Greening my office: tacking the microwave meal

| 22nd March 2010
curry and rice ready meal
Sylvia's office gets a new, green employee, and she begins to hatch plans for changing her ready-meal-eating, email-printing, energy-burning colleagues...

I must confess, over the past couple of weeks ‘the environment’ seems to have fallen off my agenda somewhat. The days have swiftly slipped by, my workload has pretty much trebled and even lunchtimes have proven to be frantic.

In fact, although I would never carry this as an excuse, my own practices have slipped recently too - I was caught by the caretaker last week for putting dirty tissues in the recycling bin. A heinous crime, enough to turn any environmentalist from green to red!

It’s not that I am losing my passion or fervour, but it’s just that life seems to have taken over of late (and yes, I know how terrible that sounds).

That’s why I was ecstatic last Tuesday morning, when ‘the environment’ quite literally walked through the door, in the form of a new member of staff: Neal.

In with the new

Neal is a recently-graduated PR assistant. He fits into the 18-24 age bracket, earns in the low £20k range and most definitely (and defiantly) lives up to his self-proclaimed status of ‘green freak’.

Neal recycles everything he can, taking home all that cannot be recycled (plastic bags, milk bottle caps etc.). He avoids wearing leather and doesn’t eat meat. He cycles to work, switches off his computer at night (see last week’s blog) and is even on the Council’s waiting list for a community allotment.

In essence, Neal is the polar opposite to the majority of my colleagues; a breath of carbon-sequestrated air in my office.

Pints, curries and turnips

On Friday lunchtime I invite Neal out for a pint of organic ale in our local pub. I choose not to tell him about my blog here at the Ecologist (though I know that is likely he will be a supporter). However it only takes a few gulps of hops and spices for our collective working environment to come up in conversation - in the form of food.

‘It seems ridiculous to me how many pre-packaged microwavable lunches people have’ Neal says. ‘The amount of un-recycled waste from those curries that John has is ridiculous – plastic and cardboard’.

I laugh. I had actually made the same remark a few weeks earlier, and planned to blog about it here soon.

‘I agree’ I say, ‘I reckon John probably goes through a tree stump of packaging each week’.

‘It’s one of the main reasons I’m getting my allotment sorted’ Neal confesses, ‘so I don’t need any food packaging.’

Office cooking

I could not help but admire Neal. He is a strong believer in the environmental cause and I certainly believe in what he is saying too. But whilst working in my office all I can see ahead of him is a road of disappointment and frustration.

Some offices have a cooker, a hob and a microwave, enabling home-cooking at work. But so many offices that I have seen are restricted to just a kettle and a fridge.
Neal was not going to be able to roast his home-grown turnips at work, nor even heat them up. He would have to cook his produce at home and eat it cold in the office.

Of course, there is always the option of a sandwich or salad. But if you are in need of a hearty lunch (and standing at 6 foot 3 inches, I would guess that Neal probably is) then a hot meal is almost a necessity. But at my work - with no access to a hob, cooker or microwave – this is just not possible.

The new green alliance

I mused over this for a while. Maybe Neal could be a strong ally in my quest for environmental determinism? He’s young, keen and knowledgeable - a fine asset to any green offensive.

‘It’s the office lunch next week’ I say. ‘Maybe we could try and educate a few of our colleagues about green food?’

‘Good idea’ says Neal, ‘maybe I’ll invite them to use my allotment. It’s only down the road’.

‘Why don’t we cook for them?’ I suggest, ‘they might understand if we demonstrate good practice?’

Next time: the battle lines are drawn

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