Green goes the office

Field Notes

Walk off the elevator into the eighth-floor lobby of the World Resources Institute in Washington, D.C., and the first thing you'll notice is that you're standing on cork.

"When harvested correctly, the bark of a cork tree will renew itself so the tree doesn't die. It's perfectly durable [and] more comfortable to stand on," says Mary Houser, spokeswoman at WRI, an environmental policy research organization.

She's talking about the new "green" office of WRI, which uses mainly environmentally friendly alternatives to the standard paints, countertops, or flooring in a conventional office space.

Cabinets are made from crushed sunflower seed hulls. Office doors are compressed wheat straw - an agriculture waste product that would normally be burned, adding chemicals to the atmosphere in the process, Houser says. WRI executives are trying to set a "clean" example for corporate America, putting into practice their mission of combining a healthy environment with a strong economy. They announced a plan Tuesday that would reduce carbon-dioxide emissions from their office to zero by 2005.

As you stroll toward the reception area, a soft welcome mat of cork leads to more-solid bamboo flooring. "It's a fast-growing grass that replenishes," Houser says. Unlike most carpeting, WRI's was made without formaldehyde, and it's laid down in squares. So when heavy-traffic areas wear down, only a section gets replaced instead of the entire floor. The process reduces waste and saves money.

WRI also added videoconferencing so staff members don't have to travel as often to meetings. This reduces CO2 emissions from cars or planes they would use to get there.

"Since the cost of building a green office is comparable to that of a traditional office, there is no reason that this should not become the norm," says William Ruckelshaus, chairman of WRI's board of directors.

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