Getting serious about recycling: peek inside Australia’s first fully sustainable office

Everybody’s always eager to pay lip service to the value of recycling rubbish in their office but, as soon as they’re not being watched, they’ll often dump everything in the nearest bin.

It’s always driven co-working entrepreneur Jenny Folley so mad that she’s now decided to do something about it. In a new co-working and private office-hire hub she’s developing on the Gold Coast, she’s installing reprocessing machinery so staff can see exactly how valuable recycling truly is.

“I find recycling is something workers always want, but then they put everything everywhere,” said Folley, the founder and chief executive of @WORKSPACES. “Even if they do put the rubbish into separate bins, often a cleaner comes along and takes the lot and dumps it all together.

“But if you can show people how recycling really works, then you can train them to separate their rubbish and then, hopefully, they’ll take those lessons home and do it there and teach their children too. And gradually, we’ll all get much better at it.”

In order to educate staff in her Southport building, she’s installing a whole suite of recycling and sustainability products, from a food scraps machine that turns them into fertiliser, to a compactor that transforms glass into concrete and to a contraption that shreds paper and then makes it into bricks.

In addition, she’s ordered solar panels to be installed for energy as well as water-harvesting equipment, so the building could even, eventually, function off-grid.

“I think this is the first time all these things are being done together in an office space, and will be the first fully sustainable office,” Folley said. “One of the major difficulties, however, is getting everything through council as it’s such a novel concept.

“But I’m determined to get there. It’s such a worthwhile thing that all other offices could install in future, and, of course, it really does the earth a favour. I’d love other workspaces to copy this and for it to be a template for all over Australia.”

Folley, the first person to introduce co-working into Australia many years ago, researched all the equipment herself and said all components are readily available on the internet. They don’t even cost a small fortune to bring in, either. She estimates the whole shebang will add just $20,000 to the cost of the office and, when the cost of the build is set to top $3.25 million, that’s not much at all by comparison.

In addition, the savings in terms of electricity and water rates could be considerable each year.

Folley already operates nine co-working spaces around the country and, as well as the upcoming one on the Gold Coast, is busy scouting for new locations. She believes there’s massive demand coming from people working from home in suburbia who want alternative places to go, without making the long journey, usually into the city.

She’s also staying away from high-rise offices, feeling that people have an aversion, post-COVID, to squeezing into lifts with others. Instead, she likes low-rise building with stairs, which can be far more sociable too, with the chance of “bump” meetings and encounters.

“The last hub we opened was a small one in Brighton, Melbourne, but we opened it just as we went into COVID lockdown,” she said. “But we had so much inquiry about it, from people studying at home, or working; they really wanted to rent some office space. As a result, we were inundated.

“So, I’m always looking for potential work spaces away from the cities, and in suburban areas, and now ones that I can also install world-leading sustainable features into.”

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