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An oasis in the making: OPM Pakistan's green initiatives

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From planting vegetables to installing solar panels

Author: Ayesha Fazlur Rahman, OPM Pakistan

Islamabad’s industrial area in sector I-9 is unlike the rest of the city that is rated amongst the most beautiful capitals in the world. Although located at a two-minute drive from the city’s best stocked plant nurseries, the industrial area is characterised by a grey landscape, negligible number of trees, and heavy vehicle emissions.

Situated in this dismal surrounding is OPM Pakistan. We moved to this premises in July 2016 and a lot has changed around the office since then, with more improvements in the pipeline. The purpose is simple: to preserve, purify, and beautify.

A place in the sun

The first step after moving in the premises was utilising the abundant gift from the open skies: sunlight. Instead of getting a fuel-guzzling generator, the company installed solar panels (there is a small generator that is used only in case of prolonged power outages). The company has a total installed capacity of 40KW/40,000 watts. In the last six months alone, an estimated 30,000 units have been saved. The premises with a staff strength of 35 was installed with a net metering device. This billing mechanism credits solar panel users for the electricity they contribute to the grid. During summer months with long daylight hours, this is a gift that just keeps giving!

In France, it was made mandatory in 2015 to cover rooftops on new buildings in commercial zones with either plants or solar panels. Green rooftops are also common in Germany and Australia. It’s time commercial set-ups in Pakistan also strategise to reduce their carbon footprint.

Like management, like team

Once the management’s commitment to environmental protection had been established, other suggestions from team members started to surface. Nyda Mukhtar introduced the company to the organisation Saaf Suthra Sheher (‘a clean city’). Through their brand Pappu Recycles, they collect segregated waste from hotels, companies, etc. and sell it to recycling plants for paper, plastic, and other materials. Pappu Recycles furnished our office with their recycling bins in September 2018. The service is free for the clients; Saaf Suthra Sheher runs on the resources generated through selling the waste. So it is a win-win all around!

This office has another innovation for reducing waste, thanks to Ahmed Javed the business services manager. Each floor has the segregated waste bins but there are no individual bins with each desk. This has multiple benefits. Firstly, people place the waste in the separate recycling bins. Secondly, they don’t create a lot of waste. For example, tissues are not discarded after every single wiping of the mouth after eating a biscuit. Also, people get a chance to get up and walk to the trash collection point instead of remaining dormant for long periods of time. The opportunity to exercise is also a chance to chat and bond with colleagues.

The grass is greener on this side

To complete the green movement, some greenery had to be added. One cold afternoon in November, Country Director Rauf Khan visited the local nursery along with his team. The objective was to select trees to plant along the dusty roadside outside the office, in order to ‘repay the debt we owe to the land’, to quote Rauf. There was much debate about the kind of trees to be selected: should it be a native plant? Should it be ornamental, fast growing, food-producing? In the end it was decided to plant Ficus King plants in the interest of fast growth, flanked by two pine trees on either side as a nod to the Islamabad landscape symbolised by pine trees, especially along the Margallah road.

Much like people gather under a shady tree, forestry experts and old hands at maintaining farmhouses from amongst the OPM team soon rallied around the tree plantation drive. Consultants Syed Rizwan Mehboob and Seema Ilahi Baloch recommended planting some ornamental trees to add beauty. It was decided that one pink canopied Cassia Nodosa would grace the roadside outside the office. The case for one ruby red lagerstroemia, commonly known as crape myrtle, was also decided favorably! The pink and purple lagerstroemias are representative of the iconic F-6 Supermarket, one of the first and still very popular market places in the city.

A total number of 10 trees have been planted. The planting of the two ornamental trees will take place when the harsh cold subsides, taking the total to 12.

Veggie patch updates

A small patch behind the office cafeteria is being used as a veggie patch. It currently boasts of a modest crop of red radishes, with broccoli plants yet to bear fruit. The patch has produced capsicum and green chilies in the past too, according to Taqveem Badshah, the proud supervisor of this initiative.

The devil is in the details

The planting of the trees will no doubt be a new sanctuary for birds and other fauna. It will purify the carbon monoxide laden air (thanks to the traffic of heavy vehicles). The trees will absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen as well as impact the weather and make it moderate. In addition, the sight of trees releases stress and fatigue and makes people feel calm and serene.

In order to optimise the feel of the green belt as a calm and serene spot, further efforts are underway. Little rock gardens are being developed between the trees to create beauty and symmetry; Seema Baloch planned the layout for these. Some grass will be planted in the remaining area, around the rock garden. The rock gardens will be planted with hardy, low maintenance evergreen plants. This is the job of Akhter Gul, the maali (gardener).

Responsible environmental stewardship

In itself, there may not be anything awe-inspiring about planting trees, recycling our trash, or installing solar panels. The first two we all can and should do, and many of us do it already. What is special about the OPM model is that it is not motivated by any marketing agenda. The company is not doing this to increase the sale of a product, as OPM is not a product manufacturer. This work will not promote the business interests in any way. If the landscaping experiment becomes an oasis for passersby and inspires others to follow suit, the mission will be accomplished.

Green groundswell

Soon, in the wake of the green wave outside the OPM walls, the plant pots within the office walls were being arranged by Cynthia in more aesthetic arrangements. Others contributed by noticing and praising such changes and developments. No one remained unmoved as staff members started to make plans to populate their bare home gardens. Tanya Lone made her first trip to a plant nursery during this time, wide-eyed and excited! Nyda got little succulents to give as party favours to her friends. The landlord of our building pulled over one day as he saw the work in progress, asking how he can replicate the planting and rock garden design outside his other properties. The epidemic is real!

A version of this article originally appeared in WWF's Natura.