Walking the Talk with AET Group’s Scott Freiburger
When your entire business rests on your ability to help clients move to sustainability, Scott Freiburger figures his company, AET Group, had better be walking the talk.
“As Managing Director and CEO, about seven years ago I decided that we needed to start practicing sustainability more seriously. We embraced the idea so fully that we formed a sustainability team. Five key employees drove the internal sustainability initiatives, and that team maintains ownership of our current sustainability practices. For example, they research and propose purchases we make – they make sure we’ve made the best sustainable choices.”
Scott felt his passion for sustainability early in life. His parents influenced him with their beliefs, naturally, and he was taken by ideas taught in a grade 11 World Issues classroom. He was inspired enough to enroll in Environmental Studies in post-secondary, but the real beginning of a business idea came one summer when he worked for his father’s construction company.
As the construction site “gopher,” Scott did a lot of waste cleanup. He was taken aback by the sheer amount of waste, and wondered where it all went, and felt there had to be a better way. He developed, designed and implemented a service to reduce, manage and divert waste. From there, he’s remained committed to sustainability and is now at the helm of AET Group, an environmental consultancy firm committed to ecological, financial and social responsibilities through dozens of services including Solid Waste Management, Environmental Compliance & Management, Environmental Audits, GHG Reporting & Verification, Sustainability Planning, Environmental Mitigation & Monitoring, Air Quality & Climate Change, Building Sciences, Water Resources Management, Natural Sciences and Energy Management.
We asked Scott about the success of the various sustainability initiatives by the AET team. There are many, which can be found on the website, but here are a few highlights:
Our telecommuting policy not only reduces carbon emissions, but also reduces the time spent commuting and allows for a better work-life balance.
- $1,000 to $1,500 employee reimbursement for the purchase of a low-emitting, fuel efficient, LEED compliant vehicle
- 50% employee reimbursement for the purchase of transit passes for daily commutes to the office
- $200 employee reimbursement for the purchase of a bicycle used as an alternative method of transportation to commute to the office
A few of the key features incorporated into the renovation and addition included:
- Reclamation & restoration of 128-year-old pine plank flooring
- No VOC paint on all walls (interior & exterior)
- Increased insulation from 0 to R24 (walls) & R52 (ceilings) in existing building and addition walls, and increased ceiling and floor to R40 & R50 with natural soy-based spray-foam insulation
- Installation of LED lighting in office areas & T5 fluorescent lighting in boardroom/common areas (~75% reduction in lighting energy use)
- Installation of a heat recovery ventilator
- Built-in work stations constructed from recycled materials
- Clear storey with windows to the south, west, and east to allow for natural daylight
- All windows are low-e, argon gas-filled Energy Star rated
- Single-ply, solar-reflective roofing membrane
- Return air for heating system is drawn through a living wall to filter air
- Interface tile carpet flooring
Washroom Hand Drying
Through our lifecycle analysis, it was determined that re-usable cloth towels would produce far less waste and use less energy than paper towels. Even if the paper towels are composted, we calculated that using cloth towels would produce approximately 40% less GHG emissions than paper towels. The cloth towel option is especially water and energy efficient because we each keep a towel at our desk and re-use it for at least a week before it’s put in the laundry.
Office Naturalized Garden and Bioswale
AET celebrated Earth Day in 2013 by planting a naturalized garden in front of our office. It was a fun team-building activity for the staff and a welcomed beautification. The garden features native plant species that are adapted to the local environment. They don’t require application of pesticides or herbicides, nor large amounts of water. For any watering that is needed, we use water from a rain barrel that stores rainwater run-off from the roof. AET recently completed the installation of a bioswale and rain garden to improve the quality of the storm water and reduce the overall volume flowing from the property, without sacrificing any parking spaces. 70% of the rain and snow that falls on AET’s property is now directed into a specially designed planter box known as a bioswale.
Scott also talked about what ‘walking the talk’ means for his bottom line.
“First of all, we are an extra-energized team, keen to contribute to our sustainable initiatives. We have month-long sustainability challenges with themes, and last year there were 500 sustainable actions completed by employees. They believe in what they do and are committed to how we live. They’re happy employees, so that’s great for retention and productivity. It’s also great for attracting great people and talent.”
“We’ve greened our fleet, and are saving fuel costs along with things like office lighting and heating.”
“And, not to forget our reputation, our clients trust us and want to do business with a group of people who practice what they preach and are passionate about sustainability beyond their jobs.”
The sustainability initiatives reach beyond AET’s office walls. As a member of the Regional Carbon Initiative led by Sustainable Waterloo Region, they’ve also publicly communicated their sustainability goals:
- To reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% from our emission levels recorded in 2010/2011 by 2020
- To accomplish a waste diversion rate of 90% at our office
- To reduce our water footprint by 30% from the 2015 baseline of 663 m3 over 10 years
As a company committed to being green and giving back, AET launched the “Project Plant a Tree” initiative inspired by Scott. “As part of our fight against climate change, we are committing 1-2% of our annual profits to planting trees throughout the communities in which we work and live.” Over 1,000 trees have been planted that resulted in numerous benefits:
- 380 tonnes of CO2 absorbed
- 118 tonnes of O2 produced
- 2,000 people can breathe clean air
Sustainability values are so engrained in Scott and other AET Group employees, they’ll even turn down business if it doesn’t meet their commitments. As Scott says, “Greed isn’t sustainable.”
“I’m so proud of our sustainability achievements over the years, and most of all I’m proud of the dedicated staff that share my commitments and vision to be a truly sustainable company. We’ve achieved a lot over the years but there’s still a lot of work to be done.
And that is how to walk the talk.