Green offices: Cutting business costs and saving the environment

Buildings account for a large proportion of the emission of greenhouse gases worldwide, mainly because of the energy needed to heat or cool them. Large office buildings and residential apartments which host thousands of people can be particularly wasteful in terms of energy, water and paper use.

Several businesses in Pakistan have taken steps over the last few years to slash the use of resources at their office building under the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Pakistan’s Green Office programme. Apart from helping companies save money, it improves their public perception.

Since signing up in January 2011, the Engro office in Karachi has cut electricity and paper use by 25 to 30 per cent, and waste generation by almost 45 per cent. Wajid Hussain, the green office coordinator for Engro subsidiaries, said they had saved Rs4 million on electricity bills in 2011.

Not that it was easy to get office workers to alter their habits. “When you have 60 printers in the office and you replace them with two, some people can get quite uncomfortable,” said Hussain.

Initially, the WWF-Pakistan set them a target of reducing consumption of electricity and paper and generation of waste by 10 per cent. But they raised the savings by taking a number of small steps over the last two years, said Hussain.

“We filmed the windows with UV protection which helped bring the temperature down by five degrees. The air conditioners are always fixed at 24 degrees Celsius. The electrical circuits were segregated, reducing the number of lights switched on using one switch to three from 50 before. Conventional 60-watt bulbs were replaced with 2-watt LEDs. People seated next to windows were told not to switch on the lights during the day. The switches were colour coded: green for during the day, yellow when it was cloudy outside and red for bright light.”

Those using the printers were asked to use both sides of the paper. Recycling trays were set up next to the printers. Workers were asked to bring laptops into meetings instead of notebooks or paper sheets.

Mustafa, the green office coordinator at Packages, said since being certified in 2010, the company’s head office in Lahore has reduced the amount of organic waste it generates by 50 per cent, shifted a large proportion of its electricity use to solar panels, and computerised all documentation in order to minimise paper use. The company has an in-house recycling unit and a baking unit in the cafeteria to reduce waste. By next year, it is also planning on acquiring absorption coolers to cool its office building, which will help bring energy use down further.

Qarshi Industries hasn’t just reduced resource use at its head office in Lahore, cutting paper use by 46 per cent in just one quarter, but is also cutting water consumption at its processing plants.


Mudassar Maqbool, the green office coordinator for Qarshi, said that 82 per cent of the waste water was recycled to irrigate its medicinal herb gardens in Haripur. This included water discharged by 50 air conditioning units. Rainwater collected in channels is also used for irrigation and supplied to a neighbouring housing scheme for use on green belts. Sprinklers have been installed in the gardens to time the watering for the morning or evening, when there is less sunlight and thus slower evaporation. He said water consumption at the plant had been reduced by 17 per cent.

Nazifa Butt of the Green Office programme at WWF-Pakistan said that eight companies had been certified under the programme while six more were in the process of being certified. To get certified, companies need to achieve 10 per cent cuts in energy and paper use and waste generation.

Butt said that auditing the use of energy in transport needed to get those thousands of workers to their offices, to clients and to their partners was not part of the programme. She said that the best way to save energy on transport was to introduce car pooling. She said few companies did this.

The certified companies include five Engro subsidiaries, Qarshi, Packages and Unilever. Mobilink, Haleeb, Irfan n Irfan, Tetra Pak, Engro Chemicals and IBA Sukkur are in the process of being certified by WWF-Pakistan.

Weather patterns: Early fog delays and threatens commuters

LAHORE: Raza Kharal, who lives in Tayyaba Gardens near the Faizpur intersection of the Motorway, has been late for work every day for the last week. “This year the fog has come early,” he says. “I’m late for work by an hour on good days.”

Residents of 10 housing societies and five congested settlements on the outskirts of north and west Lahore use four interchanges to get on to Canal Bank Road and enter the city, but fog causes delays of an hour or two daily.

“Getting onto the Canal and into the city is a major hassle,” says Yasir Jamil, a resident of Begum Kot. “I sometimes get to work at noon and then have to leave by five so I can get home safely.”

But being late is one of the less serious consequences for commuters. Last year, Kharal lost an uncle in a fog-related accident. A cameraman for a news channel, his uncle was returning home from work late one night. He drove into a tractor-trolley transporting iron rods.

“The visibility was less than five feet. Trucks without headlights loaded with sugarcane and iron rods on the interchange and the Motorway are a real hazard,” says Kharal.

In 2009, the Lahore High Court instructed officials of the NHA and Transport Department to take notice of heavy vehicles commuting across Punjab without headlights. Kharal says he has been using the interchange for the last four years and would estimate that 90 per cent of heavy vehicles run without headlights.

The National Highway Authority closed major highways in the early mornings several days over the past week. Jamil says that the first day of reduced visibility was November 11. “I got to work about three hours late,” he says

According to the Met Department, dense fog pockets have been seen in Model Town, the farms around the Punjab University’s New Campus and in the city’s outskirts, beyond Thokar Niaz Beg and near the Wagha border crossing.

Muhammad Rizwan, the chief meteorologist in Lahore, said he couldn’t say if the fog had arrived earlier this year than last. He said that temperatures in October and November had been similar to last year. If there was more fog, it was likely because of higher dust levels due to a number of large ongoing development projects in the city, he said. “Dust is a catalyst in forming fog when the temperature drops,” he said.

Muhammad Tahir, an official of the Environment Protection Department, said that the lack of mitigation measures taken to settle dust levels across the city, particularly in areas where development projects were taking place, would facilitate the formation of fog as the temperatures drop further.

Uzma Hanif, who wrote Fog Hazards in Punjab for the Pakistan Journal of Meteorology, said a positive relationship exists between fog and dust, but mean temperature and humidity also factor in. She said that fog develops when the daily mean temperature drops below 15.5 degrees Celsius and reaches 80 per cent humidity for cities in northern Punjab.

She said that Met Office data for the last 30 years indicated a change in the pattern of weather and rainfall in the region, which influence the formation of fog. She said that in future, the region will see more and more smog, which is a mixture of fog, dust and carbon soot.

Highway closures and accidents

Jamal Zeb Khan, the staff officer to the DIG (Motorway), said that there had been one car pile-up on the Motorway last year, but no fatalities in fog-related accidents.

But an NHA official told The Tribune that there were 117 deaths in fog-related accidents on GT Road between Lahore and Gujranwala from November 2011 to January 2012. Another 300 people were injured.

Khawaja Imran Raza, the SSP for GT Road from Thokar Niaz Beg to Multan (M5), said there were far more built-up areas along GT Road than the Motorway. “Dense fog settles in pockets, particularly along areas with rivers and pastures,” he said.

Natural energy: Biogas plants aid recovery in flood-hit areas


Rafia Bibi, 23, used to start her day by walking to the nearby market and purchasing a maund of firewood for Rs280, enough to take care of cooking and heating needs for her family of eight.

Her family lost their agricultural land, most of their livestock and even the family home when Abbaswala Bund broke during last year’s Indus floods. “We lost a lot and it took a year for us to recover, but in some ways we are better off now,” she says.

Rafia and her family are among 500 in Muzaffargarh selected for a flood recovery programme of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)-Pakistan, whereby they were given a biogas plant. The plant, of a capacity of eight cubic metres, was set up by implementing partners in Kot Addu for Rs60,000. It requires 80kg of cattle dung daily, giving about seven hours of gas, equivalent to burning 23kg of firewood.

Rafia is glad she doesn’t have to use firewood anymore. “The wood gave off black smoke. It made me cough for as long as I was cooking. My hands, feet and face would all turn black. And I do not have to make discs of animal dung anymore. Before we had the plant, I used to spend two hours every morning collecting faeces from the fields and laying it out to dry so it could be used 4-5 days later,” she says.

Muhammad Saleem, a partner of the WWF-Pakistan, has installed almost 240 biogas plants in 35 flood-affected villages in Muzaffargarh district, 150 in DG Khan, 100 in Layyah and about 50 in Mianwali since July 2010. He says the design has proved a success and his foundation has been receiving more and more orders.

He says biogas plants can save families up to one third of their incomes. An average family earns Rs10,000 to Rs12,000 a month, and firewood alone costs about Rs4,000 a month.

Saleem said an eight cubic metre plant generates enough gas to run a 1 KVA generator for eight hours. He has also set up a 16 cubic metre plant and a 48 cubic metre plant for two families in Basti Jeevanwali, on the outskirts of Kot Addu.

The 16-cubic metre plant produces enough methane to run a tubewell for seven hours. Saleem says the saving on fuel alone comes to Rs70,000. The byproduct of the process can be used as a biodegradable fertiliser, reducing dependency on urea by 70 per cent. One can save up to Rs20,000 on fertiliser for seven acres of irrigated land, he said.

According to the WWF site coordinator in Muzaffargarh, Omer Waqas, plants were given to families affected by the floods and who had enough animals to provide the fuel faeces.

“Some relatively affluent people, those with more land and livestock, did benefit. But even the most affluent had nothing to eat during the first few months of flooding,” he said.

He said most of the plants were built for families with not more than four or five animals.

“We tried to install plants shared between several families, each owning one or two animal only, so they could share the fuel. But too many conflicts arose and forced us to stop,” he said

Each family had to plant 50 trees — mostly keekar, shisham and eucalyptus — to get a plant.

Khursheed Bibi, who is in her early 50s, said many women in her village, Basti Patal, suffered from cough due to the use of firewood as a fuel for cooking and warming homes during the winters. She says if the biogas technology spreads out to every home of the village, fatalities on account of lung diseases will reduce dramatically.

“For years, I woke up coughing early morning. It would worsen during the hours I cooked, or in the middle of the night. This technology was meant to benefit us financially, but it has also helped me breathe easy after years,” she said.

Rafia’s husband Khursheed said that they had planted eucalyptus trees as water table in Muzaffargarh district is very high. “Also it grows fast and is easier to chop off,” he said.

The biogas plants are being provided through a Global Poverty Assistance Fund (GPAF) programme being implemented by WWF-Pakistan in partnership with the Department For International Development (DFID) of UK.

As many as 2,200 biogas plants have been constructed in 13 districts throughout Pakistan under the flood recovery programme. In south Punjab, plants have been constructed in DG Khan, Rahim Yar Khan, Bahwalpur, Muzaffargarh and Rajanpur. In Sindh, at Thatta, Ghotki, Sukkur and Dadu, and in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, at Charsadda, Dera Ismail Khan, Nowshera and Swat. Some 250 biogas plants have been constructed in other parts of the country through other WWF-Pakistan projects.

Dr Ejaz Ahmad, who looks after biogas projects across the country for WWF-Pakistan, said biogas technology had been more successful in south Punjab and Sindh as the average ambient air temperature the year round remains suitable for bacteria germination.

Operating biogas plants in mountainous terrain has been more challenging, as the cold weather slows down the process by which the gas is derived. The WWF-Pakistan is currently experimenting with new designs in Nathiagalli and Skardu.

“I want these to spread to households in Gilgit-Baltistan, Kashmir and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as these areas contain most of Pakistan’s four per cent forest cover. By shifting the technology north, we can discourage communities from cutting trees,” he says.

How a biogas plant works

The ground is dug to a depth of seven-and-a-half feet and lined with a cement concrete. Once dried, the lining is treated with a chemical to increase its longevity. The slurry is fed from one end and the gas, mostly methane, is collected in a dome three-and-a-half feet tall. The process waste, a biodegradable fertiliser, is shifted into another pit to make room for more slurry.

It takes about 20 days to build a biogas plant and about five days to get it started. Biogas plants can also be built with insulated fibre glass sheets and steel, but these materials are more expensive than concrete.