Greening my office: I got them to switch the heating off!

| 9th July 2010
Sylvia scores her first eco success - persuading her sceptical boss that heating an unoccupied portion of the office is a terrible waste of resources

It may sound like a working man’s cliché, but the weeks really do seem to fly by. Over the past couple of months I just haven’t stopped; with not one moment short of things to do.

In fact, with my inbox almost collapsing under its own weight, numerous reams of lengthy ‘to do’ lists piling up, and deadlines flying past me at a rate of knots, it’s any wonder that I manage to fit my daily 9-till-5 into its allotted 8 hour slot.

But although I put in the hours behind my desk, I frequently find that I am the only one.

Empty chairs

Sitting in the bay window of my empty office, slowly sipping on cold coffee and drearily packing away my papers at the end of the day, I start to wonder why it is that my office seems to operate so under capacity.

The majority of its employees are never there. Instead the workforce calls in sick, or emails the office at 9.15 with the dubious, yet seemingly infallible line: ‘I’m working from home.’

And if none of the above applies, then the likelihood is that my colleagues are on their more-often-than-annual holiday to somewhere hot, steeped in carbon-emission guilt. Not.

Then it strikes me. My office is empty because there are no people to fill it up. Not enough people are using the space and thus no one is 'not there', because there is no-one to not be there (unpack those double negatives if you can - Ed).

My office is over 70 square foot in size, but only half of the space is ever being used at one time. The other half lies empty.

The organisation that pays my wage rents a large office space and sublets out to two other companies. However, my company has been unable to sublet the remaining space on the floor.

This, in addition to the vast under-nourishment of the staff-list due to illness, holidays and a recession-driven hold on recruitment, means that the space in which I work is empty even when it is ‘full’.

London lies vacated

I mean, it’s not as though the space is not fit for purpose. It stands clean and connected, with great views and is very versatile (now I sound like an estate agent!)

But like so many of its kind in the capital, it lies impotent. According to research by the property agent NB Real Estate, there is now over 10 million square foot of office space lying empty in London alone, up from 7.8 million in 2008. The capital has been left with over 10 per cent of its offices empty, with the situation at its most drastic in the West End (where I’m based).

And of course, with this waste comes the predictable onslaught of environmental damage.

Because there are so few people in the space I’m in, it takes more energy to heat, in both real and relative terms. Furthermore, in the empty office adjacent to my office, we heat the entire space day and night, even though it lies vacant (and has done for nearly a year).

Broaching my boss

The next morning I approach the company head honcho about the empty space in our office.

‘No one wants to buy at the moment,’ he says. ‘We’ve tried to lower to price too, but nothing seems to work’.

‘Can we switch off the heating in there?’ I murmur, head hanging low over a bowl of organic museli.

My boss looks at me carefully. I can see the cogs turning as he remembers previous conversations. As time stands still I think he’s about to upbraid me for being too much of a goody (non-leather) two shoes. But instead of attacking me - as has become par for the course - he glances over to Jill and squawks: ‘Can we get building services to switch off the heating in the other offices? Rooms 2a and 2b? They’re not being used at the moment, are they?’

‘Sure,’ Jill shouts back across the empty office, ‘I’ll email the landlord now’.

'Wow,' I think. No qualms, no questions and no awkward silences. Just action. Maybe my technique is improving? Or maybe some kind of sea change is underway?



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