point. RCC set aside and has provided a bicycle closet for employees at each of its office locations on campus, to promote sustainable living and transportation, which satisfied another. For the third innovation point, I published one Green Office Sustainability Tip of the Week (GO -STOW) from Sustainable Campus' list of sustainability initiatives to the department's elite leadership team every week, to be disseminated to their individual teams. Our score was 89.20%, above the 85% threshold required for Gold certification.
Due to the Coronavirus in Spring 2020, most in in my department became eligible to work from home and began doing so. I was considered "essential," and worked alone in Sliger Building for more than a year while managing FSU's data center in Sliger Building at Innovation Park.
In early January 2021, I began to hear occasional noises in the building, and walked upstairs to discover the source. I met Will Hill with the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering's Resilient Infrastructure and Disaster Recovery (RIDER) Center. His department was in the process of relocating to Sliger Building, and I was able to assist with providing contact details for the various services he would need to engage to do so. We talked about our respective jobs, and I learned that the RIDER Center generally arrives on the scene as soon as possible after a Florida disaster, to learn about and provide knowledge about how to more effectively respond to such events in the future. Management of the data center includes much preparation for disasters, and we had a lot to talk about. I told Will about my data center activities, including beginning to think about RCC's Green Office certification renewal, due later that year. This really interested Will.
I told Will all about what I'd done for RCC's green office certification. I shared my experiences and checklist, and walked through his office area with him to discover whether and how his current environment would satisfy enough sustainability initiatives for certification. We believed that with only a few changes, they were already well positioned to achieve a good score, and we could submit our checklists at the same time, for RIDER Center's certification and RCC's renewal. Will and I saw each other daily and talked often about our work and other interests.
Several weeks later, Will and I noticed another person come to work in the building, and introduced ourselves to Kev Sullivan, who works for the Center for Information Management and Educational Services (CIMES). CIMES provides interactive instructional information and knowledge management solutions to other institutions, which had nothing to do with what Will and I do or were currently working on at the moment. Nevertheless, it was a quiet building for three otherwise gregarious people, and we talked. Kev was very interested in Will's and my sustainability project. Since her office is in the same building, we discussed devoting attention to sharing some of the sustainability checklist details, such as a now-community bicycle closet, office supply re-use room, and shared resources and facilities, among others. Kev checked with the rest of her remotely working team, and they agreed that joining our certification effort would not present too much hardship for CIMES. Will, Kev and I became a working team over the next few months.
By March 2021, we'd also begun working with colleagues of Will's and Kev's, and invited Daynah Blake with the RIDER Center and Amy Finley with CIMES to join the Sustainable Green Team.
We met with Laurelin Haas with Sustainable Campus a few times, to make sure they knew what we were doing, and to ask her questions about our plans and progress. She invited us to attend her office's pilot green office training program, which could then serve as one of our innovation points, and we did so. We were especially curious whether we could as a group working in the same building share sustainability initiatives as previously noted. Yes, was the answer, and since we were the only departments in the building, we would then have a green office building upon certification. Laurelin enthusiastically observed that we had formed quite the sustainable green team, and so we thank Laurelin Haas for the origin of the name of the FSU Sustainable Green Team (SGT).
The green office certified building became our team's second innovation point for 2021 certification. RCC had only satisfied three of five available innovation points in 2019, so we wanted to attend to all five in 2021. One afternoon while driving back to the office from a luncheon, my mind wandered to trying to answer: What's the biggest sustainability or recycling problem we could solve? Then I thought of the ubiquitous photos we see of wildlife caught in plastic six-pack can rings.
I first checked FSU's website, and discovered that not only do we not recycle plastic of any kind besides bottles, but also, Sustainable Campus advises everyone to "Take your plastic bags with you to the grocery store! to be recycled. I called local waste facilities and learned that both the City of Tallahassee and Marpan Recycling recycles all plastic, including can rings. Unfortunately, the former facility would be no different from advising people to bring their can rings to the grocery store, and the latter imposes charges for recycling plastic.
After a half-dozen false leads on the internet, I found RingRecycleMe, headquartered in Itasca, Illinois, with an actual recycling facility in Waller, Texas. They allow anyone to print a free USPS shipping label, stuff as many can rings into a package as will fit, apply the label, and ship the rings off to actually be recycled. The team was ecstatic, as we've all seen the horrific images. We decided that each of our organizations would begin collecting plastic six-pack can rings. In May 2021, we used discarded cardboard boxes, and attached the appalling environmental impact image to one side, and notification about our team's newly coined "Bring the Rings" campaign on the other. After the evening trash collectors threw our first one away, we added "THIS IS NOT TRASH" signs. We put one in each of our offices' common areas.
We told our colleagues and friends about our recycling program, because we were so happy to be making a difference. Many lamented the efforts to which they already strove to cut up their plastic can rings before throwing them into the trash. We gave them collection boxes or told them to give or send the rings to us directly. Campus Mail allows staff to send mail for free, so all employees had to do was stuff them into an envelope and address them to the Sustainable Green Team at my Mail Code. We began a spreadsheet and listserv to manage our program, and at this date have 22 entities and organizations saving can rings for us for recycling. A local pizza establishment we habituate heard about our program and saves can rings for us for recycling. A quarterly service vendor brings his to the data center from Jacksonville, and some of our data center customers also bring the rings to us.
Our Bring the Rings campaign served as our third innovation point. We began appending a postscript with a link to the program in outgoing emails to serve as our fourth innovation point. We opened the formerly RCC bicycle closet to all building residents, to serve as our fifth innovation point.
In August 2021, FSU resumed normal operations, and we all became busier, and personally engaged with others. On October 9, I was offered leadership of the department's green team. I inquired about possibility of advancement or salary increase for such a role, and was disadvised of that, and declined.
In late August, our new department chief joined our team's staff meeting and met everyone. When my turn came to say what I was working on, I was very proud to announce that my team had implemented a ground-breaking recycling program at FSU, to actually recycle plastic six-pack can rings for the first time. "I heard that was an urban legend," precipitated my stunned silence. That afternoon, I went out of my way to visit a couple ring collection partners and round up all the can rings we'd collected since May and brought them to the post office for a receipt on Monday, August 30.
On October 12, 2021, I attended a 3-day Virtual #GCSHE Global Conference on Sustainability in Higher Education.
On October 25, 2021, CIMES, RIDER Center and RCC were all certified Gold, and Sliger became FSU's first-ever green office-certified building. The Sustainable Green Team's inaugural project was complete. RCC increased its score upon renewal to 96%. I wished we could have satisfied one particular sustainability initiative, "The office engages in office walking challenges or other fitness challenges to encourage employee activity," and decided to find a way to address that by our next certification renewal.
We began applying management concepts I learned in graduate school to Sustainability. Will and the RIDER Center began hosting our team's webpage, so I asked Will to create our team a logo. Its green letters "S.G.T." and shield shape symbolizes the team's green efforts and concern for protection of the environment. While we realize that plastic can rings come in many different enclosed quantities, six-pack rings seem to be most seen, and the team strives to allow zero of these to reach landfills, hence "0/6." The team worked together to create and adopt a mission statement, "We strive to promote socially and environmentally sustainable practices by empowering individuals to make the right choices."
I began thinking about other Sustainability and recycling opportunities as time permitted.
Florida TaxWatch was founded in 1982 by Winn-Dixie Chairman J.E. Davis, T. Wayne Davis, Publix Super Markets founder George Jenkins and President Mark Hollis, and Florida State Senator Phil Lewis and Florida State Senator Ken Plante. They began offering Davis Productivity Awards to State of Florida agencies and employees in 1989. On November 1, 2022, the Sustainable Green Team received a Florida TaxWatch Award for our green office-certified building and plastic can ring recycling program. I earned another 2022 Florida TaxWatch award, for renegotiating a maintenance support contract with a vendor, and saving the University money.
One August morning while driving to work, I saw a couple of the City's blue Adopt-A-Street signs with organizational names responsible litter patrol for those sections of roads. I thought it might be a great Sustainability activity, and realized it presented us with an opportunity to get out of the office once in a while and also allow us to engage "in office walking challenges or other fitness challenges to encourage employee activity," and satisfy the sustainability initiative we'd wanted to do last October. The rest of the team thought this was great. On October 13, we completed our first trash pickup, which we are obligated to do and submit a report quarterly. We invite members of the team's listserv to participate, and have engaged in the activity ever since, most recently on October 26, 2023. Each time, we share a photo including us standing in front of our "FSU Green Team" Keep Tallahassee Beautiful sign.
When learning in September 2022 that Happy Motoring suddenly closed and the venue was no longer available for Sustainable Tallahassee's October World Sustainability Day event, I called around seeking other opportunities. Thanks to Jacob Fortunas with the City of Tallahassee, Will and I hosted a table at the E-Bike Expo downtown Tallahassee on October 26 and spoke to attendees about the team’s initiatives.
In September 2022, I published Sustainability Training for new RCC employees, to satisfy an unaddressed 2021 sustainability initiative, "New employee orientation includes information about the University’s recycling programs as well as the office’s sustainability practices."
By September 2022. we had identified a waste distribution channel for most forms of waste produced by the data center and realized that we had begun to support a materials recovery facility to support our efforts and decided that our operations were mature enough to begin telling the community about what we do.
That September, we began publishing a quarterly Greenletter newsletter hosted at the RIDER Center's website, to all our recycling partners and advocates with whom we've worked, to ensure some longevity to our deeds. We announced the waste processing streams we were then processing, and our materials recovery facility that handles sixteen listed waste recovery streams with nine program partners in the United States and invited the readers to contribute waste to our initiative. We listed our services provided. Since we were finishing up three of our four green office certifications, we felt confident about our ability to help colleagues and listed "Green Office Certification Advising." We listed "Materials Recovery," due to our efforts above; "Freight Weight Estimation," because we have an accurate scale up to 150 pounds, to save an initial trip to the post office. Finally, because we inherited a large shredder, we will shred secure documents by appointment. Since our first edition, we began recognizing an Upcycle and a Recycle Partner of the Quarter in each publication.
On November 22, 2022, I brought two gallons of hardware and tools to Christopher Davis at the Habitat for Humanity Restore, and also met Michelle Register who works there, and as I later discovered, also at the Learning Pavilion in Tallahassee. In February 2023, we received an email from Ivory Miller at the Learning Pavilion, inviting us to speak to their pre-school classes about recycling. On March 16, Will and I spoke to 60 pre-school children about their and our recycling efforts as part of their Reduce, Reuse and Recycle educational unit, and told them we'd be happy to return next year.
We had so much fun talking to the kids, that we began looking for other speaking opportunities, to engage the community and talk about what we were doing and spread the word about responsible recycling, and how easy introducing sustainable concepts in the workplace could be. In February 2023, I submitted an abstract for "Sustainable IT and the Zero-Waste Data Center" to the Florida Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Offices (FACRAO). It was approved and I made the presentation on June 6 at their annual conference at the Florida Hotel in Orlando. On September 25, Daynah Blake, Nicole Blanchard and I presented "Our Green Office and Zero-Waste Workplace" at Oyster City Brewing Company, and Information Technology Services provided the pizza.
By Thanksgiving 2022, most waste items were no longer going out to the dumpster. Plastic and expanded polystyrene foam, also known as Styrofoam (TM), presented the tallest of our hurdles. Although Styrofoam is extremely light, it's also annoyingly bulky, and we had no confirmed one-size-fits-all material recovery stream for it. Then I remembered that FSU advises us to take our plastic to the grocery store, and realized we could probably find a creative way to deal with it. We used to have seven cylindrical barrel-shaped wheeled trash cans in the data center, until pitching all but two. We now have one for plastic waste processing efforts, and one for everything else, that we pick through and send its contents through our waste management channels. We accepted and learned to live with the directive to take our plastic to the grocery store. Publix is on my way to and from work, and I drop by at least 2-3 times a week on normal occasions, and it's not out of my way if I have a couple Publix shopping bags filled with miscellaneous plastic items for recycling. Publix also has a foam recycling bin that we use for small quantities of Styrofoam. Team members' individual initiatives have addressed the larger volume. Whenever possible, we bring larger pieces of Styrofoam home, to our residential recycling bins, that the City of Tallahassee will pick up and recycle. For even larger quantities, we will pack up a van and drive six miles to Marpan Recycling, with whom we've established a relationship.
At the other end of the spectrum were the shards of linoleum floor tiling that the data center's Roomba (automated circular vacuuming machine) occasionally dislodges. The results of my internet searches for responsible disposal can be summarized as, "Great news - you can toss linoleum into the landfill with no adverse environmental effects." This was unsatisfactory, as we had decided that we wanted nothing to go to the dumpster and landfill. Then I remembered passing by a flooring business on my way to regular monthly luncheons, and called J.R. at Capital Flooring Specialists, who told us he would be happy to accept and recycle our linoleum refuse. On May 9, 2023, we brought J.R. our first "load" of 94 linoleum pieces and received a receipt.
I maintain a ledger of every piece of waste we responsibly process. In all my talks and travels, I stress how important creativity is to Sustainability.
On January 12, 2023, I visited with the Godby High School Key Club, and talked about our initiatives and programs, and welcomed them as new can ring collection partners.
On Saturday, February 25, 2023, the team attended the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory's annual Open House, and were delighted to meet its director, Dr. Greg Boebinger.
In April 2023, I visited with my friend Karl Filsinger and his family, and we talked about old times and their geocaching activities, and CITO, which I thought would also be a great Sustainability activity. For the uninitiated, around the turn of the millennium and advent of the modern Global Positioning System (GPS), families and friends have been engaging in world-wide treasure hunts for booty both tiny and large. Some host the caches, while others simply seek them using the appropriate app. Often the cache is a relatively small waterproof box with a physical visitor log and some trinkets inside. If visitors enjoy and would like to take any of the items, they are expected to leave others of equal or greater value behind.
I thought Geocaching could serve the SGT in at least a couple ways including name recognition, and the team agreed. We have a beautiful park area enclosed by the circle on which our office building resides, with a Central Pond Trail surrounding a small fishpond. The global geocaching community encourages Spring and Fall "Cache In Trash Out" (CITO) events around local caches. We host the "SGT Green Guide Alpha Geocache" in Innovation Park. On National Cleanup Day on Saturday, September 16, the team hosted a CITO event, and picked up trash along the trail where our cache resides.
In May 2023, we'd begun to accumulate a good number of unused printer toner cartridges, and worked with Cartridge Forest to obtain a free shipping label for toner cartridges that otherwise would have gone to the landfill, that they rehomed, and in return provided us with certificates proclaiming that we'd been responsible for planting 30 trees, two for each toner cartridge, and saving 5.4 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere.
On June 29, 2023, the team was interviewed by Kandace Blake with WTXL ABC 27, and shared their adverse experiences in crossing the railroad tracks at Mabry Road every day to go to and from work. We hoped that public exposure of problems with the uneven rail ties and danger of exposed spikes will expedite restorative action.
On June 30 and October 4, 2023, the team attended Innovation Hub's Summer and Fall Open House events. I particularly enjoy their electronics projects and 3D printing, and Innovation Hub is one of our can ring collection partners.
By July 2023, I felt we'd established enough of a community and accomplished enough to begin thanking and rewarding the people and organizations that have helped us. I taught myself to make Microsoft Word certificates, and designed and created a template to begin providing our advocates and partners "SGT Green Guide" certificates. I would have loved to call them Green Scouts but discovered that the second word's usage is heavily regulated and protected. We gave or sent them to all our ring recycling partners and advocates in the community who have facilitated and furthered the team's objectives. Whenever possible, we publish their happy photos on social media. I administer the FSU Sustainable Green Team's Facebook page.
In August 2023, we added Dr. Dina Vyortkina with the FSU College of Education, Health and Human Sciences to the Sustainable Green Team.
In September 2023, the SGT began publishing a QR code to “Become a Green Guide,” to attract interest from other individuals, teams and organizations that share similar interests, so they may join in on the team’s activities, and contribute to the community.
On September 17, 2023, the team attended Sustainable Tallahassee's 2023 Tally Trash Challenge event.
On October 24, 2023, RCC submitted its Green Office Certification checklist to Sustainable Campus and its Gold status was renewed. The score increased to 98%, since addition of the trash pickup and Geocaching fitness challenges, and Sustainability training to RCC employee orientation.
On November 7, 2023, I hosted an SGT table at the 2023 Registered Student Organization's Get Involved Fair and spoke to new and returning Engineering students about what our team does.
On December 6, 2023, the FSU Sustainable Green Team will be awarded one of only ten Florida TaxWatch Government Productivity Awards, for "Implemented a Zero-Waste Data Center Facility." FSU's only 2023 Florida TaxWatch award recognizes that from December 1, 2022 through October 20, 2023, the Sustainable Green Team responsibly recycled and rehomed an extensive list of items that would have otherwise been sent to the landfill.