How green is your office?

Worms are making their way into the workplace in a big way. (Photograph: http://www.wormman.com)

IT’S no surprise that green jargon has dominated the raft of new words that has been added to the annually updated Oxford English Dictionary in recent years. After all, while words like “carbon footprint”, “green audit” and “carbon neutral” germinated only recently, they are now well rooted in communication, everywhere and every day.

Indeed, the environmental revolution is well underway. Green is going mainstream with all spheres of life, business and everything in between being increasingly coloured by the green brush. Accordingly, corporate greening is on the up and up, and a growing number of companies are establishing “green teams” to draw up, implement and monitor serious-minded green management strategies.

These teams are building eco-awareness by doing things as simple as insisting that their colleagues use “please consider the environment before printing this” email postscripts, and as potentially problematic as drastically reducing the frequency of business travel. They encourage employees to car pool or use public transportation, appoint bicycle couriers and implement energy efficient alternatives for lighting, equipment and machinery.

Green teams also provide recommendations regarding the most effective choices in recyclable office materials, and even propose eco-efficient office plants, tea and coffee. (And, in case you have not already been enlightened in this regard, the ubiquitous Areca Palm (also known as the Butterfly Palm) is said to be the most eco-friendly office plant because it effectively removes ammonia and formaldehyde (found in many cleaning products) from the air, and releases moisture into the environment.)

Some eco-positive policies recommend IT systems with chips that consume less power, servers that conserve electricity and computers that draw less power from the grid than their predecessors. And, with the astounding quantity of electronic goods – such as old computers, servers and cellphones – that is dumped into landfills, they are also concerned about recycling electronic goods. When it comes to office architecture or renovation, green teams prefer designs that allow plenty of natural light and ventilation, and that use building materials that contribute to the conservation of energy.

For sure, green campaigning is infiltrating every nook and cranny of the workplace. But some environmental applications are more unexpected than others.

A top-end European office furniture manufacturer, for example, produces office chairs constructed largely from recyclable materials. The company (RH Form) says that on average, businesses change some or all of their office furniture every five years. This amounts to a hefty load of landfill waste. Correspondingly, RH now also offers to recycle all old RH-branded chairs free of charge.

Surely the most unexpected green workplace scheme however, is enough to make you squirm. Red Wriggler worms, I am told by a friend who regularly travels to the US on business, are increasingly employed by eco-minded companies in that country to breakdown office waste and produce useful compost.

Workplace worm composting, she says, usually involves providing a number of (presumably non-squeamish) staff members (called “Worm Wranglers”) with worm bins containing worms, and training them how to practice vermin composting.

Wranglers encourage colleagues bury their apple cores, banana peels, coffee filters and grounds, tea bags and lunch scraps in a bedding of shredded newspaper in the bins containing the worms. As the wiggle of more than a thousand worms in each bin munches its way through the waste, it generates loads of nutritious soil that can be used to fertilize the office gardens and lawns.

There is, I am advised, no odour associated with the worm composter, “just a kind of rainforest smell when the lid is lifted”. As employees go, worms are allegedly very low maintenance. They should never, however, be encouraged to “think out of the box”.

(This article was first published in Business Day’s Management Review supplement.)

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About Administrator

Freelance writer based in Hout Bay near Cape Town in South Africa.
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