Li Alligood and Maddie Woods: Bringing Sustainability to the Forefront at Otak
Committing to sustainability, both within our organization and in the projects we produce, is a core value at Otak. We believe an environmental focus helps communities function and succeed. In 2011, we put that commitment in writing, signing on to the AIA 2030 Commitment to achieve a carbon-neutral building environment by the year 2030, and putting our Sustainability Action Plan into place.
From that point on, we have been driven to educate our teams on sustainability, reduce our own environmental footprint, and incorporate sustainable practices into our projects. We are accomplishing these goals through the work of our Green Otak (GO) committee under the leadership of Maddie Woods, Project Coordinator and Sustainability Coordinator in our Colorado office, and Li Alligood, Senior Planner and Project Manager in Portland.
The duo has been able to meld their roles with GO into their day-to-day work at Otak, helping us all to prioritize sustainability in everything we do for our clients and affording us opportunities to learn how to educate others about the value of green projects. GO has three components, Training (led by Rose Horton and Keith Bates), Operations, and Practices, each with its own teams and missions, encompassing between 20 and 30 employees at any given time.
As a project coordinator, Maddie assists project managers to see their projects through and can provide sustainability support as needed, helping them to understand where our operations could be improved. On the reverse, she takes what she learns from one project and can suggest how to apply it to another.
Li works more on producing written documents such as reports and plans than on design, but her project management focus supports the Practice Committee’s focus on project-based tools and resources. “I’ve been able to bring the organization and structure that I learn from my job to the GO committees and incorporate those ideas and strategies into how we operate,” she says.
To date, Otak’s most aggressive action has been our carbon offset program. “This really shows our commitment to making an investment in sustainability as a company,” Maddie says. She said Otak has integrated and supported the work of the GO committee from top management down. In the early stages of a project, clients are shown how green ideas and structures can be applied to their projects and that there can be financial incentives to incorporating such strategies. “Our IT department worked with the GO committee to create a sustainability folder of certification programs and resources to allow our designers to see what best practices and structures could be adopted for each project. They can share that information with our clients,” Li adds.
Both say that support of GO within Otak has grown tremendously over the years. Maddie comments that highlighting the green aspects of the company and its work makes Otak more attractive to potential young hires who want to work on projects that improve communities. Enhancing the company’s sustainability-focused OtakU program, an internal program to educate teams on sustainable best practices, has also helped build support. “Initially the Green OtakU programs were specific for design practice, but as interest in sustainability has grown, it encompasses a lot of things. How do you define sustainability? Equity, lessening the impact of design, energy usage—it expands to include almost anything. I struggle to identify the limits of the GO committee in all aspects of the company,” Li states.
With 2030 not too far over the horizon, the GO team sees goals they’d like to reach in the coming year.
“How we are talking about achievements, understanding where we’ve been, benchmarking, and setting goals both from the operations and training perspective can be enhanced. We want to continue to make it easier for our staff to walk clients through the process of making their projects more sustainable,” Maddie comments.
For Li, the work ahead lies more in the nuts and bolts of developing databases and plans to help our teams have better access to information on environmental strategies that have been and could be used in our work. “It might be time to revisit our sustainability action plan too. Time to maybe adopt a new one that recognizes all we’ve achieved and where we want to go,” she says.