There's more to eco-friendly employers than recycling

Jane Bainbridge reports on the companies using infrared heaters that warm people, not air - and basing bonus schemes on carbon emissions
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The Independent Online

Even companies firmly established on organic or environmental principles often fail to apply this philosophy to the broader aspects of their business. Recycling policies are common but it is much rarer that a green company gets the chance, or has the dedication, to fully transfer the ethics of one aspect of their business to others.

Green People was lucky to find a building near West Grinstead that fitted its requirements, with the added benefit that the estate that owned the space was also scrupulous on the environmental commitment of any occupants. As a result, the company had greater control on the total refurbishment of the site.

But to make the most of the chance to control its environment with the same attention to detail as Green People applies to its products required another burst of devotion in tracking down the raw materials.

"The building is a concrete-framed 1960s barn. The owners were keen to restore it in a way that is sympathetic to the area and the environment," says Ian Taylor, information and research manager at Green People. "It gave us a blank canvas and we looked at every aspect from decorating, flooring, heating, ceilings, etc. We thought: 'What can we do that's environmentally responsible?'"

A high priority was put on design and quality, but achieving this required a large investment of both time and money. Taylor did all the research and sourcing of the materials himself, which took him out of his day-to-day job for half a year.

Vøhtz says: "I didn't think it would be a full-time job for six months but it was. It was important that Ian did it as we had firm and fixed ideas." She was also willing to invest the capital required. "We spend twice as much as anyone else moving; you're talking about 8 to 9 per cent of our turnover being invested. It's a rented building and some would say we were insane, but we think it's worth it."

Taylor's approach was systematic: for every aspect that needed work, he looked at the options in design and materials and tried to come up with the most environmental option that was practical. Most choices ensured as much sound and heat insulation as possible.

The paints used throughout the building were solvent-free, and walls carrying high levels of electric power were treated with Ecos EMR radiation-shielding paint to reduce electromagnetic radiation levels.

Plenty of insulation means that, hopefully, heating will be rarely needed, but when it is on, waste is reduced with separate controls for different zones. Heating for the warehouse area is controlled by infrared detectors. "The units are 98 per cent efficient. Infrared heating does not heat airspace, but rather solid objects such as humans," says Taylor.

Green People's 13 employees are delighted with their new environment. Taylor may not have been able to install a heat exchanger - "the cost would have been astronomical" - but in all other aspects he's pleased. Not that there aren't some things still to be done. When Green People first moved in, the company had to use the estate's energy provider, but it is now in the process of changing over to a green power supplier.

Green People is not the only company to look beyond the obvious environmentally friendly office practices. When green energy company Good Energy was searching for new office space, it wanted to reduce unnecessary travel and locate to a more environmentally sound building. This came courtesy of North Wiltshire Council, which rented out office space in its own building, just a few minutes from Chippenham station.

The offices are designed without air conditioning. Juliet Davenport, chief executive of Good Energy, says: "The building has passive cooling. There's an atrium down the middle, so on the top floor there are windows open on the roof to create a vent and in the basement there are openings. It creates a circulation of cool air from the basement."

On the transport issue Green People is very thorough. Staff can only travel to attend business meetings if the likely outcome will "grow the renewable energy market" and the train is given preference. Good Energy is introducing a measure for CO2 emissions per member of staff and will award bonuses based on individuals' carbon emissions in their work travel.

Davenport is very happy with the office space, although she has loftier ambitions. "I would really like to build our own premises so we could do it all from scratch," she says.

And while the investment required by Green People was high, it is paying dividends. "It's a very nice working environment. The efficiency of work in the warehouse has increased dramatically," says Taylor.,