MONEY grows on trees in a forward-thinking office with no light switches and a grass roof.
Maidstone council’s new offices are heated by burning wood harvested from coppices in the borough.
The move will save taxpayers about £10,000 a year, and is just one of a number of environmental ideas incorporated into the new offices, at Maidstone House, King Street.
Since moving in on June 16, council workers have been getting used to lights that automatically turn on when needed – there are no light switches – and computers that turn themselves off when everyone has gone home for the night.
There are no wastebins at people’s desks, and rubbish must be filed into communal recycling bins in each department.
The council’s new reception and front counter – known as the Gateway – will have a grass roof to keep heat in and encourage wildlife.
Even the journey to work is more environmental. The council has 150 parking spaces to serve 450 staff at the new offices. However, it has plenty of cycle racks and showers for anyone who wants to freshen up after an energetic journey to work.
The office move is a major step towards the council’s pledge – dubbed its Primrose Promise – to be “carbon neutral” by 2010.
When the council builds a new depot, in Langley, it will draw heat from under the ground and use energy-efficient lights.
Meanwhile 'waterless’ urinals have been introduced in Maidstone town centre’s public toilets.
Trevor Gasson, the council’s deputy chief executive, said: “With the price of oil and fuel rising, our biomass boiler is a relatively cheap way of heating the office.
“Becoming carbon neutral is a tough target but this makes good progress towards it.”
The boiler cost £340,000 to install, of which £118,000 was paid with a government grant.
Grants are also available to private companies who want to run greener offices.
Benjamin Robinson, an environment project manager for the council, said: “There is an approved list of technology for low-carbon buildings, including things like solar water heating and insulation.
“If you want to do something on that list, there are quite a lot of grants available.”
The council said it will wait for the next round of utility bills to judge how successful its eco-offices are. A report on environmental savings is expected to be published next year.
Cllr Mark Wooding (Con), cabinet member for the environment, said: “The offices make sense environmentally and economically. The measure we’ve put into place save energy and money, so we’re doing what we can to reduce our carbon footprint and cut down costs.”
Any company that wants help with becoming greener can call Mr Gasson on 01622 602217.