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The Embassy goes green

After the installation of the solar panels and the new ACs in 2018, the energy consumption of the Embassy has shown a 46% reduction in only one year. The solar panels cover half of our energy consumption

Until recently, it was painful to visit our otherwise good colleagues in the Dutch embassy in Accra; their elegant office buildings are solar-powered, and they have a monitor in the reception that shows the kWh savings from not relying on the national grid. When returning to our own more ancient-looking buildings, blue smoke from an old and coughing diesel generator would often cover the yard, while the deafening noise underscored that our energy sources were not exactly green and sustainable. 

Petty jealousies can be a shameful feeling but in this case, it inspired a heartfelt wish to do like the Dutch. We calculated the cost and breakeven point of an investment in solar cell panels, and decided to go for it. When we had embarked upon the green path, we also got advice from an energy efficiency specialist who pointed out that at our old and high-energy consuming ACs would be the most relevant next step. We replaced them all with new low-consuming (and low noise) ACs and sold off the old. Other steps have been the replacement of all incandescent light bulbs with LED light and rewiring outdoor electrical cables with low energy-loss cable types.

After the installation of the solar panels and the new ACs in 2018, our energy consumption has shown a 46% reduction in only one year. On a good day, our Dutch colleagues cover about 13% of their energy consumption by the solar panels, while our panels cover at least half of the consumption. We can dwell for a long time at the monitor showing the kWh savings in our reception….

Recycling waste and avoiding plastic

Accra is littered with plastic and during the rainy season, plastic bags are clogging the drains and causing floods. Rubbish is piling up in the streets, and only few serious attempts are made to address the issue. As a modest contribution to limiting the problem, the Embassy is segregating its waste according to the categories; food, paper, glass, plastic, and non-recyclable. We have found a waste management company which is recycling the waste, and although it may not fully match the recycling happening in European countries, it is far better than throwing all waste in landfills or dump it in the streets. Staff and cleaners have received training by the waste management company on how to go about it, and emails go round if a culpable colleague has put a tea bag in the wrong container.
To limit the use of plastic, all staff has a mug with their name on, and all guests get a ‘guest mug’ in the same design. Glasses for water are made of glass (not plastic), and at big events such as the celebration of the Constitution Day on 5th of June, we opt for a large dishing team instead of the easy solution of serving beer and soda in plastic cups.   

Staff sustainability and well-being

While we now work in energy-efficient and green surroundings, the well-being of the staff has suffered from pressure related to too much work and difficulties of balancing it against demands in our private lives. We have tried to address this in various ways of which the most important are to better prioritise tasks, decide not to do certain tasks, and help each other when a colleagues has too much on his or her plate. In a recent staff seminar, we focused on stress management and also engaged in self-organised theatre plays which made us laugh so much that some of our colleagues almost stopped breathing. We followed up on this by inviting a phycologist to explain about some of the common work-related and private factors which can impact on our well-being. After the presentation, she offered individual consultations for those interested.

The creativity has been quite amazing. Among other initiatives are weekly fitness training sessions in the residence garden by two colleagues who take turns to squeeze out all remaining energy of the brave colleagues who participate. Some have found it difficult to walk after the workout. Since the residence is in the embassy compound, the swimming pool in the garden is open to all staff two days per week from 8 am to 5 pm. The most recent offer is to cross the street to Alisa Hotel opposite the embassy and get a one-hour massage session paid for by the embassy. Five such sessions are available every month, and the criteria for applying for it to the Head of Administration are tiredness, headache, light body pain or similar.
It remains to be seen if half of the embassy staff will be working out, swimming happily in the pool, or enjoying a massage session when Government partners or others call to have a meeting. So far, at least it seems that stress levels have gone down and staff well-being has increased.   

Solar Panels on the Embassy's roof.