Nonprofit Aims to Achieve Green Building Status

Several years ago, American Jewish Committee (AJC) made a commitment to devote resources to become a green agency, beginning with AJC headquarters in New York. This has not been an easy task. The eight-floor building in midtown Manhattan is nearly 60 years old. But facing challenges with a pioneering spirit has been a core value of AJC since the organization’s founding in 1906.

Today, AJC is a leading global advocacy organization, with 32 offices across the United States, a significant overseas presence that includes eight offices and 24 partnerships, and a national membership of more than 175,000 and growing.

AJC had the foresight to engage energy independence as a national security issue more than 35 years ago, after the 1973 oil embargo. Recognizing that energy independence and environmental concerns are intertwined, in recent years AJC seized opportunities to implement a bold recycling program, change all lighting to save electricity costs, and institute green procedures for cleaning, purchasing furniture and renovating offices. To assure success, AJC created a new staff position, green project manager, in 2006.

A key motivating factor is AJC’s determination to become one of the first Jewish nonprofits in the country with green certification for its national headquarters. To achieve that goal, AJC is engaged in a multi-year process for compliance with the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating Systems™.

Early success has been recognized. In January 2008, the federal Environmental Projection Agency’s Green Power Partnership named AJC to the elite Energy Leadership Club, in recognition of AJC’s purchase of Green Power to meet 100% of its U.S.-based electricity usage.

In fact, according to the EPA, AJC is the third largest nonprofit green power purchaser nationally among Green Power Partners, just behind the Inter-American Development Bank and The World Bank Group. Based on a national average emissions rate, AJC’s green power purchase is equivalent to avoiding the carbon dioxide emissions of more than 200 passenger cars each year. AJC is purchasing 2 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of green power by obtaining wind and biogas RECs (Renewable Energy Credits). RECs are a practical step to promote decreased dependence on foreign sources of power.

To further reduce energy consumption, AJC completed in 2007 the implementation of a lighting reduction program. Elements included removing unnecessary fixtures; replacing fixtures in all offices and common spaces with more efficient equipment using T5 florescent bulbs; and, installing occupancy sensors in individual offices and bathrooms so lights automatically turn off if no motion is detected. These energy-efficient improvements have resulted in a 20% reduction in monthly electric bills.

Significant progress also has been achieved in recycling. Psychologically and culturally recycling paper may be one of the easiest tasks to implement. In New York City and its surrounding suburbs, there has been an aggressive recycling program for some years with distinctive blue bins to collect newspapers and other paper waste—something employees and visitors already have been doing at home. At AJC, blue bins are in every individual office and in strategic common area locations, such as near photocopying machines.
Meanwhile, paper purchased for use by AJC is 30% recycled paper stock (even though LEED requires only 10 percent recycled). That includes all paper used for stationery, photocopying, computer printing, as well as items produced in AJC’s in-house print shop. As a premier think tank, AJC is producing regularly research and other publications. As a nonprofit with a large development department, invitations to fundraising events are printed frequently.

Currently, 95% of paper waste is recycled. Further reduction in paper usage is being encouraged, part of the ongoing education of staff and volunteers. Such steps include printing less from computers and reloading paper for drafts to print on the other unused side.

Sensitive to the reality that cleaning chemicals can be harmful, AJC implemented in 2005 a green cleaning policy. Fortunately, the company long contracted to clean the offices, bathrooms, conference rooms and other areas was willing to cooperate and has replaced traditional cleaning methods with less toxic and more eco-friendly alternatives. Products are based on hydrogen-peroxide (H2O2) or H2orange. The cleaning company AJC engages, like firms used in most New York office buildings, converted to using green products.

Another challenge involves renovating offices. That has included the use of construction materials that have green certifications, as well as hiring contractors with green practices expertise. Again, not an easy challenge, especially when AJC, as a nonprofit, has a policy of soliciting bids from three companies. But it can and has been done. One entire floor of the building underwent in 2007 a significant renovation, including creation of a number of new offices. In 2008, the ground floor building lobby was renovated. For these jobs, and any future renovation, care is given to purchasing office furniture, wall paneling and flooring that are sustainable. That requires examining the contents and sources of wood and other products used.

The major long-term project, given the age of the building, will be replacing the HVAC system. Necessary to save energy, it also will contribute to staff health, and will be the final phase to obtain LEED certification. This will include replacing the main building air chiller and installing a computerized building management system that can monitor the amount of fresh air in the building and monitor the amount of CO2 in the air. The mechanical systems upgrade is expected to reduce energy usage by up to 35%.

In addition, AJC introduced in 2006 a Fuel-Efficient Vehicle Bonus Program. Full-time AJC employees working in any AJC office across the U.S. are eligible to receive cash incentives to purchase new hybrid cars. The program is believed to be the first offer of its kind to employees of any non-profit organization in the United States.

For the Green Project, the advantage is that the building has been exclusively owned and operated by AJC since 1959. It is our hope that what is being done in the New York building will inspire staff and volunteers, as well as other nonprofit organizations to learn from our example and consider using a green approach to their homes and offices.

This was excerpted from PR News' Going Green: Case Studies in Outstanding Green Business Practices, Volume 1. The article was written by Kenneth Bandler, director of communications for the American Jewish Committee. To order this guidebook or another, please visit