Our Blog: Word on the Sidewalk
As the CEO of Radio Flyer and grandson of the founder, it is really important for me that we give back to the communities we serve and live in. One way we do this is by making our company more environmentally responsible—from our products to the place we work each day. That’s why I’m so proud to share that Radio Flyer recently obtained LEED Platinum certification for our headquarters in Chicago.
What is LEED? LEED stands for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design. It’s a globally recognized symbol of excellence—a third-party verification that a building is “green.” Essentially it evaluates a building’s impact on human and environmental health in areas such as sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality.
There are four different levels of LEED certification: the basic level is called certified, then there’s silver, gold and platinum. Only 826 buildings in the United States have LEED Platinum certification, and less than 40 in Illinois.
The LEED Platinum certification didn’t come easy. It took a lot of planning, time and resources—and has been nearly 100 years in the making.
My grandfather founded our company in 1917. In 1930, he moved the company into the facility we are in today. We have more than 150,000 square feet of space. We renovated 70,000 square feet in 2011 into an open concept office space with exposed wood beams and natural light, an indoor and outdoor play lab, an eco-friendly parking lot and a naturally landscaped backyard with native prairie plants.
This year, we are proud to have been awarded LEED Platinum certification for this monumental renovation. How did we get there?
To meet the requirements of LEED Platinum certification we started by renovating our existing facility—one of the most important aspects of Platinum certification. During renovations, we:
- Used 20% of the building materials from the area and another 20% of recycled materials; for instance we recycled our old concrete foundation to use as landscaping stones;
- Ensured our brick walls were insulated;
- Used wood where at least 50% came from rapidly renewable certified wood sources;
- Built cisterns to retain thousands of gallons of storm water from our roof for irrigation;
- Installed permeable pavers in our new parking lot to reduce storm water run-off;
- Utilized low water use plumbing fixtures in our bathrooms and café;
- Installed a geo-thermal heating and cooling system and solar heated ventilation air—a big ticket item that helped us get Platinum certification. This allowed us to reduce our use of natural gas by 50% and saved a precious natural resource as well as more than $45,000 in cost savings in 2012 alone;
- Created dedicated areas for recycling. (We now and send 14% of our waste to the landfill, as 86% of the waste we create is recycled—and we’re working hard to get this down to 10%). This includes a dedicated ‘recycling room’ where employees can recycle items from home including shoes, clothes, electronics, batteries, etc.;
- Ensured use of Low VOC emitting materials and furnishings, from adhesives to sealants to paints and floor systems;
- Added more windows and skylights for interior lighting—including glass walls, and energy saving lighting controls;
- Built a bicycle storage room, with lockers and showers, so employees could bike to work;
- Provided a preferred parking area for high efficiency and/or low emission cars; and
- Created a new backyard to meet the requirement of having a major open space or landscape that used native vegetation, little water and no fertilizer.
Lastly, LEED certified buildings must be in an urban neighborhood, which we have been in since our founding, and be accessible to public transportation. We are ½ mile from the train and ¼ mile from three bus routes.
Making most of these changes wasn’t easy, and it was very costly. But I see it as a long-term investment. There already has been, and will continue to be payback in energy savings and staff pride. We’ve been recognized as a “best workplace,” with awards such as “#1 in the Best Places to Work in Illinois,” “Best Places to Work in Chicago” by Crain’s and “Top Small Workplaces” by The Wall Street Journal.
Having a “green” building is an important selling point when recruiting and retaining talent. Young staffers care about sustainable design and seek a workplace that embraces this philosophy. We did this project not only because it is good for the environment and the people who work here, but because I want to build a company that will last another 100 years.
I want to inspire everyone who works here to live and work in an environmentally sustainable way, and be an example to other companies. Hopefully we’ve achieved that. What do you think? We’d like to hear from you! Please leave your comments in the comment section.