Cutting waste in China’s offices

Making China’s workplaces energy efficient is an important way of reducing the country’s carbon footprint. An innovative scheme now means that students can get involved. Tay Guan Hock Marcus reports from Shanghai.

“Sir, do you actually switch off your computer or put it into hibernation when you go out for lunch?” asks Chen Zhaoyu, a Roots & Shoots student from Wu Ai High School. He is interviewing the staff of the company where Chen and his fellow Roots & Shoots members are doing an eco-office audit. By participating in the Roots & Shoots “eco-office evaluation programme”, Chen has found out that many employees are inclined to energy-wasting behaviour like not enabling hibernation or standby mode for their computers. The staff are appreciative when Chen points it out to them.

In his audit of the company, Chen checks for environmentally friendly office practices such as using energy-saving printers and installing water-saving devices for taps. These practices can reduce the company’s operating costs and help the environment at the same time. Chen also does a survey on some of the employees’ habits. Even if the company does not implement energy-saving practices, there is still a lot that employees can do on their own to save resources, such as switching off the extension cord after work so that their computers will not continue to use electricity when switched off – or even just printing on both sides of a sheet of paper.

As a student in urban Shanghai, Chen often feels that environmental protection is very distant from him and he is not sure what he can do for the environment. However, through this programme, he has come to realise that being environmentally responsible can be easy.

It is estimated that energy in buildings accounts for a third of China’s total consumption, and energy use per unit of area in Chinese buildings is three to four times that of buildings in the west. While this is bad, the good news is that it creates huge potential for companies to save both energy and costs.

Through the eco-office programme, Shanghai Roots & Shoots sends high school and college students to assess companies’ ecological footprints. After auditing the company, Chen Zhaoyu and his fellow students submit a report which identifies environmentally unfriendly (and often wasteful) company practices, along with suggestions on how to correct these problems. If you want to learn how its done, or to participate in a project that is meaningful, fun and brings benefits to students and companies, contact Shanghai Roots & Shoots at

Tay Guan Hock Marcus is Roots & Shoots Eco office Evaluation Programme Coordinator

(The Eco Office Evaluation programme is sponsored by BHP Billiton)