'Sustainable Office Certificate' facilitates virtue-signalling

The Western Washington University student government offers a “Sustainable Office Certification” for administrative and academic offices to show their “commitment to social justice.”

“Sustainable Office Certification supports sustainable actions and provides a simple way of measuring efforts that happen at the office level,” according to the WWU Sustain website, which also notes that “sustainability encompasses local economy, human health, ecological sustainability and social justice.”

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“Show students and staff your commitment to social justice, human health, the local economy, and ecological sustainability,” the site urges. “Student staff will take this experience with them into the working world, and the Associated Students will become an even greater partner in Western’s sustainability leadership.”

In order to receive the certification, an office must first select a volunteer to serve as the “sustainable coordinator,” after which the “Campus Conservation and Engagement Assistant” helps the office fill out a “Sustainable Office Certification” score sheet.

The scoresheet has a total of 149 possible points that a department can earn for engaging in various sustainable activities. A minimum of 50 points is required for “bronze” certification, while a score of 120 or above qualifies an office for “platinum” certification.

First, however, applicants must fulfill several prerequisites by ensuring that all computers are set to hibernate after 10-30 minutes of inactivity, providing “conveniently placed and clearly labeled” recycling bins, purchasing paper “made from 100% post-consumer recycled content,” and either reusing old furniture and office equipment or selling them as surplus.

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Once the department’s “sustainable coordinator” has verified that each prerequisite is at least in the process of being implemented, points are compiled for sustainability initiatives related to energy, waste, transportation, participation, purchasing, and special events.

The sustainable practices listed on the scoresheet range from simple solutions, such as turning off lights and wearing sweaters to reduce energy usage, to relatively onerous ones like encouraging staff to “walk, bike, carpool, or take the bus for work-related purposes” and limiting an office to a single trash bin located in a common area.

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In order to keep certification status, each department must pass a yearly review to ensure that its sustainable practices are still in place, assess whether any “barriers have occurred to change practices,” and identify any improvements that might allow an office to earn a higher certification level.

As of Spring 2015, the university reports that 19 percent of campus offices have received certification, with five departments earning platinum status, 15 earning gold, and six earning silver.

The Associated Students Board of Directors is the only office to receive bronze-level certification, though it does adhere to many of the practices mentioned in the scoresheet.

“The AS Board is sweater-conscious, and office staff manage personal comfort levels with layering rather than using space heaters or turning up the thermostat,” the description notes, adding that the office also “uses rechargeable batteries, has disabled the screen the screen savers on their computers, and disconnects personal electronics when not in use.”

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The sustainable office certification is just one of many social justice and environmental initiatives at WWU, which since 2005 has imposed a quarterly “Sustainable Action Fund” fee on all students to finance such projects.

“Sustainability initiatives exist in every college on Western’s campus and in many cases these independent programs are working toward complementary goals,” the website asserts. “The campus-wide Sustainability Committee and the Faculty Sustainability Academy were created to help guide campus efforts to infuse academics and operations with the quadruple bottom line philosophy of environment, equity, economy, and health.”

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