AmFam making sustainability inroads through the help of this visionary

When it comes to environmental sustainability, LeeAnn Glover has demonstrated time and time again that she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty.

It’s not just that she’s elbows  deep in the sustainability initiatives she leads (with Dan Rosetta) as co-director of American Family Insurance’s Workplace Sustainability program. No, in the past few years, she’s been plunging her hands into the rich loam of one of AmFam’s 120 garden plots — which represent just a portion of the sustainability legacy the insurance giant is forging in the Greater Madison community.

“We look at other businesses and start talking to them about how we can share our learning so that neither company is having to reinvent the wheel.” — LeeAnn Glover

Glover, who also serves as AmFam’s real estate and planning director, was honored with the Sustainable Visionary of the Year Award at the In Business Expo & Conference in October. But it’s her AmFam campus garden plot where she seems to be reaping most of her rewards.

“When I was growing up, my grandpa had a beautiful garden, but after he passed away, I really hadn’t done anything with a garden until three years ago, so I’ve been having a great time. And once again people have just been extremely wonderful sharing their knowledge,” said Glover. “We’ve had seminars over lunches to help employees learn more about gardening, such as how to can or how to pickle. We’ve also had experts in from the UW Extension to talk about bugs and how to get rid of them naturally. It’s just one more reason this is an awesome place to work.”

The benefits the company offers don’t end there — that is, if you’re concerned about sustainability and the impact human activity has on our environment.

The tasks Glover and Rosetta have taken on in their role might fill an (ecologically friendly) ebook.

In addition to planning and implementing the company’s staff garden in 2011 (which has since served as a model for AmFam’s regional offices to emulate), Glover has recently added the American Center business park to her responsibilities, and has made sustainability a core part of its planning.

She’s also one of the sponsors of the company’s “Our Dream for a Zero Waste Future,” which envisions diverting more than 90% of the company’s waste from landfills.

In addition, she’s formed partnerships with ecological stalwarts in the community, participating in Sustain Dane’s MPower Champions program and joining the Wisconsin Green Building Alliance, WasteCap Resource Solutions, United States Green Building Council, Sustainability Business Network, and the UW Office of Sustainability. She also helped AmFam achieve the Green Professional level in the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council’s Green Masters program.

And as Sustain Dane’s interim executive director, Jessie Lerner, noted in a recent blog post, “AmFam has taken significant steps to reduce its water usage by 25% and has implemented more than 50 energy-saving solutions to lower its carbon footprint” — a significant accomplishment considering the company’s size.

That’s something that Glover notes is an advantage for a big company like American Family. Saving 10% on one’s energy use, for example, yields outsized benefits. But small companies can similarly be on the outlook for “low-hanging fruit” that not only can save a company money but also lower its carbon footprint.



“One of the big ones that we found immediately was lighting and making changes not only in the types of bulbs and in the controls that you have, but also in the lighting levels,” said Glover. “Many, many places still have lighting levels designed for a time when we didn’t do things on a computer screen. So now that we spend a majority of our time looking at a screen, the lighting levels can be reduced.

“So understanding lighting levels and the type of lights you have can save a lot of energy. There’s also a lot you can do with education. Cool Choices [the Eco-Service of the Year winner in the Business Sustainability Awards] is a nonprofit in Madison that turned sustainability into a game. You form teams and try to make sustainable changes in your personal life as well as your habits at work. Those changes can really start to add up, they don’t cost much, and employees are very engaged in the process.”

A cooperative environment

From the beginning, Glover dove feet first into her role, going so far as to attain a master’s certificate in sustainability leadership from Edgewood College.

“It opened my eyes to so many different things related to sustainability — environmental and social,” said Glover. “There are many people in our community who are doing amazing things, and we have been able to partner with them or help support their efforts.”

She’s also got her eye squarely focused on the future, noting that there are still plenty of trails left to be blazed.

“Absolutely, there’s always more to be done,” said Glover. “And technology is always changing. LED lighting wasn’t available at a cost that most companies could have afforded in the last two or three years, and I think it will be an affordable option in the near future.

“One of the things that we’re working on now is our waste streams. We’re trying to reduce our waste and find ways to compost. We’re partnering with the City of Madison in that effort. We’re also trying to find ways to get people to use less, first of all, but if we need to use the resources, how can we assure that it is being recycled properly? These efforts will help us to put as little as possible into the landfill.”

Glover also notes that nurturing a spirit of partnership includes collaborating — rather than competing — with other companies.

“With those kinds of initiatives, we look at other businesses and start talking to them about how we can share our learning so that neither company is having to reinvent the wheel,” said Glover. “For example, Lands’ End is also looking at reducing their waste to the landfill. We have a relationship with their sustainability team where we can share knowledge, what has worked and what hasn’t. We’re in different places in the process. It’s a great partnership.”

As for Glover’s favorite sustainability initiative, and the one closest to her heart — that remains the company’s community garden.

All employees are eligible to tend a company plot, and while a fairly small percentage have taken advantage, the garden has doubled in size since it was started just two years ago. In addition, much of the extra food grown by AmFam’s employees finds its way to local food pantries.

But in addition to encouraging employees to grow healthy, sustainable, chemical-free food, Glover says the garden helps from a team-building perspective, fostering stable and sustainable company relationships as well.

“It gets people to come reconnect in a different community,” said Glover. “When you’re gardening, whether you’re weeding next to a vice president or someone who’s working in the shop, you’re all on equal ground. It’s an opportunity to make connections with people on a different level. We’ve built new communities and great friendships. People have reached out to one another in different ways than they would have in a corporate setting.”

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