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PA PROJECTS: The green office

Continuing our series of features looking at the tasks and projects that PAs are tackling, Karen Crowley, PA to the Managing Partner at construction specialist Baily Garner, discusses creating a more environmentally-friendly workplace…

Unless you’ve been on a desert island in the middle of nowhere (which is where I would like to be…) you would have seen, or at least be aware of, the recent climate change protests and the Government’s new legislation regarding the environment.

Working for a multi-disciplinary construction consultancy, to obtain professional accreditations, and to enable us to tender for work, it is more often than not a requirement to have an Environmental Management System in place under ISO14001. More than that, however, the Partners of the Practice wanted to use their influence to have a positive impact on the build environment. 

Baily Garner held this credential under the 2004 Standard for a number of years, but this unfortunately lapsed when we couldn’t make the most recent ISO 14001 standard changes before BSI’s 2018 deadline. So, back in September 2018 I was asked by our Board to re-obtain the ISO 14001 and put in place a 2015 compliant standard Environmental Management system for our three offices in Eltham, Birmingham and London City, covering over 170 staff.  

Although I am interested in the environment and feel strongly about single use plastics, I did not have any experience in putting together an Environmental Management System. Indeed, I actually didn’t have an idea where to start. 

So where did I start? To help me understand ISO 14001, I read the Standard to gain a better concept of what was needed for our accreditation, did a lot research via the internet and studied our previous Environmental Management system (which was now out of date). All this gave me a basic background of what was needed. I also reached out to a number of staff within the office who I knew were interested in the environment and would be willing to input to help make our office, and the business, more sustainable.    

I then went on to set up a working group to help me put together the firm’s objectives and targets for creating a greener office environment. We are lucky enough to have an environmental department within the company who advise our clients on sustainability and I was able to recruit a member from that department to sit on the working group.  

My role overseeing facilities within the offices, (as well as being the PA for the Managing Partner) gave me a headstart on identifying some of our sustainability objectives. I have been able to ensure that a number of our suppliers, eg. stationery company, maintenance contractors, etc have their own sustainability policies in place and, where possible, we will now use recycled materials.   

One of the quick wins, is of course, recycling. We have had recycling for plastic, paper, cardboard and food waste within the office for a number of years and through research we have now managed to recycle crisp packets, which means that the staff can now recycle the whole of their lunch ‘meal deals’.

However our sustainability objectives do not just relate to recycling. To enable us to meet other environmental targets within the office we have a number of objectives aimed at:

– Reducing electricity consumption 

– Recording and reducing gas consumption 

– Considering installing sensor lights in appropriate areas

– Investigating dual flush systems

– Ensuring all new cars added to the fleet will be *ULEZ  or *CAZ Compliant

– Reducing how much we print

(*Ultra Low Emission Zone)

(* Clean Air Zone)

A lot of recently-built offices will obviously have the dual flush systems and sensor lights. However, being based in an older building, this is something that can be considered and put to the Board as part of our future objectives. 

The cost of implementing objectives is a big factor within any company and obviously there is a not a bottomless pot of money to enable all your objectives and wishes to be undertaken. 

I am, however, in a fortunate position of being responsible for facilities and having a budget I can use to help put in place the smaller objectives. For example, ensuring the cleaning company uses environmentally friendly products, ordering recycled paper and wherever possible, recycled office products.. 

We also have in place an environmental checklist as part of our client briefing process, that was previously inconsistently used by staff. This has provided an opportunity to update and refresh it to ensure we can do our bit to raise awareness by clients and third parties

One of the biggest challenges we have found is trying to get the staff to recycle properly. This has been hard and we have found education must accompany any changes implemented. We have, therefore, provided posters in the kitchens where much of our recycling is undertaken, communicated via notice boards and promoted email campaigns. Training is also provided to all new staff through their induction and regular environmental updates briefed at our Practice Briefings which we hold every couple of months. We will also be running some new campaigns over the course of the next year to make the staff more aware of the environment and to help to make the office greener. 

During this project I have learnt a lot. I have become more aware of the environment around me, even managing to dispense with single use plastics from my own bathroom. I am more aware of Government legislation, now taking the time to recycle at home and I’ve learnt that you are never too old to learn and implement something new.  

For any PA who intends to plan a green project, my advice is to research as much as possible and talk to members of your own staff who have an interest in the subject. Different people have different ideas and, without the help from my colleagues, I would never have been able to implement the changes on my own.   

This has been a time consuming project, generated lots of paperwork (whoops!), research and reading, and to keep the system updated will require continued efforts from all those involved. However, I would like think that every ‘green’ thing I can do now, no matter how small will, in some way, be helping future generations. 

Image by Steve Johnson from Pixabay