Making a difference - Busy bees

Making a difference

18 July 2012

For the Met Office, a commitment to sustainability is a principle of good business that inspires activity right across the organisation.

'Sustainability' is word we often hear these days, as evidence for man's impact on the planet mounts up. At the Met Office, 'sustainability' encompasses the work we do to minimise our environmental impact, act in a positive way in our dealings with our staff, customers and suppliers while maximising our contribution to the wider community.

Kathy Gray

"Our aim is to encourage staff to contribute to activities that are tangible and achievable," explains Met Office Sustainability Coordinator, Kathy Gray. "It's about looking for ways in which we can all make a difference - whether it's finding innovative ways to save energy, recycling our waste or volunteering our time."

"It's about looking for ways in which we can all make a difference - whether it's finding innovative ways to save energy, recycling our waste or volunteering our time."

Kathy coordinates a sustainability agenda that covers environment, community, suppliers and customers, and employees. It's a wide ranging role which involves working closely with colleagues across the office.

"I'm able to be involved in a variety of work", says Kathy. "Our chosen Met Office charity, ShelterBox, is coming to the end of a successful three-year term and I'm involved in the process of choosing our next charity. Working to increase the number of Met Office Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths (STEM) ambassadors is another exciting project. Our staff are keen to share their enthusiasm for their work and we now have over 45 ambassadors working to inspire young people in STEM subjects and promote STEM careers."

Creative thinking

Waste and recycling continue to be a priority for the Met Office. At our Exeter HQ, where 1,400 employees are based, individual desk bins have made way for dedicated recycling bins that actively encourage staff to recycle waste such as paper and cardboard coffee cups, while new ideas such as recycling yoghurt pots are continually being explored.

Sustainability stats


78.9% of all waste recycled, exceeding the 77% target.

2.3 tonnes of redundant electrical items recycled by IT disposal companies.

"In 2011, we recycled 78.9% of all waste," says Kathy, "exceeding our target of 77% and nearing the 80% target set for 2014/15. A next step is to work with our facilities contractor G4S to check how effectively waste bins are used. We can then reduce landfill further by encouraging staff to recycle more."

Other projects highlight the Met Office's innovative approach to doing more with waste.

One example is the first 'Eco Day' in 2011 that saw staff bring in over 2.3 tonnes of their own redundant electrical items for recycling by IT disposal companies. Another idea is helping to reduce paper consumption. Newly installed printers ensure only those documents staff require are printed resulting in less paper wastage.

Further afield, securing a new waste management contract at the Met Office in Belfast means that less than 10% of waste is now going to landfill.

Campaign on many fronts

Managing waste is of course just one highly visible way to promote sustainability. Behind the scenes, the Met Office is hard at work pursuing many more ideas, minimising energy consumption and costs, as well as influencing ideas.

One example is cold aisle containment - putting plastic curtains up around the IT cabinets and servers so we cool the computers but not the whole IT hall. Careful water management, including the use of evaporative free cooling as described in the box below, also offers significant sustainability benefits.

Outside the organisation, we work closely to source suppliers who share our sustainability focus. We conduct detailed sustainability risk assessments for all contracts worth over £100,000, as well as supporting small and medium enterprises to overcome any barriers which prevent them from tendering for lower value work.

Our success in achieving the Wildlife Trust's Biodiversity Benchmark would not have been possible without the commitment and hard work of staff volunteers who have given their time and knowledge to enhance our biodiversity work, planting home grown wild flowers and assisting with native breed tree planting in their own time.

"It's this staff energy and enthusiasm," says Kathy, "that drive our sustainability projects forward. The fact that we only sell Fair Trade beverages in our cafeterias and vending machines is all down to requests from staff."

Supportive, committed employees. They're one powerful influence that no sustainability agenda can afford to be without.

Water, water everywhere...

Making a  difference - recycle In spite of the wettest April since records began, we continue to use water wisely. Water, and the way we manage it, have been top priorities since our Exeter building first opened in 2003.

We reduce our demand on mains supply water in a number of ways - rain water filtrates through a porous paving system and flows to our two ponds. Any oil or petrol which may have split is caught by a special membrane. Rainwater from our roof goes directly to the ponds. This 'grey water' is then used for flushing our toilets.

Water cooling is currently the most effective way to cool our supercomputers and water from our on-site bore hole is softened before being used in our free cooling system. Water drained from our cooling towers during this process is then recycled as 'grey water' for toilet flushing.

But although Met Office water management is well established, there are always new ideas to try. For example, a recent modification to our employee changing room showers reduces the flow rate from 23 litres a minute to just 12 - meaning staff can still stay clean by showering green.

Met Office awards for sustainability

Making a difference - Gold cup

> Business in the Community 2011 (Gold)

> Public Sector Sustainability Award 2011

> Wildlife Trust Biodiversity Award 2011

> BREEAM 'In Use' Award 2011

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