Sometimes the best place to begin a major life change is the very place where you spend most of your waking hours: the workplace. That’s how it happened for Jan and David Blittersdorf, CEO and founder, respectively, of NRG Systems in Hinesburg, Vermont. After seeing their colleague John Miller lose more than 80 pounds by following an innovative weight-loss program, they decided to try it themselves—and transformed their own lives. Together they lost 135 pounds—and then committed to giving the same opportunities and support to their employees. (More details on their journey are in “The EatingWell Diet: 7 Steps to a New You,” March/April 2007.)
NRG Systems, a top manufacturer of wind-measurement equipment for the energy industry, is truly a green company.
Its standout building, surrounded by 15 solar tracker panels and a nearby wind turbine, uses one-quarter the energy of a conventional one. But the Blittersdorfs decided it could be even greener if they attended to the health of their employees much as they do to the health of the environment—two sides, in fact, of the same coin.
Drop by at lunchtime and you may find people gathered to watch a local caterer preparing a healthy midday meal.”
Jan, now 55 pounds lighter than she was two years ago, explains: “The heavier I got, the more embarrassed I began to feel when I talked about saving energy and dealing with the huge environmental problems we face now.” She adds, “Consuming more than I need is wasteful. Food production, food transportation, food purchasing—it all takes precious resources.”
Bringing It Home. After losing the weight and getting a glowing health checkup, Jan realized that by changing her lifestyle she may have saved herself from future health problems, including heart attacks, strokes, joint replacements and diabetes. She began to rethink how she could make her experience work for others. The checkup, she says, “made me think harder about how I’d like to help employees avoid potential health problems in as many ways as I can.”
Today, the results of that commitment can be found in every nook and cranny of the NRG building. Drop by at lunchtime and you may find people gathered to watch a local caterer preparing a healthy midday meal. Lunch—perhaps a hearty soup made from organic vegetables grown nearby, or a whole-grain pilaf—is on the house for all, with recipe and nutritional handouts to take home. (On another day, employees could be cooking up their own meals to share, in the fully equipped, spacious double kitchens.) Or, walk up to the third floor, where you might see someone swimming in the pool or working out in the fitness room—complete with showers and locker rooms, it’s available to employees 24/7. In summer, employees can sign up for the “bike to work” challenge, which rewards those who log the most miles with gift certificates to a local bike shop.
Weight-loss Leaders. Anyone with some pounds to lose will also feel supported. The Blittersdorfs were so convinced of the transformative power of VTrim™, the University of Vermont weight-loss program, that company now helps foot the bill for any employee who wants to enroll in the program. (VTrim’s principles are combined with EatingWell’s recipes in The EatingWell Diet, a new book by Jean Harvey Berino, Ph.D., R.D.)
NRG’s health-friendly, green working environment is also a natural draw for potential hires, says Julie Goodheart, human resources manager. “In interviews, I’ll always ask people why they chose us,” she says. “They’ll usually mention the green building, and that they want a healthy place to work.”
Sometimes, I’ll come in on the weekends for a workout, then stay to get work done.”
Larry Jacobs, a member of NRG’s sales and marketing department, would concur. “I’m in better shape now than I was seven years ago,” he says. “They’ve really put a lot of thought into making it easy to stay healthy at work.” Jacobs, 47, usually starts his morning at 6:30, working out on the StairMaster and cross-training machines. He lifts weights or does some stretches, then showers and heads to the kitchen to fix himself a bowl of oatmeal. By 8:30, he’s at his desk, energized. Weather permitting, he’ll take a walk along the nearby “pond loop” at lunchtime, and enjoy his home-cooked lunch on the terrace al fresco. “Sometimes, I’ll come in on the weekends for a workout, then stay to get work done.” For that matter, he adds, “it’s productive for the company too.”
But even if an employee doesn’t get involved in the healthy-eating, weight-loss and fitness benefits NRG offers, Jan Blittersdorf understands. “It took me over 10 years to finally decide to do something about my weight, so I don’t sweat it if we provide an opportunity and someone doesn’t take advantage of it. I now understand that they might eventually do it, and I won’t give up on them or pass judgment on them.