Brewing a solution to office waste

About six months ago I asked my office mate Sandy what she thought about the coffee pods and large plastic water jugs flowing through our staff kitchen at Systemscope. “Not very eco-friendly,” she observed. “Wonder if we can find something better?”

Two months on and we had learned a lot about the equipment found in many offices worldwide. Water coolers were invented in the early 1900s as a way to keep people from contracting nasty diseases. They also served as the first social network: “water cooler gossip” became a thing (search it if you don’t believe me). When you buy bottled water, either in large bottles for dispensers or for single use, 90% of the price of bottled water is marked up to cover the cost of packaging, transporting and marketing. But what’s in those bottles isn’t necessarily special water and in some cases, comes from the same sources as the water coming out of your tap at home.

We then turned our attention to the coffee machine and its coffee pods, which seemed to afford us convenience and choice. It turns out that we were contributing to the global glut of used pods, which already in 2013 could circle the globe almost 11 times. While we had a recycling box for the used pods, we noticed that fruit flies love used coffee grounds (who knew?). Then we found out that the used pods were being incinerated and not recycled. In our minds, any green credibility had left the building.

Further research by Sandy led us to a postal box-sized solution that would make several styles of coffee using beans from a local roaster, as well as a chai tea and hot chocolate. The company would remove our used coffee grounds to be composted. Better yet, the vendor also offered a companion counter-top water dispenser that filters tap water and delivers it hot or cold. Ottawa’s tap water is regularly tested but some find that it has a somewhat unpleasant off-taste. The new filter would remove that taint, resulting in a cleaner tasting glass of water for our employees and clients.

Sandy Taylor, Denise Eisner and Ed Hemphill of

Sandy Taylor and Denise Eisner of Systemscope applaud their new coffee service provided by Ed Hemphill of Bean Around Town.

None of this would have been possible without endorsement from the C-suite. We took the consultant route and produced a deck with facts and costing for the new green office kitchen. With approval in hand from our senior partners, we borrowed from the Systemscope user research methodology to test the system with staff over a few days. We collected their feedback via an online survey, asking about selection and taste. Based on their comments about the strength of the coffee and sweetness of some of the European styles such as cappuccino, the vendor adjusted the machine’s settings.

The costing for this project also worked in our favour. We completely eliminated the bottled water expense, as well as the service charge to remove the spent coffee pods from the old machine. Our new coffee service did cost slightly more than our previous service, but when other cost reductions were factored in, there was a noticeable annual saving.

One side note: we had already committed to this project when the management team made a key change to the Systemscope benefit package. In addition to the paid volunteer day we receive annually, we now receive an extra paid day to work on environmental causes.


Denise Eisner is a senior-level content/UX strategist with a passion for creating enhanced user experiences. As a senior consultant at Systemscope, Denise’s experience and specializations include content strategy and design, writing/editing, prototyping, usability testing, web analytics, project management and change management.


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