Creating a smart and connected workspace takes careful consideration. Building owners understand that the environment in an office can either vastly promote efficiency or inhibit productivity among employees. Thus, they dedicate much of their focus to maintaining a well-designed office space in hopes of attracting and maintaining tenants.
However, creating such an environment is not necessarily limited to aesthetic design. Elements such as energy efficiency, water conservation, indoor environmental quality and waste management can contribute towards that environment while making a building significantly more marketable. Magali Delmas, an environmental economist at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, studied the rate of productivity at over 5,000 companies and noted that employees working for environmentally responsible companies are around 16% more productive than their non-sustainable counterparts. With this in mind, building owners are searching for means of making their space as environmentally friendly and as “smart” as possible.
To improve the profile and performance of facilities, FMs go out in search of recycling programs, solar panels, energy-efficient equipment, and more, in hopes of covering all of the bases. Typically, large corporations focus on their energy and water output, in hopes of reducing their impact on the environment. However, many owners and FMs often overlook perhaps one of the most important and easiest steps in hosting a “smart” building: taking care of food waste.
Depending on the tenants and programs in place, food waste can range from the occasional banana peel in the garbage can to a full-fledged cafeteria dumping over a ton of leftovers each week. Businesses usually lean toward the latter, but have no real means of keeping that waste in check. Often times, they simply have to collect the large volume of food waste, drag it down to the compacter, and hope for the best as they send it off to a landfill. However, this solution is by no means the most cost-effective, efficient, or environmentally conscious choice.
Why not? According to the EPA, more than 30 million tons of food waste is transported to landfills each year, resulting in tons of CO2 being released into the air, while also quickly evaporating landfill space. As a result, states and municipalities are beginning to take initiative when it comes to food waste. Massachusetts is leading the campaign by becoming the first state to institute a full-fledged food waste ban. As a result, any MA corporate building that produces more than 1 ton of food waste per week has to find some sort of solution other than simply throwing it into the trash. Other states and municipalities are beginning to follow suit, looking to institute their own versions of this legislation.
As a result hundreds of companies are forced to search for solutions. But, what exactly are the options? In terms of technology, there are only a few good choices on the market, and while the immediate thought is to begin composting, there are other alternatives to consider.
One of the most profitable solutions includes aerobic digestion. Aerobic digesters can eliminate food waste at the source, but there are also solutions where customers receive quick implementation, immediate savings, and easily accessible data with a simple on-site installation.
Aerobic digesters use organic microorganisms to accelerate food’s natural decomposition process and convert the food waste into nutrient-neutral water. This “grey water” is then sent down the drain and transported safely through standard sewer lines to wastewater treatment facilities. Many models can fit in kitchens, greatly reducing the amount of labor involved in transporting tenant waste from their storefronts to the back of the building’s compacter, significantly cutting waste hauling costs while also eliminating the need for janitorial support to keep compacter areas clean.
What is perhaps the most important aspect of some of the digesters on the market may not actually be the digestion of food waste, but instead, its inclusion of smart cloud-based technology. By combining the elimination of food waste at its point of generation with access to monitor the technology remotely, tenants have the ability to actually see how much they are throwing out. This data can be accessed either in-house, or from anywhere with any smart device. Users can view their food waste output over any span of time while also receiving access to the ‘big picture’ of their waste profile, regardless of the amount of machines or geographic locations involved. By providing in-depth information regarding the company’s sustainability and carbon footprint, the cloud provides property owners the ability to make better decisions that immediately impact labor, safety, and efficiency within their building.
Having access to waste data represents the future of sustainability. By accurately measuring every morsel of waste, building owners have the ability to make changes to not only reduce food waste output – but perhaps even eliminate it altogether. Though taking care of food waste is only one step towards making a “smart” building, it represents an important change in the way that companies view their environmental responsibility. They can now use the integration of technology, data, and analytics to drive smarter decisions across their entire building portfolios. Now, isn’t that smart?
Frank E. Celli is CEO of BioHitech America.