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Send  Share  RSS  Twitter  30 Aug 2009

ENVIRONMENT: Umvoto Africa Goes Green


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Umvoto, the Cape Town-based groundwater and Earth Science consultancy, has officially gone green.

The consultancy has not only researched and introduced a full Environmental Management System (EMS) at its Muizenberg head office, but is also saving resources at clients’ sites and writing environmental clauses into contracts with its sub-contractors and field workers.

To stay in business we create carbon, but we are now doing something to mop it up,” says Umvoto EMS manager Peter Rogers.

Umvoto, as an Earth Science company, has an implicit obligation to adopt environmentally- friendly work practices and procedures.  To meet this obligation the company has decided to formalise its environmental management procedures and to adopt the South African National Standard SANS 14001:2005.”

Umvoto has always been environmentally conscious, he says, but decided last year to formally explore policies and procedures. The company boasts leading clients such as the Department of  Water and Environmental Affairs, municipalities, the United Nations, the World Bank and the Commonwealth Secretariat, and it is increasingly important to have the correct environmental policies and procedures properly in place.

The company appointed Katinka Lund Wågsæther, a Norwegian-born University of Cape Town student with a B.Sc in Environmental and Geographical Science, to work at Umvoto for one day a week from August 2008. She researched ISO 14000 certification,  interviewed Umvoto staff and  investigated company procedures and environmental best practice.

Wågsæther, who is now studying for her Honours degree in Atmospheric Science, says: “There was information on how to structure and manage a system, but no detailed practicalities or  step by step guidelines. I needed to follow up on information and adapt it to the company. It was great experience exploring the dynamics of the workplace and finding out  how to influence people and change routines.”

While the company has decided not to seek formal ISO 14000 certification at present because of the high cost, it has produced an EMS manual with clear guidelines for office and site workers. Rogers also maintains monthly EMS track records, internal and external audit reports, management review reports and corrective and preventative action reports.

Umvoto’s numerous enviro initiatives range from limiting air travel, to installing a worm farm in the back garden for organic kitchen waste.   Empty printer cartridges and batteries are returned to suppliers for recycling and workstation computers are set to revert to standby mode if idle for more than 15 minutes.

The automated garden irrigation system is reset at the beginning of each month to match seasonal needs.

Initial report drafting, editing and corrections are done electronically, with the final version only printed on both sides of recycled paper for proofreading and a format check. Each workstation has a blue recycle bin for collecting clean, recyclable waste paper that is taken to a local recycling depot.

Every month the company calculates the carbon emissions resulting from its electricity usage, vehicles and flights. This is clearly conveyed to staff with a simple diagram that shows the number of trees needed to offset the CO2 emitted that month.

To offset this carbon, Umvoto is finalising an agreement to make regular donations to Abalimi Bezekhaya. This NGO combats poverty in the Cape Flats by growing food sustainably, using organic methods, at home and in community gardens. Farmers distribute their produce to customers using schools as distribution points. Abalimi also plants water-wise indigenous trees and flora in schools and streets.

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