Green Offices- Do They Make Sense?

Let us meet Mr. Bal Krishna Pandey at his home. Like many new age dads, he is bullied by his environmentally conscious teenage daughter to save water, conserve electricity, avoid wastage of paper and recycle waste. Since the day he was ambushed by his daughter for leaving the tap running, he has made it a point to follow the green rules. But as soon as he enters the confines of his office building, Mr. BKP becomes a different man. The green becomes the mean. Without him realizing this, he turns into a triplicate-printing, paper-cup-squashing, runs-his-computers-all-night-so-the-boss-thinks-he’s-working earth befouler.

But in this crime, everyone stands guilty. For all the “Save the planet” activities we preach and engage in daily, the moment we step into our offices, our “Care for the environment” drive gets reformatted. It’s not so difficult to look for the probable causes. “Its freeeeeeee”, “The Company pays for it” and “If they don’t care, why should I?”

Let’s look at some facts. An office worker can use a quarter ton of materials in one year–which includes thousands pieces of copier paper. The common office buildings are ordinary glass-fronted structures, which let in heat and consequently use up more energy in cooling its interiors. Cooling, heating and powering office space are responsible not only for high amounts of carbon emissions but also for gobbling up electricity usage. Office commuters spew tons of CO2 every year. Office computers burn money worth lakhs of rupees on electricity annually and that’s when they’re not producing even, a byte of work.

But in today’s Al Gore inhabited environmentally conscious world, more and more companies are making a green attempt to reverse the process of wastage. The concept of environment-friendly buildings–commonly known as green buildings is quickly catching up in India. This movement has been around since the 1970’s globally, but it’s only now that the Indian corporate world have woken up to it in the past couple of years.

So what exactly is a green workplace anyways? A green building essentially uses better design and construction material to minimize the consumption of power and water within the building. Such buildings are eco-friendly and energy-efficient. Now do not go around trying to spot green colored buildings because on the outside they look just like their normal cousins. They just:

* Have systems for automatic shut-off for lighting.
* Have systems for setting computers to power down automatically after few minutes of idle time (which cuts the machine’s energy use by 70%).
* Have installed solar systems.
* Use less air conditioning during summers.
* Have a system for recycling water.
* Use sunlight instead of artificial lights for illumination.
* Use central air conditioning instead of the split or window air conditioners.

Apart from its physical footprint, a company has the best opportunity to have an environmental impact through green policies that change the attitudes and behaviors of its workers. Take commuting for example. It presents employers with a major incentive: Congestion created by people getting to and from work results in lost productivity in terms of wasted time and fuel. Constructing new buildings within walking distances from bus stops and metro stations thus encourages use of public transport by the employees.

All this increases the construction and system installation costs by about 4-% to 10 % but the energy saved over the years more than not compensates for the initial investment. The company benefits in many ways by turning green.

* It gives them a chance to earn carbon credits. Surplus credits (collected by overshooting the emission reduction target) can be sold in the global market. One credit is equivalent to one ton of carbon dioxide emission reduced.
* As green buildings use less power and water, the cost of running the building is less.
* It helps them develop a “friend-of-the-environment” image which helps them get an edge in the competition for talent. Generation X has grown up in an environmentally conscious world and very few of them want to work for a big fat polluter.

The first green building in India was the CII-Sohrabji Godrej Green Business Centre in Hyderabad. Kolkata’s Technopolis lays claim to be the country’s first green building for Information Technology. An increase from 6,000 sq. m of green space in the year 2003 to 304,800 sq. m at the end of 2008(according to the Indian Green Building Council, which is promoting the green building movement in India), reaffirms the fact that Green offices are steadily increasing their footprint in India

Let us hope that this trend is here to stay. And that Mr. Bal Krishna Pandey would continue to make his daughter proud-at home and in office.

Sonal Bhadoria

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