ENVIRONMENT : Carbon Zero - a Case Study; as Architects with a Strong Focus on Environmental Sustainability, Warren and Mahoney Are Embracing Green Principles in Their Own Practice - by Going Carbon Neutral. Why Did It Prove Easier Than Expected? Vicki Jayne Reports

Article excerpt

Byline: Vicki Jayne

It seems Kermit the frog got it wrong - it is easy being green. That's the message Warren and Mahoney partner Graeme Finlay would most like to pass on to other companies contemplating the journey his firm has taken toward carboNZero certification.

"As a company, we've been thinking about it for around three years and whether we should be looking at overseas schemes. Then the Landcare scheme got under way here but we didn't engage with it straight away because we thought it would be more difficult, time-consuming and expensive than it has in fact proved to be.

"That was a bit of a surprise so I kick myself that we didn't go down this track a few years ago."

One of this country's largest architectural firms with offices in Christchurch, Wellington, Auckland and Queenstown, Warren and Mahoney had long decided that "green" was the colour of its future in terms of building design.

"More than six years ago we'd made the decision that environmental issues were going to be a major for our company in terms of our ability to deliver what our clients would be asking for," explains Finlay. "So we wanted to pre-empt the market and look at where we thought design in architecture was going to go in future - and to be part of that."

The company got involved in setting up the Green Building Council, has engaged with several environmental pilot schemes - from building rating schemes to waste management - and is currently working with other organisations to develop a data-base of building products based on their environmental performance.

"So we've been in this field for a while and were looking at what we could do as a business in terms of our own housekeeping," says Finlay.

Measure - Much of the legwork for certification was taken on by the firm's business administrator Cheryl Kilpatrick who says the hardest part was getting to grips with what the company had to measure.

"Most of the work comes from collating information for the measurement stage of the process - that's where the bulk of the time goes. When you're starting from scratch, you have to go through all your records. But that will get quicker because each year we'll be working out new ways of measuring that are easier for us."

The amount of resources that need to go into this stage also depends on how well organised the accounts and administrative structures are already, adds Kilpatrick. For instance, it's harder to collect information about travel if payments go onto individual credit cards rather than being centrally collated.

It's probably a lot easier to identify carbon emissions sources for a service-based company than it is for a manufacturer, Finlay comments. Obvious starters are energy use, petrol and travel.

"That was the bulk of it for us and the [measuring process] was actually much simpler than anyone had anticipated. However it did take a while to get there because the need to get those ratified by an independent auditor took a bit longer than expected."

Identifying emissions and measuring the size of a company's carbon footprint is the most time-consuming part of the process, confirms Landcare Research leader, business and sustainability, Ann Smith. "But that varies enormously depending on the complexity of the organisation and how well organised their data is."

Landcare has a software tool that simplifies the process - enabling data to be collected simultaneously from different business units within a company as well as accounting for changes in emission factors over different time periods. A lot has been learned since the carboNZero scheme was first piloted in 2001 and that has helped streamline the process, says Smith.

"Certainly for the wine industry, where we now have over 30 wineries we're working with at various stages, we've got the process pretty well pinned. Once a company has gone through the process, they find it a lot easier going into their second year. …