The ‘R’ and the ‘T’ parts of RTP get a lot of attention; we are, after all, the largest research campus in the country, located in the heart of the Triangle, a region that gets more hype with every passing ‘Best of’ list. But there’s a ‘P’ there, too, and some dedicated folks from the RTP community are working hard this year to give the ‘Park’ part its due.
With a list of projects designed to make RTP a more environmentally conscious campus and to raise awareness of the Park’s environmental role in the community, the Environment@RTP committee is also looking to involve more and more RTP employees in the greening of RTP.
But first, the back story: The Environment@RTP committee includes employees from RTP companies — including IBM, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and more — who donate their time, expertise, and passion to projects that make the Research Triangle Park more, well, park-like. It started more than a decade ago, when people from various RTP companies joined forces to launch a program to encourage recycling of home electronics for Park employees.
“Eventually it grew into more initiatives, like the bluebird boxes we have now,” says Lisa Jemison, director of RTP programs. “Companies started getting wildlife habitat certified, things like that. If there were new regulations coming out that would affect the Park, they’d get together to discuss that or have a speaker come in to talk about it.”
The group still works to help RTP businesses address environmental regulations. Mitigating the environmental impact of 50,000 people traveling to and from work is a top and constant priority, as are business efforts to satisfy new environmental regulations meant to protect nearby Jordan Lake.
“Historically we’ve seen a lot of focus on water issues,” says Stuart Hurwitz, an environmental engineer at IBM’s RTP campus and chair of the Environment@RTP committee. He says the committee serves as a resource to both local agencies who want to understand the business impact of environmental policies and RTP companies trying to address regulations.
“We’ve worked with the Durham County Wastewater Treatment plant, for instance, to coordinate activities among RTP companies that look at ways to improve wastewater discharge. Or we’ll look at how new rules or regulatory changes might impact RTP businesses and share that information with the municipalities and the companies,” he says. “The Park has a variety of different companies in a variety of different industries. Each is pretty varied in terms of the internal resources they have to address environmental issues. The committee is a way for us and others to share information and best practices.”
This year, the Environment@RTP committee is also taking a broader view of its role as it helps to reshape RTP into an environmental resource and community greenspace in its own right. Jemison says projects in the works for this year include installing beehives to provide community honey; planting swaths of native and butterfly-attracting plants to create a monarch corridor; and working with a zoologist to monitor wildlife within the park’s natural habitats using wildlife cameras and streaming video.
“Some of these are things IBM has done for years, and we’ve seen how valuable it can be for a business,” says Darryl Bloch, also an environmental engineer at IBM’s RTP campus and member of the Environment@RTP committee. Adding that signage on IBM’s campus about the company’s wildlife habitat certification generate positive feedback from employees, executives, clients, and visitors. “Now we can help other companies learn and get involved as well.”
A key goal for each project is building awareness of the Park’s environmental value and strengthening RTP’s community of environmentally conscious companies and employees.
“Our companies are here to do business, and part of our job at the Research Triangle Foundation is to help them to do well financially,” said Jemison. “We want them to have access to the talent and resources they need to grow and to thrive, and our ability to provide that is a big reason why so many companies choose to move here. But as a research park of 200-plus companies, we all are doing business in community. To really do great work we need to care about more than just than the traditional bottom line. We need to challenge ourselves to be good stewards, good neighbors, to find solutions, and we do that best across sectors, across disciplines and in community.”
At 7,000 acres, RTP is not only the largest research park in the country, but it also occupies more land than most of the country’s urban parks, including Raleigh’s William B. Umstead State Park (about 5,500 acres). And while there are, of course, lots of buildings at RTP, there’s also lots of greenspace. Making that greenspace more welcoming to wildlife and visitors is a key goal of the Environment@RTP committee – for both idealistic and practical reasons. As studies continue to show, employees — especially younger employees — are more and more concerned about their companies’ social and environmental impacts.
“Young hires often ask what kind of programs you have for mass transit, or what environmental initiatives your company offers,” says Bloch. “We want to compare favorably to Silicon Valley and to Route 128 in Boston, and these kinds of programs help.”
Jemison is hoping even more RTP employees and companies will see the benefits of getting involved in environmental initiatives this year. So whether you adopt a bluebird box, recycle old household electronics at the Park Place dropoff site, walk some of the Park’s 17 miles of hiking and biking trails, or just get educated by participating in an RTP event like the upcoming 180 on genetics and the environment, Jemison hopes you’ll join the effort, share ideas, and help make RTP a park where financial and environmental profits grow side by side. She’s also interested in hearing how the Research Triangle Foundation can partner with your company to facilitate environmental efforts across campus.
“We are all here in the same place at the same time,” Jemison says. “We have the opportunity and responsibility to work together for the greater good. It’s good for our environment, and it’s good for our companies. We really want to bring people together, listen to their ideas, make connections, and help facilitate projects that make this the kind of Park we want to have here years from now.”