Blurban Living, Issue 1

“Walkable” Neighborhoods Lower Risk of Diabetes

According to a pair of studies presented as the American Diabetes Association’s 74th Scientific Sessions earlier this month, living in a neighborhood that is conducive to walking substantially lowers the rate overweight, obesity, and diabetes. Gillian Booth, MD, Endocrinologist and Research Scientist as St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto stated “how we build our cities matters in terms of our overall health. As a society, we have engineered physical activity out of our lives. Every opportunity to walk, to get outside, to go to the corner store or walk our children to school can have a big impact on our risk for diabetes and becoming overweight.”

The studies found people living in neighborhoods with greater walkability saw on average a 13 percent lower development of diabetes over those that were less walkable during a 10-year span. Read more at the ADA Site.

By Jared Robbins, Analyst

(Re)Purposeful Thinking

What drives sustainable businesses today? Purpose. What will drive sustainable businesses tomorrow? Repurpose.

Repurpose means to reuse or alter something to make it more suitable for a different purpose. In a business sense, it means to think of resources that already exist in an alternate state. Repurposing broadens your perspective, provides new opportunities, and like the old saying, turns “one man’s trash into another man’s treasure.”

BrownFlynn took (re)purposeful thinking to heart in our recent office move to Terminal Tower in Downtown Cleveland. We converted a historic space from the Van Sweringen brothers into a modern office that fosters collaboration, innovation and “walking the talk” of sustainability. Our new location enables several employees and clients to travel sustainably, as we are located at the heart of the city with public transportation to the airport and local amenities.

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“Clearly, we’re committed to the city and want to be part of its vibrancy,” says Principal Margie Flynn. “We’re committed to sustainability and want to make sure we’re walking the talk in what we’re doing. And the essence of sustainability is really historic preservation.” Learn more about our office move in our GreenBiz Shift Happens article, “A sustainable work environment breeds a healthy, happy culture.”

Throughout the move process, we gave old office furniture to employees to repurpose in their homes. We also donated office supplies to local charities, such as Super Heroes to Kids in Ohio and local schools. By repurposing our office items, we helped eliminate waste and gave back to our community.

Whether your company is creating a waste management plan, moving, or looking for new sustainability projects, below we have highlighted creative ideas to help you repurpose:

  • Create a corporate office supply recycle store, where employees recycle and reuse office supplies and your sustainability department can track savings for not purchasing new office supplies.
  • Consider legacy office furniture or family “hand-me-downs” as a hip new way to style your office or home! Furniture lasts for generations—why not repurpose antique furniture from your previous colleagues or relatives that carries traditions and decades of memories?
  • House Logic provides tips to repurpose take-out containers, utensils and chopsticks.
  • The CHIC Home provides tips to create functional storage out of items you already have: old doors, shoe boxes, egg cartons, and more!

We encourage you to think purposefully and (re)purposefully both at your company and in your personal life, as this mindset empowers you to live sustainably.

By Brittany VanderBeek, Analyst



BrownFlynn through the Eyes of a High School Senior

To start, I want to thank BrownFlynn for such a great opportunity to take a step outside of the classrooms and school hallways. I also want to point out that this is my first time being in any type of office setting, so some observations may appear more obvious to some. Before coming to BrownFlynn, my limited knowledge of the firm included their three practice areas: consulting, communications, and training. However, at that time, I didn’t really understand what those areas actually entailed. That being said, these are the things that I learned and the things that stood out to me most in my time here:

  • Communication: This is an important tool for success in any area of life. I think everyone at BrownFlynn is either very aware of this or, most likely, they are all great by nature. From my limited amount of experience coordinating events at my school, I know how difficult it can be to rely on others. At BrownFlynn, they have to do this all the time, and yet they always seem to keep calm and collected. Everyone knows how to work efficiently and everything is coordinated to maintain a streamlined, smooth working environment.
  • Work Ethic: Whether they’re working on a report, planning a layout, meeting with clients, or doing any of the other countless things that seem to be happening at BrownFlynn, everyone is always focused and giving their best effort. This is just what I picked up from being able to listen in on conversations about upcoming events and tasks, so I can only imagine how much they actually put into action.
  • Atmosphere: Although the BrownFlynn team is always busy at work, they still make coming to work an enjoyable experience. They are always willing to help and support each other. Everyone’s ability to keep themselves and their clients so organized with meetings and deadlines is very impressive.

Though a large part of BrownFlynn’s work is with helping companies manage their sustainability efforts, they also practice sustainability in their own office. They have blue recycling bins at every desk and have worked to reduce their waste. They even make their own sustainability reports available to the public. Implementing these philosophies in their office really demonstrated to me how passionate BrownFlynn is about their policies.

A few of the specific things I participated in while here: I was able to attend a fun networking luncheon, a webinar hosted by BrownFlynn about GRI and SASB, numerous phone conferences, and I had the opportunity to help with some preliminary edits. These are all things that I have never experienced and I know will give me good footing when I begin my own jobs in the future.

By Mia Mastroianni, High School Senior, Laurel School

Gardening: Nourishing the Environment and the Soul

Spring is here and that means it’s time to start planning and preparing my garden. Although I grew up helping my parents garden, that was more out of obligation than desire. When I started my own garden three years ago, I wasn’t sure where to begin. The good news is I didn’t overcomplicate it and I still ended up with a great garden. A few years later, I’m still experimenting and I encourage you to do the same.

Why Garden?

There are so many great reasons to grow a backyard garden. You can shave some cost off of your weekly grocery bill. Fresh, ripe fruits and vegetables taste incredible, far better than their grocery counterparts picked early to keep from spoiling in the shipping process. As backyard gardening and buying local produce becomes more prominent, collectively we can decrease the amount of petroleum required to ship produce from distant locations as well as decrease the resulting GHG emissions. And while all those reasons are sufficient, there is something about gardening that nourishes the soul. So, I encourage you to try a backyard garden experiment – and involve kids too. Teach the next generation that food comes from plants, not grocery stores. Let them share in the awe and satisfaction that comes with growing your own food.

How to Experiment with Gardening

1. Select a Sunny Location: The first thing you want to do is figure out the best location in your yard for a garden. Look for a spot that gets sunlight eight hours a day. There are two locations in my yard that would’ve worked. I chose the one closer to my house and water source. Last year I was fortunate enough to get a rain barrel for Mother’s Day and we connected that to our downspout, collecting rainwater for the garden.

2. Create Your Garden Bed: Choose the kind of garden bed that you want. I was able to salvage a used raised bed structure. You can easily build your own raised bed using wood, rocks or bricks to define the edge of your bed. Don’t forget that vegetables can also be integrated into your landscaping as well. Who says that space is only for flowers? One thing to keep in mind is critters. We have wood stakes around the inside of our garden frame with an attached wire fence. I can step over it at the same time it keeps the rabbits out. To fill a raised garden bed with dirt, we ordered a truckload of organic soil but you can buy bags as well. There are lots of tips around nutrients you can add to your soil, but it’s not necessary. I don’t add anything to my soil and still have a very productive garden. If you are working with an existing space, remove any grass and till the ground to break up hard soil, allowing for easier plant growth.

This is my preferred method for staking tomato plants to support their growth. It’s effective and it looks great too. You can purchase long wood stakes or bamboo rods at your local home improvement store and reuse them year after year.

This is my preferred method for staking tomato plants to support their growth. It’s effective and it looks great too. You can purchase long wood stakes or bamboo rods at your local home improvement store and reuse them year after year.

3. Choose What You Will Grow: This is just an experiment, so select what you will try, get going and see what works. You can switch it next year. Given the limited space in my garden, I had to be selective. I thought about what I would like on hand weekly or what I could freeze or can to use in the winter. I asked some avid gardeners what was easy versus difficult to grow. For me, tomatoes, zucchini, green beans, spinach, peppers, carrots and herbs grow without troubles, in Ohio. I’m planning on adding new veggies this year and working some berry bushes into my landscaping. I would not recommend cucumber or other vine-like plants such as cantaloupe or watermelon in a small garden. Vine plants take over your garden and squeeze out other plants. Talk to a gardener about your ideas and get their suggestions.

My kids and I were very proud of our first carrot crop.

My kids and I were very proud of our first carrot crop.

4. Remember Daily Care: In the dead heat of summer, watering your garden daily is critical to the vitality of your plants. It’s best to water in the early morning, before 10 AM. You can water in the evenings as well, but if the water doesn’t dry and sits on the plant leaves that could cause mold problems. Having an herbicide/pesticide-free garden is important to me, but that also means more weeds. The use of mulch or straw and stepping stones helps prohibit weed growth. It takes some weeding by hand too and thankfully my neighbors forgive me for the weeds I don’t get to.

So what are you waiting for? Start your garden experiment this weekend, even if that means a basil plant in the windowsill or one little potted tomato plant on your back deck. Enjoy your experiment!

By Jennifer Andress, Senior Consultant

Sustainability reporting evolving as a management tool

By: Darrell Delamaide

An improved reporting process is helping companies identify gaps in their sustainability practices, which, when closed, can lead to big savings

The latest guidelines from the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), issued less than a year ago, are turning sustainability reporting into more of a management tool and less of a marketing exercise.

The new version, called G4, introduces a whole set of guidelines on governance and places the emphasis on prioritizing which actions of the organization have a truly significant impact on the environment and society.
The focus is more on ‘how’ the report is produced, rather than on ‘what’ it finally says. In other words, it is designed to engage the organization from the C-suite on down in managing the impact rather than putting out a checklist of indicators.

This was the message in a training session with high-level government officials (including several procurement officers) conducted in Washington on April 23 and 24 by BrownFlynn, a sustainability consulting firm and the first US-certified GRI training partner. This training was conducted in partnership with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development at WBCSD’s US offices.

To read the full article in Corporate Secretary magazine please click here.

The long journey to sustainable procurement

By Mike Wallace

Bad news: Survey fatigue — already at significant levels — doesn’t seem to be improving. In fact, it could get much worse before it gets better. Good news: It could make our businesses more sustainable.

Anyone and everyone who examines his own sustainability performance, or footprint, quickly realizes that suppliers make up a big part of that footprint. This, in turn, leads the organization to realize that some sort of action on the supply chain is needed. This generally takes the shape of supplier codes of conduct, questionnaires, scorecards, surveys and/or supplier audit programs. Because everyone is in someone’s supply chain, we create a “circular loop” for ourselves. While complaining about survey fatigue, many companies turn around and subject suppliers to the very thing they complain about.

Tip of the transparent iceberg

It’s one thing for large-multinational corporations to do this, but when large public institutions start to explore sustainable procurement, we get a glimpse of the ripple effect. Federal, state and local governments, state universities and non-profit healthcare providers are assessing their own sustainability performance, which will lead them to assess their suppliers.

Whether you’re large, small, public or private, you are in someone’s supply chain and you inevitably will get that sustainability question. Are you ready to answer it?

Read more in our GreenBiz Shift Happens column here!

Transparency Is A Virtue

The European Parliament’s adoption of the directive for disclosure of non-financial information and diversity information marks the most recent example of how governments are valuing corporate transparency. Deputy Chief Executive of the Global Reporting Initiative, Teresa Fogelberg, said:

“This agreement demonstrates the EU’s strong commitment to corporate transparency and sustainability – supporting smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, and paving the way for a sustainable global economy.”

In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released a new version of the Report on Environment (the Report), outlining indicators that help the EPA monitor trends in the condition of the United States’ air, water, land, human exposure and health, ecological systems and sustainability. It is interesting to note that the EPA added sustainability as a new theme in 2014, responding to growing international concerns.  The sustainability theme only has one indicator as of now, but the EPA plans to develop this theme by collaborating with a variety of stakeholders and considering three important aspects of sustainability- intensity of energy use, water use and materials use.

Source: EPA Website

Source: EPA Website

The new version of the Report provides new features: a conceptual framework to show how indicators relate to EPA concerns, interactive graphing, statistical information, trends related to where you live, and information about what you can do to help. All of these tools and the Report itself demonstrate how the EPA values disclosure of sustainability information in order to manage environmental and human health concerns and to inform the public. The EPA invites public commentary on the new version of the Report until April 27, 2014.

What do these government initiatives for transparency mean for your company and its sustainability efforts?

  1. In general, government expectations for transparency will likely advance the sustainability reporting spectrum; newcomers will join the sustainability reporting bandwagon and advanced reporters will disclose more sustainability data and management approaches. Stakeholder engagement will likely incorporate government agencies and representatives as more regulations enforce transparency.
  2. In the United States, proactive involvement with the EPA through public commentary on the Report on Environment and other initiatives may become a source of competitive advantage. Companies can collaborate with government agencies to determine the trajectory of government sustainability initiatives going forward.
  3. For current sustainability reporters following the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) framework, the Report on Environment may help inform materiality assessments, including:
  • Prioritizing material topics, considering United States trends in environmental and human health issues.
  • Measuring influence on stakeholders: Companies may want to interview more stakeholders affiliated with the government.
  • Determing significance to companies: The role of government will become more significant to companies both in terms of risk and compliance to regulations and in terms of opportunities for government collaboration.

BrownFlynn is glad to see the international government support for and progression of sustainability reporting.  Join several United States government agencies at our next GRI-Certified G4 Training Course: GRI Sustainability Reporting Process April 23-24, 2014 at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development in Washington, D.C.


By Brittany VanderBeek, Analyst