Sustainability isn’t just a catchword for National Geographic employees. With the help of employees across all divisions, our headquarters in Washington, D.C. keeps more than 60 percent of all its waste out of landfills. Changes to the way we manage our facilities and replacement of our older and outdated equipment have led to an energy savings of $500,000 in 2009, compared to our energy use in 1997. We know we can still do better, but there’s no denying the progress we’ve made.

Recycling & Composting

At National Geographic headquarters, recycling and composting programs are ever expanding and keep more than 60 percent of our waste out of landfills. Besides the usual paper recycling and glass, metal, and plastic container recycling available in good green businesses, National Geographic also composts. Bathroom paper waste is all composted, and throughout the building complex, employees are able to compost their lunch leftovers as well as the cafeteria’s special compostable takeaway containers, cups, and straws. Our HQ recycling program also includes batteries, cell phones, videos and DVDs, packing peanuts, toner cartridges, metal, plant materials, and most building and office supplies.

green living



We decreased our electricity use by 20 between 2000 and 2009. The biggest saver has been changing the way we use electricity—re-evaluating our start and stop times for building systems, and installing variable frequency drives on motors so that systems like our air handlers start softer, thus using less energy. We have also made changes to our lighting—turning off unnecessary lights, installing motion sensors on light switches, and switching off roughly 50 percent of our parking garage lights from 10 p.m. to  4:30 a.m.  And we’ve changed the kind of lighting we use as well. Most of our incandescent light bulbs have been replaced with compact fluorescents (CFLs) and LED lighting.  As far as our fluorescent fixtures are concerned, we have gone to T-8 electronic technology, cutting the wattage used by most of our light fixtures from 40W to 28W. As an added bonus, the increased color rendering index (CRI) of the new bulbs enabled us to remove the upper tube in most of the two tube fixtures.  This fit-out alone resulted in a nearly 50 percent reduction in our lighting electrical usage.


To reduce our water use we’ve decreased the flow of water from our taps and removed unnecessary water use. All our faucets are not only low-flow faucets but they are also equipped with aerators and motion sensors. We have been replacing our standard urinals with low-flow urinals and toilets throughout the D.C. complex. Instead of a gallon, only a pint goes down the drain, per automatic flush of our urinals. The toilets now use 1.6 gallons per automatic flush, as opposed to the 3.2 gallons for the old units.  Outside, our landscaping includes native plants so that watering could be reduced to twice a week instead of daily, and our sprinkler system is equipped to sense when there’s been rain and no further watering of the outdoor plants is needed. But one of our biggest savings in water came from evaluating all the uses of water on our campus and discovering an old water filtration system was no longer necessary; bypassing that old system saved thousands of gallons a year.

Heating Inside National Geographic Photograph by Megan Seldon/National Geographic

Reducing our use of natural gas has been difficult for us, but we’ve made some inroads by adjusting our winter building temperatures and replacing our two large boilers with four smaller ones, allowing us to more easily reduce boiler use whenever possible in our 17th Street Building. The reduced need for the boilers comes up more often these days in our M Street Building thanks to our two heat recovery chillers, which offer significantly reduced electrical usage. For the gas use that we cannot cut, we are seeking offsets.


For internal printing, employees are encouraged not to print if it can be avoided. All our black & white printers are also able to scan material allowing one to email the material instead, and then recipients can print just the pages they need. When printing can’t be avoided, employees use 30 percent post-consumer content paper whenever possible. The changes in our printing attitudes have decreased our print load in-house by almost half—from a historical high of 13 million photocopies to less than 8 million photocopies.

Business travel

Along with our green efforts and practices at our facilities, National Geographic encourages sustainable practices when its employees must travel for business or while on assignment anywhere in the world.

To learn about all the things National Geographic does for Green Living, please click here