It’s great to go green for companies

DUBAI - What’s it like to work for a great company, or what makes a workplace tick? A survey of the top UAE firms conducted by the Great Place to Work Institute hopes to throw up some answers in January 2011.


Allan Jacob

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Published: Tue 30 Nov 2010, 10:31 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 5:11 PM

The US-based global research and consultancy firm, which recently opened a centre in the UAE, recognises the best workplaces in over 45 countries worldwide, by assessing the bottom-line impact of workplace culture. It’s also the the world’s largest workplace evaluation tool which surveys 4,500 companies or 1.5 million employees every year and well known for bringing out the FORTUNE 100 Best Companies list in the US.

The Director and Co-founder of the institute in the UAE, Dr. Michael Burchell, is an accomplished HR consultant, speaker and writer. He is also the co-author of the forthcoming book “The Great Workplace: How to Build It, How to Keep It, and Why It Matters”.

In an interview to Khaleej Times, he explains how eco-friendly companies can go a long way in putting smiles on the faces of their employees.

Q: The UAE has among the highest carbon footprints in the world. Do you think companies are serious about going green, especially during a crisis when the bottom-line matters?

Green buildings and workplaces typically operate more efficiently so there is an economic incentive to going green. A number of companies in the UAE are sitting up and paying attention to this. The Emarat HQ in Dubai for example is the only commercial building in the Middle East to receive a Platinum rating from the US Green Building Council, the nation’s foremost authority on environmentally responsible building practices. There are other local companies that are providing green office solutions; Al Yousuf Agriculture & Landscapes are promoting green roofing systems, which not only provide terrace space for vegetation but also make for an attractive building layout. Mapei is offering its international green products to builders in the UAE.

From my experience working with Platinum-rated companies in the US, their green practices tend to positively impact their bottom-line. Take for example the Genzyme headquarters — one of the largest corporate office buildings to earn the Platinum certification. The building uses 32 per cent less water than a comparable building, and electricity costs are 38 per cent less. More than 50 per cent of all materials include recycled content, and more than 90 per cent of all the construction waste was recycled. The building design encourages informal meetings in the uilding’s common spaces, garden areas, and in the top-floor cafeteria. Offices are kept small, while the amount of common space per employee is significantly greater than in a typical U.S. office building. These features help foster a higher level of interaction, collaboration, and creativity.

Q: What are the basic environment-friendly practices companies in the UAE should follow?

Segregate waste – separate papers from plastics; optimise your ICT networks; discourage excessive printing and configure all computers to duplex printing as the default setting. If working in Dubai, incentivise staff to use the metro. Offer travel packages for example. Develop an online system of file sharing rather than keeping manual records that take up office space and waste paper. Companies can create energizing office environments by following simple ways like allowing as much sunlight as possible to enter office space and having more plants instead of decorative structures.

Q: How environmentally aware are employees here when compared to other countries?

Green workplace initiatives in the West started some 30 years ago so comparing the UAE to these more mature markets would be unrealistic. However, awareness is improving and you can see that just through the volume of green literature being published and by the number environmental agencies being established. Abu Dhabi is also home to the world’s first zero carbon city – Masdar City. Some of the world’s top researchers have been engaged to make the UAE a leader in alternative energy. Awareness is improving and that is always the first step. Infrastructure is also improving – there are more recycling and waste management companies setting up across the emirates.

What we need now is a cultural change and we can start that by changing our workplace practices.

Q: Green companies need green bosses. Isn’t there a need to make bosses aware?

Leading by example is always important when trying to instill a green workplace culture. As well as creating a sustainable physical environment, you ultimately want to change the behaviour of your employees. It becomes very difficult to insist upon duplex printing from your staff, for example, if management doesn’t practice what they preach.

Leaders of the some of the best companies in Europe do not enjoy some of the perks like a company car and driver that most companies have. Companies like Microsoft and Cisco use telecommunication software instead of traveling by air everywhere.

Q: How exactly do you think going green can promote productivity?

Looking at your ICT environment is a good place to start. Huge efficiencies can be gained in automating many of your office functions. For instance, creating a digital archiving system not only saves trees; it can save significant time in sharing information across departments and other offices. Video conferencing also optimises your time in the office while reducing your carbon footprint by not having to commute to your meeting destination.

Q: Green money, yes, green offices, still far-fetched, isn’t it?

Every company and individual has to start somewhere. Organisations have an important role to play in mandating a green workplace culture. They can incentivise green practices such as car pooling, reward top recyclers, or align with a charity to help staff understand the impact of their green initiatives. When you consider that people spend the majority of their day at work, organisational culture becomes a pervasive influence in our personal lives and on our behaviours. While the region is at a nascent stage in terms of ecological projects, the government and companies are beginning to see opportunity in this area. Abu Dhabi has taken significant steps by introducing a mandatory green rating system which new building projects have to comply with. Green building designs have also been a focus at a number of regional conferences and The World Future Energy Summit held in Abu Dhabi further reflects regional maturity in environment sustainability.

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