Sustainability at Atomic Object


On March 27, 2013 Local First held its 5th Annual Sustainable Business Conference. I was invited to speak on a panel about sustainability initiatives in business. My fellow panelists were Marcia Rapp of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, Kris Spaulding of Brewery Vivant, and Matt VanSweden of Integrated Architecture. Bill Smith of CompuCraft was our panel’s moderator.

Participating on this panel gave me the chance to share some of the aspects of sustainability that are important to Atomic Object. I gave the audience a sense of Atomic’s strong culture and the sustainable business practices we have adopted since we opened our doors in 2001.

I won’t claim that we’ve flawlessly executed on all of our many sustainable business efforts, but experimentation and improvement trump perfection. And pragmatic beats dogmatic in our complex and dynamic business environment.

Workplace and Community Sustainability

Buildings and Operations

We invested in and renovated an existing historic building in Grand Rapids and leased and renovated one floor of an old building in downtown Detroit. In both cases we:

  • Renovated for energy efficiency – insulation, HVAC and high efficiency lighting.
  • Used responsible materials in the renovations.
  • Participate in Consumers Energy’s Green Generation program.

On a daily basis we:

  • Recycle plastic, metal, glass, paper, cardboard, electronics, batteries etc.
  • Compost our food waste.
  • Purchase and use lower-impact cleaning products and office supplies.
  • Serve fresh, healthy snacks.
  • Use real dishware and glassware vs one-time use products.

Non-Car Commuting

Almost 30% of our Grand Rapids employees either bike, walk, or take the bus to work most days of the week. Cyclists are the strongest contingent of our non-car commuters, so Atomic has evolved to be a decidedly bike-friendly workplace. To support our employees who bike commute to work, we provide:

  • Indoor and outdoor bike parking.
  • A shower so cyclists can clean up.
  • A bike helmet for anyone who regularly commutes by bike.
  • A bike commuter reimbursement to help with maintenance and repairs.
  • A company car to help bus, bike, and walking commuters travel to off-site meetings, etc.

Local Business Support

  • We frequent our neighborhood’s many restaurants, coffee shops, and bars.
  • We spend locally on supplies and professional services.
  • We cater meals from restaurants within walking distance.
  • We provision our office snacks from the Fulton Street Farmers Market, in season.
  • We support and admire the beauty of the urban farm right across the street.

Business Sustainability

Profit Sharing

Sustainable companies have high levels of engagement with their employees because, in part,  they share success with everybody. Atomic Object shares 25% of its profits with its employees. Our profits are shared quarterly via cash bonuses and annually via 401k profit sharing contributions.

Employee Ownership

Early in 2013, we instituted an employee stock purchase plan to further broaden ownership in Atomic Object. We’ve always been 100% employee owned, and our goal is to be very broadly 100% employee owned in the future. We believe this approach to ownership will only strengthen and sustain Atomic Object for a long time.

Read more about Atomic’s adventures in ownership on Carl’s blog.

Sustainable Pace

We practice sustainable pace — responsible working hours that promote balance and quality work outcomes. Over-allocated, stressed out people can’t offer up their best work. A business model built on the assumption of an unsustainable work pace would jeopardize our ability to keep the best and brightest people who hit deadlines and deliver high quality results to our customers.

Read more about how research on productivity supports sustainable pace as a practice.

Women in Software

The software profession depends on the sustained availability of talented and skilled designers and developers. Atomic acknowledges there is an acute shortage of women in the tech industry, and we want to invest in efforts to increase the number of women who consider and pursue computer science-related careers.

We contribute to the strength of the community of women who are software designers and developers by supporting women-focused tech conferences like Michigan Celebration of Women in Computing and groups like Girl Develop It, as well as hiring Computer Science students as summer interns.

We also offer BitCamp, a one-day intro to software development focused on middle-school aged girls, to get them interested in computer science.

Shared Values

Last, but never least, our shared values sustain us, not just as a company, but as friends and family. Our values guide us as we filter the opportunities and challenges of doing business every day, and as we plan strategically into the future. These are the five value mantras that define our culture.

What business sustainability practices have you tried in your business?

What worked? What didn’t?