Although the celebrated Oscar statuette is gold, green was the color at this year’s Academy Awards. But Hollywood isn’t the only place where caring for the environment is increasingly taking center stage.  Last month, a celebrated Chicago office tower won a prestigious award from the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA), primarily for its attention to green practices and environmental stewardship.

Myrna Coronado, General Manager of 77 West Wacker, which won BOMA’s North Central Regional TOBY (The Office Building of the Year) Award, says she entered the competition to raise environmental awareness among commercial office property managers. “I applied specifically to showcase how our management team surpasses the baseline of good commercial property management by implementing greener practices and displaying civic concern and responsibility for wildlife, energy and environmental conservation,” she explains.

Coronado has worked for the building’s management company, Prime Group Realty Trust, since 1999. In awarding the team, BOMA cited its creative recycling program, green cleaning initiatives, energy conservation efforts and occupant health programs as contributing heavily toward their decision. “BOMA also recognized us for our use of LEED guidelines to maximize operational efficiencies and minimize environmental impact related to energy and the atmosphere,” says Coronado. The award recognizes excellence in office building management and operations in the 500,000- to 1-million-square-feet category.

Stephen Ashkin, a Green Cleaning expert and president of The Ashkin Group, LLC, was not surprised that the building won. The Bloomington, Indiana-based consultant advised the building’s developers on green practices when 77 Wacker was originally being built. The Ashkin Group was asked back three years ago to perform an audit on how Coronado’s team could enhance their green cleaning practices.  

“Myrna is a true role model for building managers as people from here to Hollywood begin to take seriously the effects of human activity on the environment,” says Ashkin. “She is a long-time Green advocate and has brought that conviction to every building she’s managed. After we worked with Myrna’s team on the audit, they plunged in and began making changes that significantly improved the building’s effect on the environment and on the wellbeing of its tenants. There couldn’t be a team more deserving of this award.”

After Ashkin’s audit, Coronado’s management team took these steps to make changes in the building: They implemented a Green Cleaning pilot program that reduced 12,965 pound of volatile organic compounds by switching to low-VOC cleaning products; they introduced High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) vacuums which catch many fine particulates such as pollen, mold spores and dust; they implemented an active recycling program; and they launched a plastics, glass and aluminum can recycling program.

“Our recycling program was the biggest and most cost-effective change we made,” says Coronado. “In 2002, we were paying approximately $5,000 per month to have the building’s trash hauled. By implementing a recycling program, we were able to actively separate the fiber from the wet trash on site. This reduced the trash hauling frequency and the tonnage fees associated with waste removal, reducing our operating expenses for waste removal expenses to $500 per month.”

Coronado is proud of the changes they have made and touts the benefits of going green. “The changes in our cleaning program improved worker safety and reduced labor costs, chemical usage and risk,” she explains. Other benefits she cites are a reduction in operating expenses and an increase in environmental consciousness among tenants. “The tenants, management team and building staff have embraced the program and seem to have a harmonious sense of what they are doing to help the environment,” she says. “It seems so easy for companies and corporations to pass the responsibility down the line, but we’ve been able to get management, workers and tenants to work together and understand that we are all responsible for the environment.”

For building managers who are thinking of going green, Coronado advises, “Start with small steps, be committed to the program, and know that it isn’t as difficult as you think.” To date, three other Chicago structures (NBC Tower, 211 West Wacker Drive, and 330 North Wabash) have followed Coronado’s lead by adopting green practices. Coronado’s building will now advance to the international level of the competition, with the winner to be announced on July 24 in New York.