Businesses compete for Clean Air awards

LAWRENCEVILLE - Three Gwinnett businesses are in the running for environmental awards presented today by the Clean Air Campaign.

The PACE Awards, which have been given since 2000, recognize companies that encourage alternative commute options and retool operations and maintenance.

Assurant Specialty Property, based in Duluth, is in the running for the PACE Large Business Award.

Kelli Atkins, a senior human resources generalist, said the company has recently expanded its 2-year-old telework program, which is a pilot for other Assurant locations.

Of its 750 employees, 39 telework. Atkins said she would like to see that number increase to 50 by the end of the year.

"It does definitely make a big difference," she said of the program. "We want to do our part to alleviate some stress we have on the environment. It's definitely very important."

Atkins said the teleworking and vanpool options the company offers were started, in part, because Assurant is running out of space at its offices.

Stephen Ervin, a transportation specialist on his company's Green Team, said Reed Construction Data has embraced commute alternatives. The company of 450 people has 12 or 13 carpools and started a vanpool to run between the its Norcross office and the Doraville MARTA station.

Ervin is up for the PACE Setter Award, given to an individual who has a hands-on role in reducing traffic congestion and improving air quality.

"It would mean that we will have been recognized for our efforts to help the community," he said. "It's significant because we're trying to do our part to be good stewards."

Ervin, who participates in a carpool himself, said employees who carpool get the parking spaces of their choice. All employees can choose to have the vanpool fee deducted from their paycheck, tax-free.

Alternative commutes mean employees are less stressed, Ervin said, and have less wear and tear on their cars.

"Once they start carpooling, they don't want to go back," he said.

The company has also installed motion-detecting faucets to conserve water, removed some light bulbs to save electricity, stopped using disposable cups and plates and reduced its amount of nonrecyclable waste.

The third county PACE contender, the Gwinnett County Public Schools, are being considered for the PACE Innovator Award, which honors innovative solutions to air quality and traffic problems.

Schools spokeswoman Sloan Roach said two thirds of the district's school buses use lower-emission diesel-powered engines. They also undergo regular maintenance to ensure they run optimally.

"First of all, it makes sense," she said. "We're always looking for ways to be good stewards. ... We're doing what's right, we're doing what's efficient, we're doing what's good for the environment."

The school system also recycles lunch trays, designs energy-efficient buildings and teaches environmental lessons in the classroom, Roach said.