DHG is working to lessen our negative impact on Mother Earth. The Charleston, SC office is leading the charge with many significant programs underway including participation in a city-wide competition that promotes environmentally friendly business practices. Martha Johnson shares with us how this office is making innovative changes to promote an Earth friendly culture in the office.
AGH: Hello everyone and welcome back to another episode of our DHG Podcast Series. I'm Alice Grey Harrison, your host, and I really love this venue because we get to hear from our people about the things that matter the most to them; flexibility, careers, and of course, each other. Today I have with me Martha Johnson from our Charleston, South Carolina office and we are going to talk a little bit about what her office is doing to help our environment. And the reason why we chose this topic for right now is we're celebrating Earth Day, which was April 22nd. Many of our offices do things all year long to celebrate the Earth and take care of our environment, and our Charleston office does an exceptional job of this, so I invited Martha to come along and tell us a little bit about what they do. So Martha, welcome!
MJ: Hi Alice Grey.
AGH: It's great to have you with us. So tell me what your role is at DHG, and how you got involved in some of the programs that the Charleston, South Carolina office is involved in.
MJ: Alice Grey, I'm on the administrative staff and I support mainly the tax department, but I'm sort of known as the organizer of anything fun that happens in Charleston. That's how I got involved in it. Several years ago we had a prospective client, a big one, that requested we provide info on the green initiatives that DHG was involved in. And I think Tricia, our managing partner, had an aha moment that we didn't actually have anything significant to share….we had some stepping up to do to, especially with this particular client, to get to a place where they found it to be acceptable to do business with us. And we started thinking about ways that we could change our office and others. So we're trying to make it fun by going green, so she asked me to help because I do things that make people have fun!
AGH: That is for sure. I've had the honor of working with you on some fun jib-jab videos, so I know firsthand how fun you are. So tell us a little bit about what exactly the Charleston, SC office is doing.
MJ: One of the big things that we're doing this year is the city of Charleston has a green competition between local business in the city of Charleston and it's a pretty rigorous program. We've gotten involved in it and there are a lot of different measurements that we have to submit data on. And at the end of the year we'll face judgement day on actually how green we are. So that spurred us on in moving forward a little bit. I think one of the things that we focused on that makes the most impact is the building itself that we occupy and the energy consumption of that building. It's really difficult to reach a temperature in which everybody's happy, but we've had hot and cold all over the office where people are running heaters in July and the energy cost on this building was just out of sight. So one of the things that we've done this year, not we, but the actual owners of the building as spurred on by DHG, we've had an energy audit of the building and we've come out with some great things that we think are going to drastically reduce the amount of our electrical bills and make it a comfortable environment at the same time. Also, we've installed motion sensors in our office that turn the lights off when no one's there with no activity. Occasionally they'll turn off when someone is just sitting in a room, but you just stand up and move around a bit to get the lights back on. And we've replaced all of our lighting with LED. We've really tried to motivate our staff to turn off and shut down everything at night; not to leave those monitors on and computers on at night. Some of the fun things we've done- we've purchased bikes for our people to use to get around downtown. If you've ever been to Charleston you know that we have a - it's not a huge city, but we have a huge traffic problem.
AGH: Yes, and parking.
MJ: Parking is crazy.
MJ: So we have bikes and we encourage employees to use them when they're going to lunch or out and about in Charleston.
MJ: Or going on an appointment, and they don't have to worry about parking and they get some exercise as well. So that's been great.
AGH: So Martha, do you think that a lot of the employees have embraced that?
MJ: Yeah. They love using the bikes, they really do. Recently I was working on a Saturday and Sephora had opened up downtown and I was like, "I know I'm not gonna get a parking place," but I grabbed one of the bikes and I was there in 5 minutes, no parking problem and no traffic problem. Then I went to the farmer's market on it!
MJ: And it also gives - it breaks the day. You know you're out getting a little exercise and killing two birds with one stone.
AGH: That's so cool.
MJ: Just a lot quicker to get around and the exercise is GREAT! Tricia would like for us to bike even more often.
AGH: Yes. Trisha is our Queen environmentally conscious leader at Dixon Hughes Goodman. She is leading the charge for the firm.
MJ: And that's where it makes it a lot easier for us to do these things because just having your managing partner suggest it, strongly encourage it, goes a long way. We removed all of the disposable paper products in our kitchen, no plastic serving ware, no paper plates. We have reusable cups, plates, and serving ware and we thought that, "Well, we're just going to be running the dishes all day long." But really what we do is run the dishwasher at full speed at the end of the day rather than 10% full. So it's been a little bit tricky navigating with this and sometimes we are looking at a sink full of dishes, but people are getting used to it and knowing that we're not going to use those paper products and paper cups. So that's been a ton of fun.
AGH: So what's the vision for the future? What's on the horizon?
MJ: Well, we're looking at changing the HVAC system, which is somewhat out of our hands but with the right pressure I think that'll get done. Because we're involved with this city wide competition, they're always sending out suggestions of things that we can do. And we're really trying to come up with creative ways to reduce our paper waste and consumption, and that's really hard for CPA's.
AGH: Oh yeah.
MJ: And that takes a real mindset change and encouraging our clients to use the portal and send us information back and forth through the portal rather than paper. That's a bit of a challenge, but we're trying to move forward. And the other thing which was a neat suggestion from Charleston Green Coalition, is to make an all-out effort to get all of the paper subscriptions in the office changed to electronic. We're working on changing all of the brokerage statements that we get from paper to electronic…that’s a major project! And also, after our busy season I'm really going to do a push to try and get rid of all of the magazines that nobody reads and go to an electronic subscription. Paper pours in and just ends up in the mailroom trash. So I think that's one of the things that we're going to try and work on, and also trying to do more local business where we can just because of the shipping cost and environmental impact. This is one thing that I've learned through this green business challenge, that the energy consumption for shipping an item from California that may be 2 cents cheaper, but you could get it locally and not bear the shipping cost, makes a huge different in green house emissions, and just energy consumption, things that you just don't think about. So that's one of the things that I'm hoping that we can stretch ourselves on and look past just using reusable products and really try to make a bigger impact. And of course we recycle.
AGH: All of our offices do recycle - lots of paper and cans! Martha it's been so great hearing about what Charleston's been doing. You guys are really leading the pack and helping all of us be better stewards of our environment and we commend you for the work that you've done.
MJ: Oh, I've enjoyed it. It's something that I really care about a lot. I'm a little bit older, a lot older than most of the staff here and I don't think a lot of people experienced waiting in gas lines in the late 70's for a couple of hours to get three gallons of gas and some of the things that we dealt with when we had energy issues. And then they went away and people are driving big cars again and for me it's kind of like returning to something that I was passionate about in my 20's. It's come around again and it's even more important now than it was then because it's more of an environmental issue now than it is a pocketbook issue, an inconvenience issue.
AGH: Right. Well Martha, thank you so much for joining us today and sharing with us about the Charleston, South Carolina office.
MJ: Sure. I've enjoyed it as well.
AGH: Best of luck as ya'll pursue the city-wide competition, and thank you all for listening to Life at DHG, our premier podcast series. If you like what you just heard, I hope that you'll share it and tell your friends and colleagues. Be sure to check out our DHG blog for more great stories about our Life Beyond Numbers. Join us next time for another edition of Life at DHG.