By Kenneth Bandler
The imperative to address environmental challenges is rooted in our tradition, which has informed the political advocacy work of American Jewish Committee for more than a century. Those values impel action on environmental issues. At AJC, we’ve responded by changing the way that we do business as an organization, and by helping motivate staff, lay leaders and supporters to think creatively and act both individually and collectively so that together we can make a difference.
We want to lead by example. And through programs large and small, we’re making a difference. AJC employees in Chicago, Los Angeles, New Jersey and Washington have participated in our program offering cash incentives to purchase or lease hybrid cars. Los Angeles County’s government even adopted our model to create a similar program for its 100,000 employees.
Eight years ago, we set a goal to become the first national Jewish organization to receive green building certification through the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.
The task was made a bit easier because we own our own headquarters building in New York. But transforming a 1950s office building into a modern, energy efficient structure was not a simple endeavor, and we never could have achieved LEED certification without commitment to this project from the very top levels of our agency. The project’s importance and consonance with our mission was communicated clearly and regularly to all employees, and we embraced it. In June 2011 we celebrated the awarding of LEED gold-level certification to AJC.
“We applaud AJC for demonstrating a commitment to the environmentally friendly innovations that are so critical to our residents’ quality of life,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg wrote in a letter to AJC. “Together, we look forward to AJC’s National Headquarters serving as a green design model for more nonprofits and corporate citizens.”
Investments in energy efficient machinery and materials already have yielded significant savings. Total power usage has been reduced by some 45 percent, and water usage by 20 percent, cutting annual expenditures by more than $200,000.
Additionally, AJC has taken advantage of renewable energy credits by purchasing power from resources such as wind and biogas. AJC doesn’t receive electricity directly from wind farms, but obtains credits by supporting renewable energy generation to balance carbon dioxide emissions from our headquarters building. Participating in a renewable energy credit program is an important factor in green power evaluations conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which named the AJC a Green Power Partner.
Recycling is also an essential component of the green building program, and we’ve been aggressive in recycling paper, cardboard, plastics, metals, glass, batteries, light bulbs and electronics. About 70 percent of our headquarters’ waste is recycled.
We implemented a comprehensive sustainable procurement program, so that 90 percent of supplies, including pens and pencils, contain sustainable features. And our cleaning staff uses 100-percent nontoxic Green Seal certified products, which protects building occupants from harmful chemicals.
Achieving LEED certification is not the end of our green renovation project. AJC has modernized the elevators in our headquarters to become more energy efficient. And we’re encouraging our local AJC offices across the country to implement green measures and to encourage their landlords to do likewise. Efforts are underway to enhance office recycling and sustainable product procurement.
There have been other examples of leadership on environmental issues in the Jewish community — all have begun by recognizing the present dangers, appreciating the imperative of our own Jewish tradition to act, and then moving ahead with determined commitment. At the root is the understanding that each one of us is responsible for the environment in which we live.
Kenneth Bandler is director of media relations for the American Jewish Committee. A Jerusalem Post columnist and regular contributor to FOXNews.com, Bandler previously worked as managing editor of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and as director of public information at the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, which became the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.
The Jewish Energy Guide presents a comprehensive Jewish approach to the challenges of energy security and climate change and offers a blueprint for the Jewish community to achieve a 14% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by September of 2014, which is the next Shmittah, or sabbatical, year in the Jewish calendar.
The Jewish Energy Guide is part of COEJL’s Jewish Energy Network, a collaborative effort with Jewcology’s Year of Action to engage Jews in energy action and advocacy.The guide was created in partnership with the Green Zionist Alliance.