Day 7: Zero Waste

A zero waste existence is within our grasp.

Cities are increasingly adopting composting programs. The circular economy is gaining traction. Food waste is gaining deserved attention. On the project-side, we are fortunate that many of the contractors we work with are committed to achieving a high waste diversion rate, looking for opportunities to reuse materials wherever possible.


Recycling efforts of Independence Plaza’s tenants saved enough fresh water to supply 42K people for a year.

It‘s time RNL walked the talk on the operational side and really looked at our own waste stream. Each of our offices has unique access to recycling, composting and other waste options, due to their locations and building’s facilities. But the one thing they all have in common is people who work for a firm that values its environmental impact. So it’s time to talk trash, and more specifically, how we can generate less of it.

Let’s start with our Denver office - we are lucky to be in a building, Independence Plaza, run by forward-thinking and motivated building management in terms of environmental issues. From January 2015 to October 2015 (the latest data available), the collective tenants of Independence Plaza had a diversion rate of 63%. These recycling efforts saved enough electricity to power 42 homes for a whole year, enough gas to drive 75,425 miles, enough trees to produce 21M sheets of paper, and enough fresh water to meet the needs of 42K people for a whole year.

So what have we [RNL] done?

In an effort to increase awareness of recycling and composting, we have:

  • Re-arranged the collection bins in our two kitchens to prioritize recycling over trash by providing three recycling containers and only one trash container.
  • Placed the recycling containers in a more convenient location than the trash receptacles.
  • Tripled the number of composting containers and placed them right next to food prep areas.
  • Added two new battery recycling containers.
  • Put up signage explaining what can and can’t go in each of three streams (recycling, compost, trash).

But this is not enough.

Take a look at the bins at the end of any given day and you’ll see compostable and recyclable items in the trash, and non-recyclable items in the recycling. So what’s next? We can set a goal for a higher waste diversion rate, but without knowing where we stand now, asking people to ‘just do better’ won’t be effective.  In the coming weeks we will be doing our own waste audit. This involves hand sorting all the waste collected over the course of a day, then weighing it and calculating what our diversion rate is. We are anticipating that number won’t be great, but we’ll have a benchmark to help us set a goal. We’ll need to be creative with the wording of the most unappealing meeting invite ever, and offer incentives of the beer and pizza variety, but I am hopeful the audit will be useful.

In the meantime, if anyone has ideas or success stories on how to radically improve office waste diversion, please let us know! 


Day 5: Live Long & B-Corp

Since becoming a certified B Corporation this past summer,

RNL has had the honor of getting to know other members of this remarkable community of people using their business models as a force for positive change. There are now over 1600 certified B Corps in 48 countries across the world; proving that the definition of prosperity is changing to include values such as community impact, governance and environmental stewardship.  In honor of the ‘prosperity’ principle, we're giving a shout out to some of the other certified B Corps we have come to know and admire:


Cultivation Center for helping spread the word of B Corporations, with their awesome Boot Camp series.

Fairware for helping us with ideas and environmentally conscious swag for celebrating our big 60th anniversary this year!

Green Spot Real Estate for their energy and commitment to Denver’s green real estate movement, and being super fun folks to hang out with in general.

Hemmings House for using the medium of film to make us all more aware of the conversations we should be having, and motivating us to take a small idea and bring it to the next level.

Ma Cher for inciting change at the community level with their shower cube initiative, and helping many of us rethink how long we spend singing in the shower.

NAVA Real Estate for revolutionizing conversations on health and wellbeing in the building industry.

Oliver Russell for telling the stories that we all need to hear

Waste Farmers for reminding us to look beyond the default approach to our food system

YR+G for sharing our passion for broadening the discussion on what sustainability means in the building industry, and what the rapidly-changing future holds.

Day 4: Brighton Boulevard

By Andrew Irvine, UDLA

Bringing the public back into the public realm.

RNL has been working to help the City and County of Denver transform Brighton Boulevard from a post-industrial corridor into a vibrant and eclectic street which includes new residential areas, pioneering retail and commercial uses such as The Source and Industry. Improvements within the street include attractive and functional pedestrian elements including: generous tree plantings, sidewalks, arts oriented furniture, dedicated bicycle path, transit stops and safe intersection crossings.

Improvements include: landscaping with 400+ trees, bike lanes and 2.6 miles of added sidewalk.  - City & County of Denver

Improvements include: landscaping with 400+ trees, bike lanes and 2.6 miles of added sidewalk. - City & County of Denver

Integrated within this framework will be a state of the art stormwater management and filtration system. RNL has worked with Urban Drainage and Denver Forestry to pioneer new design solutions to be integrated into the urban streetscape that will now be adopted broadly across the City and County of Denver.

The design process included extensive stakeholder consultation. By working with the neighborhood and community members, the team found a strong desire to accommodate a multi-modal street with dedicated bike paths, controlled turn lanes and better pedestrian thoroughfares.

“Brighton Boulevard Corridor Redevelopment is a transformational project that provides an opportunity to create an inviting gateway to and from downtown Denver. It encourages innovative development that mixes the new with the old, and offers a genuinely unique experience for all.” - Mayor Michael Hancock

RNL is proud to be involved in projects that have such a significant impact on our cities and create people oriented places.


Day One: ‘B’-ing Green (and Supporting Carbon Neutrality)

Carbon Neutrality is the first of the 12 Design Principles and the first day of our 12 Days of Earth Day.

To be carbon neutral means eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from the combustion of fossil fuel related to all human activities. In the built environment, this is a big challenge. It means considering the emissions related to activities at all scales and interactions – from the manufacture of materials to building construction and life cycle operations, from transportation to infrastructure, landscape to city planning. 

RNL's new bike share program makes it look easy ‘B’-ing green. 

RNL's new bike share program makes it look easy ‘B’-ing green. 

As a company, we’re also looking at what we’re doing internally to support a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

So we decided to strap on our bike helmets and hit the road in some shiny new RNL-branded B-cycles. Today, RNL announced the launch of a new bike share program at the Denver office. Rob Ollett, Project Architect at RNL Denver and a big cycling enthusiast, is spearheading the pilot program.

“Denver is growing quickly, and biking as a mode of transportation will enable better connections to our community and help reduce traffic and pollution,” Rob said. “We take our responsibility as architects, designers and planners seriously, and we’re committed to building a world with a brighter, greener future.”

The $100 million of public funding is comprised from two main sources: federal dollars for multi-modal transportation projects and support from Great Outdoors Colorado. No financial support is from the Colorado General Fund. -   Bicycle Colorado

The $100 million of public funding is comprised from two main sources: federal dollars for multi-modal transportation projects and support from Great Outdoors Colorado. No financial support is from the Colorado General Fund. - Bicycle Colorado

Slowly but surely, Colorado is becoming a more bike-friendly state. Denver B-cycle reported last year that riders covered an estimated 803,490 miles in 2014 - up from 560,424 in 2013. And last September, Governor Hickenlooper announced that $100 million would be prioritized for bike projects over the next four years. According to advocacy organization Bicycle Colorado, the Colorado Pedals Project is a multi-million dollar initiative combining public and private funding to make Colorado the best state in the nation to ride a bike.

So look out for those RNL-branded B-cycles on the roads, Denverites.


The 12 Days of Earth… Day

If you’ve arrived at this blog, you probably know that RNL is deeply committed to holistic design solutions that address 12 environmental, social and economic priorities:

Leading up to Earth Day (April 22), various RNL pros will take a look at each of these principles in action. We’ll tell you how we’re applying them in our projects, trends we’re seeing in the architecture, design and planning industries, and what we’re doing as a company to ‘walk the walk’. It’s our own 12 Days of Earth… Day. Ok, perhaps naming holidays is not our strong suit, but we’re going with it!

Happy First Day of Earth Day, everyone!

The Power of Sustainable Public Transit Design

Considering the bigger picture of global, regional & local ecosystems as design professionals. 

Earlier this month, President Obama signed off on a 1,300 page piece of legislation that will provide $305 billion for the country’s roads, bridges and mass transit over the next 5 years. The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act will be a large step to improve the longer-term  planning and stability of transportation projects.

The execution of these state and federal public transportation projects will rely heavily the effort to produce sustainable infrastructures. But the idea of sustainability comes with different connotations and preconceptions that may make us feel warm and fuzzy or be worrisome due to the unavoidable economic effects.

Sustainability should be an idea that crosses party, gender, racial and socioeconomic lines.

A recent article written by RNL’s Ken Anderson and Merlin Maley explores the idea of sustainability and it’s necessity in the planning and design of public transportation:

While sustainability can mean many different things to different people, the common theme is considering the future—the unknown—while at the same time caring for the present. The beauty of sustainability is that it can be understood and utilized as a unifying idea by communities, agencies or individuals in a multitude of ways, any number of which can fit their larger ideas about life and society in general. Sustainability should be an idea that crosses party, gender, racial and socioeconomic lines.So why are public transit systems such an important part of a sustainable future for communities worldwide? - Passenger Transport

The only power we ever have as designers: To Advocate

Foster's Droneport in Rawanda (Rendering: Foster+Partners)

Foster's Droneport in Rawanda (Rendering: Foster+Partners)

Norman Foster stepped into the fray of politics in the UK to combat what he called a short-sighted approach to airport expansion near London.  His message was specific, but also geared toward a much grander scale of thought - the design and investment in infrastructure is critical to our future chances of living better.  "Infrastructure," Foster says, "is not to solve the problems of today, but to anticipate the issues of future generations."  

Foster's recent work, dealing with anything from droneports in Africa to development on Mars, may sound far-fetched, but as described by Rowan Moore in his article for The Guardian UK, they begin to anticipate a new thinking on infrastructure's role in the livelihood and sustainability of our cities. Even though Foster see's his only power as an architect being as an advocate for change,  these explorations into solving the future's problems are perhaps among the best uses of the design community's creative energies.  

Calling All Design 2 Thrivers

Innovation starts with engagement.

We design spaces and places that help people and communities thrive, using the 12 Design for One Earth principles as our framework.

Why? Because we care. We also listen. So send us your suggestions, thoughts, comments.

  • Read an article that inspired you? Send us the link and we’ll post it.
  • Curious about a new technology of trend? Tell us, and we’ll find some resources about it.
  • Wrote a post, article, essay, haiku, song? Let us share it.



The ‘Lighter Quicker Cheaper’ approach to place-making - the fast food of urban design or a way to kick start the journey to longer term solutions?

This article presents some examples of a quick and small way to create community spaces – by closing down unused streets and adding simple landscape furniture. One particular interesting observation:

“..based on these brief observations it seems as though certain demographics dominate the space more than others. It would be interesting to return to this space at a later time and see whether programming has been added that attracts more women and children, as is the case with Corona Plaza.”

photo credit: Nikita Malviya and Himadri Panchal

photo credit: Nikita Malviya and Himadri Panchal


This article talks about how lessons learned from the one-off net zero energy buildings of today can be applied to creating the net zero energy cities of tomorrow. Interestingly it uses NREL as a case study:

 ‘For NREL, the architects transitioned to “masters of collaboration,” synthesizing and corralling information from a web of experts—engineers, builders, and various consultants.’

Well-deserved praise. And a good reminder of the key to delivering projects of the calibre of the RSF – integrated design teams. It would have been nice if the author had actually mentioned RNLs name at any point in the article… Rest assured as soon as I cast eyes on the article it was retweeted, tagged and hashtagged before you could say ‘master who?’