Recycled office art inspires change

By Brianna Wellen

When it comes to energy efficiency and sustainability, office buildings are often not the best example. With hundreds and sometimes thousands of people in and out every day, regulating energy use and recycling habits seems impossible. The stacks of paper sent through a copy machine, put away in a filing cabinet and eventually thrown out account for huge amounts of waste. Now that Mayor Daley’s Chicago Green Office Challenge has asked these buildings to go green, one company is promoting the message with a creative twist.

The CGOC started last year in an effort with the Chicago Climate Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from commercial buildings in the city. Now entering its second round, the city hopes to see the challenge continue last year’s success and get more buildings involved.

“We’re able to report this program reduces CO2 emissions by 54 [metric tons],” said Kim Brokhof, who manages CGOC’s day-to-day operations. “The Chicago Climate Action Plan can take that into the other programs [it’s] running to make Chicago a more sustainable city. It’s really great to bring something back to the city and see this program is making a difference and helping Chicago reach its goal.”

Urban Innovations, a real estate company that acquires, develops and manages office buildings, took the necessary steps to have its sustainability at a level where it could participate in this year’s challenge.

According to Alfrieda Green, Urban Innovations’ vice president of property management, the company uses the Environmental Protection Agency’s portfolio manager to track energy consumption, including factors such as the amount of electricity, gas and water used.

Providing this information shows office building tenants how efficient their building is compared to others of its size and type so they know where they stand when participating in the challenge, Green said.

While facts and numbers back up the energy claims, Green wanted something tangible to get the attention of tenants and promote the program in Urban Innovation’s buildings. Using paper recycled from its buildings, the company commissioned artists to create art installations in three of its locations—325 W. Huron St., 445 N. Wells St. and 222 W. Hubbard St.

“It’s a good way for people to visualize the things they throw away really have value,” Green said. “More than anything it’s something a little more creative. It’s a way for us to get attention and attract a different group that may not be involved in the Green Office Challenge.”

The design group Indo Projects, made up of interior designer Crystal Grover and graphic designer Linsey Burritt, was called upon to create the giant displays at each location. After meeting with the graphic and web designers involved with the campaign, they came up with the concept to use paper from the company because it was so abundant and directly represented the company.

Indo Projects typically designs large-scale installations made from trash, so the project fit Indo Projects’ mission perfectly. Doing it in conjunction with a larger message was a great opportunity, Grover said.

According to her, because the installations sometimes take two weeks to complete, it provides a chance to start a dialogue with the tenants about the project.

“One of the biggest parts to what we do is people can interact with us, and it’s not just a conventional poster on the wall,” Grover said. “When we’re doing the installations, people have a chance to talk to us about what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and who we’re doing it for.”

Tenant involvement is key, Green said. The building managers can only do so much to make the most energy-conscious decisions with their equipment, upgrades and planning.

“We’re just trying to inspire change,” Green said. “A lot of our usage and how our buildings perform have to do with what our tenants do in their offices. It’s really a team approach that we’re taking to do everything we can do to be efficient and be responsible corporate citizens.”