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Discovery HQ Goes Carbon-Neutral

Company Positions Headquarters to Win U.S. Green Building Council's Certification

Going green isn't just a programming initiative at Discovery Communications. The media company is turning its Silver Springs, Md., headquarters into a carbon-neutral facility and is seeking the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver certification issued by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Carbon-neutral refers to the practice of mitigating (or "offsetting") greenhouse gas emissions by, for example, planting trees. The Discovery HQ has been carbon-neutral since January, according to Discovery Networks executive VP of global shared services Larry Laque.

Just as Planet Green's philosophy and programming makes the point that being a green citizen is based on small decisions and acts, Mr. Laque is learning that building a green facility happens much the same way. "It's not a big bang," he said. "We're doing dozens and dozens of little things that by themselves don't sound earth-shattering. But the culmination of all them is."

Mr. Laque said DCI built its 5-year-old headquarters with environmental issues in mind. "We built on a sustainable lot, close to mass transit, and encouraged our employees to take it by offering subsidies and places to store bicycles," he said. "We also have community centers on each floor with nice floors made of bamboo, a renewable resource."

The new green initiative emphasizes "reuse, reduce and recycle" -- and when that's not possible, DCI relies on a third-party company to create "carbon offsets."

Inside the building, every room has been greened. Instead of huge trashcans, the kitchens now have several receptacles apiece, to separate paper, cardboard, plastic, glass and nonrecyclables. Employees volunteer to be "green monitors" during lunchtime a few days a month, to help those with questions about recycling.

In the bathrooms, low-flush urinals and dual-flush toilets, as well as aerators on the faucets, have contributed to significant water savings. In the offices, it's 100 percent recycled paper (anything else must be special-ordered). The lighting was retrofitted in the garage, as well as in the office building's hallways, to save kilowatt hours. "We put in sensors that are brightness-sensitive," said Mr. Laque. "They only come on if it's dark or a really, really cloudy day."

To engage employees in the efforts to recycle, Discovery has created "challenges" that pit the employees of each floor against the others. "We did that for power usage, asking people to shut off any lights and shut off their computers," he said. "We get them excited by giving away prizes to the floor that does the best." For the lights-off contest, the prize was environmentally sound CFC (compact fluorescent) light bulbs.

At the downstairs coffee stand, DCI partnered with a third party to create renewable cups, to decrease the use of disposal cardboard ones. As an incentive for buying the renewable cup (at a nominal fee), the employee gets a large drink for the price of a medium.

"It's about getting people to embrace the everyday stuff, so the cumulative impact can be felt," Mr. Laque said. "It's not a hard sell -- it's already in the employees' DNA -- but our job is to help them to do the right thing."

The piece de resistance of the greening plan is three 3,400-gallon tanks underneath the building that capture the building's gray water, which is then used to irrigate the large garden. Mr. Laque estimated the company saves 24,000 gallons of water each year.

The goal is to attain the LEED Silver certification by the end of the year. "LEED is the most stringent certification -- they go way beyond government certification," said Mr. Laque, noting the certification will have to be continually renewed. "We've partnered with people to help point out the different ways we can become greener and greener. And looking down the pike, new technologies will allow us to do more and more.

"We're very excited about this and try to support it as an organization. And we have commitment all the way up to the top of the organization to do the right thing."

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