Picture of sign inside National Geographic headquarters

Inside National Geographic

Photograph by Megan Seldon/National Geographic

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 around three quarters of all its waste out of landfills through recycling, reuse, and composting opportunities. Facility and operation changes have also helped save hundreds of thousands of dollars in utility bills annually. We know we can still do better, but we are proud of the progress we've made.

Recycling & Composting

At National Geographic headquarters, recycling and composting programs are ever expanding and in 2014 kept over 70 percent of our waste out of landfills. Besides the usual recycling of paper, glass, metal, and plastic available in any good green businesses, National Geographic also composts. Throughout the building complex, employees are able to compost their lunch leftovers as well as the cafeteria's special compostable takeaway containers and cups. All restroom paper towel waste is also composted even in our public-accessible areas. Our HQ recycling program also includes batteries, cell phones, videos and DVDs, packaging materials, electronics, toner cartridges, metal, plant materials, and most building and office supplies.


We decreased our electricity use by 17 percent between 2002 and 2014. The biggest saver has been changing the way we use electricity by 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 by turning off unnecessary lights, installing motion sensors on light switches, and switching off roughly 50 percent of our parking garage lights from 10 a.m. to  4:30 p.m.  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.


We have reduced our water use by 41 percent since 2002. We've decreased the flow of water from our taps and eliminated unnecessary water use in our landscaping and building operations. 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 our D.C. headquarters complex. Instead of a gallon per flush, the urinals only use a pint per automatic flush. 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 once 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.


Reducing our use of natural gas as a source of heat 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. We decreased our natural gas use by 21 percent between 2003 and 2014. For the gas use that we could not cut, we purchased offsets in a 25,000-acre reforestation project in Panama.


For internal printing, employees are encouraged not to print if it can be avoided. All our black-and-white copiers are also able to scan material and email it instead, so recipients can print just the pages they need. When printing can't be avoided, employees use 50 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 a year. In the fall of 2012, we installed new print management software allowing employees to access print jobs anywhere in the complex but only printing the jobs out when the employee is at the printer, reducing the likelihood of jobs being printed but not picked up. Printing defaults to double-sided rather than single-sided, and all office waste paper is recycled.

Business Travel

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


  • Have an ongoing commitment to reduce business travel by using teleconferencing or videoconferencing for meetings, trainings, and other regular business needs whenever possible.
  • Use the most fuel-efficient and economical method of transportation.
  • Use rapid transit in place of taxis or rental cars when practical.
  • Use compact, subcompact, and/or hybrid technology vehicles when feasible.
  • Share rental cars among as many travelers as possible.
  • Stay in LEED-certified or green hotels when possible.
  • Purchase offsets for business travel (air, rental cars, accommodations) in tropical forest REDD biodiversity projects.

Learn more about sustainable tourism with NG Expeditions.

Green Cleaning

DTZ cleans our headquarters buildings in Washington, D.C., and provides other services such as recycling, office moves, event setups, and interior painting. They use cleaning products that meet LEED criteria for low environmental impact and 98 percent of the chemicals they use are green e-certified. They are constantly vigilant about indoor air quality, using only high-speed buffers that are equipped with dust control and vacuums that are HEPA-rated. They use 100 percent recycled paper supplies whenever possible and only low VOC paints for their painting projects. DTZ's training programs exceed LEED requirements.

Perhaps most important, however, is DTZ's commitment to green services and to the health and safety of all of our building occupants. They are constantly seeking ways to reduce the environmental impact of the services that they offer. DTZ is a true partner and helps National Geographic find new ways to continuously improve our sustainability programs.

Commuting Options

Our downtown location in Washington, D.C., supports a variety of commuting options:

  • We are close to several bus stops and metro stations, and employees are able to use pre-tax dollars to offset some public transit costs.
  • For those who drive, we have our own parking garage where the parking fee is discounted 30 percent for anyone parking a car-pool or hybrid vehicle.
  • For the intrepid city biker or walking commuter, we have rack space for 200 bikes, an air pump for weary tires, a bike repair kit for emergencies, and showers and lockers for a quick scrub-up after a summer ride, walk, or run.
  • Telecommuting is also supported, so many employees can arrange their work schedules to skip the commute altogether a few times a week.

Annual events and our intranet highlight all the commuting possibilities so employees can find their personal greenest commuting solution. We've produced a map to show concentrations of staff by zip code and public transportation options across the region to help encourage car-pool formations and public transit use. Commuting information is available year-round on our intranet along with links to local commuting groups that support bikers, car pools, Metro riders, and the D.C. region's unique sluglines.

Cafeteria Practices

About a quarter of the food purchased by Sodexo for our headquarters cafeteria is local (from adjacent states or within 250 miles) or sustainable. All fish products are also local, MSC or BPA, or sourced through MSC certified suppliers from sustainable sources approved by the Marine Stewardship Council. All to-go containers provided by our cafeteria are recyclable or compostable—including cups for soups and drinks. And we are constantly on the watch for product changes and recycling program changes to keep as much cafeteria waste as possible out of landfills.


To increase staff awareness of sustainability at work and at home we've gone beyond the usual company emails, phone messages, and signs posted in common areas. On our internal website we have employee-run and written Sustainability pages and the Green Page, an employee-run and written blog about all things green—giving tips on how to be greener at home or in the office, as well as reporting on green events or initiatives inside and outside our offices around the world. In addition, the Green Team sponsors several green events throughout the year, including:

  • Earth Week
  • Bike to Work Day
  • ECOmmunity Day
  • America Recycles Day
  • Vampire Energy Campaign
  • "Choose to Reuse" Swap Meets