The green workplace
Updated: 2013-05-02 05:01
By Sun Ye (China Daily)
Her position is still unique in a society that is just waking up to the value of being eco-friendly. Sun Ye finds out more about a manager who has a very special job.
Xiao Zhu works at a trendy pizza parlor, and she has a very unusual position. She is an environment manager at Gung Ho and by making sure the little details are all in the right places, she hopes to change the larger picture. As the environment manager of the pizza restaurant, her key performance indices are: proper garbage sorting and recycling, minimizing food waste and educating and sharing green ideas with the other staff. She's a fast-speaking, hardcore environmentalist with a twist in her philosophy. She believes that protecting the environment is not charity work but that it has value, should be worked at, and the effort should be paid for.
To practice what she believes, Xiao wants to make and save money for the company while protecting the environment, a middle path widely thought of as impractical. But she is not daunted, and determined to experiment and learn.
She left her lucrative IT project manager's job at a major multinational to practice what she preaches. "I have the passion and don't want to see it go to waste," she says.
It's difficult for commercial enterprises to go green, a strategy that is generally believed to add extra costs. For example, the most basic garbage sorting means more paid labor has to be invested. However, Xiao is getting a grip on the key to finding the economic incentives.
That's how she made it possible for a dozen of her colleagues to sit down for a talk on PM 2.5 particles and a sharing session of their weekend trip to a waste treatment plant.
To the average audience, what PM 2.5 particles actually are is anyone's guess, but with "Teacher Xiao" at the helm, the discussion speculates "it has something to do with carbon emissions".
Xiao explains everything, from causes to precautions. She also recommends an air-quality monitoring app and says, "Try to stay inside when the figure goes beyond 150."
Wang Cuiling, a 47-year-old cleaner who began the session blinking blindly at the screen says afterwards, "I can't wait to tell my husband what Teacher Xiao told us."
Xiao made the listeners gasp with some alarming facts in the "Where Does All the Garbage Go" presentation: Beijing's biggest refuse landfill will be full in four years. A plastic bag takes hundreds of years to decay. It can't be burned, or it will give off carcinogens.
About 10 staff members had volunteered to go on a weekend trip to the waste disposal plant and came back gushing with new ideas and initiatives for their workplace.
"Now they see why their work is worthwhile, otherwise sorting waste is boring and doesn't speak of necessity, " Xiao says.
Another upside to organizing green-themed field trips and lectures is that it boosts work morale. "I find our people bonding better. They feel respected and that they have become part of the restaurant and the city."
That reduces the staff turnover rate, a headache for human resources departments all over the city.
In the same way, Xiao lobbied for masks for Gung Ho's deliverymen. It costs an additional 3,000 yuan ($486) a year but Xiao has a calculated argument. Happier deliverymen who feel the company cares about their health and safety are less likely to quit.
In this way, a 3,000-yuan investment pre-empts frequent recruitment and training exercises, which may cost a lot more money otherwise.
Xiao also replaced disposable bowls and chopsticks at the staff canteen, saving more than 20,000 yuan for both the restaurant and its caterer.
To top that, "it turned out that everyone feels more at home with their own bowl and chopsticks," Xiao says.
That's just a few of the win-win solutions Xiao has managed to find. She attributes her knack of locating these sweet spots to sensitivity and passion.
Xiao grew up in verdant Guizhou province and has always found her sense of security in nature. "I talk to nature to calm myself down," she says. Polluted surroundings irritate her.
She began volunteering for various green NGOs since entering the University of Science and Technology Beijing. Then, during her four years with two large companies, she frequently found herself among the rare, eager ones to participate in corporate responsibility activities.
"My ex-boss once asked me what were my goals in the next 15 years. I said I wanted to develop a green, environment-friendly product that's profitable." Xiao has now come to see that the environment is more of a personal obsession.
"I told my husband, even if my philosophy doesn't work and nothing comes out of it, I can still be my children's model for pursuing one's dreams even though we can't afford private school," she says.
The owners of Gung Ho happened to believe in the same things, that green and business can work together and a big impact starts from small bits.
John O'Loghlen, the co-owner who has been looking for an advocate for their vision, says, "When we met her, we just clicked."
They set aside 1 percent of total revenue as the budget for Xiao's green responsibilities. Xiao joined Gung Ho last September and "Going green" is the company's tagline now.
In the first quarter this year, Xiao helped reduce 51 percent of waste, totally more than a ton. She sent food waste to an organic farm for fuel.
She says by the end of the year she expects more of her projects to turn a profit. And the green-management model that the restaurant works on is already outsourcing. An e-commerce company invites her to give a speech on disposal.
"We've only just started and I can't say how much value I'm creating, but I'm doing the positive, right kind of business."
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