By Jordan Fox
For The Diamondback

In the University of Maryland's Center for Young Children, sustainability has become part of the culture.

"We reuse plates, and we think about turning off lights, and we sort our trash and we think about it all the time," said the center's Green Office Program representative Vera Wiest. "It's just natural for us."

The Center for Young Children is one of almost 150 campus programs that participates in the Green Office Program, which is celebrating its five-year anniversary this year. When the initiative kicked off its pilot year in 2011, there were just 16 offices involved.

The program has come a long way since its inception, said Aynsley Toews, a coordinator of the Green Office Program.

Toews said about 20 percent of campus offices are Green Offices, meaning they have a dedicated plan for improving sustainability. She hopes to bump that number up to 50 percent in coming years.

"Although we've reached a lot of offices and we have an amazing participation rate, I'd love to see it grow even further," Toews said. "And I would love it to be at some point in the future the Green Office Program might not even be necessary because all of these actions are embedded as part of the work that we do."

There are three levels of Green Office certification — Bronze, Silver and Gold. In order to achieve certification, offices must first designate a representative to be a liaison between the office and the sustainability office.

The Green Office Program will then visit the office to evaluate its current practices, and everyone in the office will sign a pledge as "a reminder of their participation in the program and the actions they chose to do," Toews said.

The office then completes either the Bronze, Silver or Gold checklist and is certified as a Green Office, Toews said. For the lowest distinction, offices must complete "fast and free" tasks, such as turning out the lights in empty rooms. To earn Silver distinction, offices must move up to the "simple and low cost" checklist, which includes items such as having plants throughout the office. And to achieve Gold, an office must "spend to save," which includes longer term investments in policy changes, such as not allowing vehicles to idle in loading or drop-off zones.

"Any office on campus can do Bronze without too much difficulty," Toews said. "It's quite an accessible list of actions to complete. Then there is Silver who is a little bit harder, and Gold, which is a little bit harder still."

The Green Office Program's audit of each office is conducted by a student and is available as an internship in the Office of Sustainability, Toews said.

"Every semester we have new students who get great experience in sustainability through this program, so that's changing all the time, we are training new students every semester," Toews said.

Green Office Program intern Melonee Quintanilla, a sophomore architecture major, said the program provides a way for her to "make a personal difference, which is kind of rare in the [day-to-day] life of a college student."

Randall Phyall, coordinator of special programs in letters and sciences, said the program is able to "sustain consistent dialogue about not only what the issues are in terms of climate change for example … but how it relates to us."

"Helping staff and students understand why this is something relevant to who we are, what we're aspiring to do personally and professionally, I think is really the core of what it is," Phyall said.

Despite the "depressing" environmental news around the world, the focus of the Green Office Program is the positive benefits individuals and groups of people can initiate, Toews said.