The end of the long lunch hour - Monocolumn | Monocle


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7 December 2010

Maximising on the midday sun isn’t only a concern for Barcelona seaside holidaymakers looking to get some colour, it’s also being considered a key to keeping energy costs down and curbing climate change 600km west in Spain’s capital. Madrid city council has decided to rein in on leisurely lunches by restricting the hours in which lights will be kept on and heaters kept running at night in public buildings.

The scheme, part of a 55-part plan developed in 2008 to make the city’s energy use more sustainable, is the first of its kind in Spain. Expected to cut energy use by up to 20 per cent, saving €1.3m a year, it’s also having an impact on office culture. “Spain is one of the EU countries with longer working hours, and nevertheless it’s one of the least productive,” says Madrid’s finance councillor, Juan Bravo.

Long hours at desks in Madrid aren’t necessarily productive ones. Spain sits below the Eurozone average in terms of GDP output per hours worked, according to the OECD, while workers spend 40.5 hours a week at their desks – longer than any Scandinavian country, France, or Belgium, among others. But, it’s a statistic that is bound to become outdated, at least within the walls of city hall.

From now on, lights and heaters will stay on only between the hours of 07.45 and 17.00. “In Spain we have European currency and a European labour market, but still don’t have a European working day,” explains Bravo. Where staff could often be kept at their computer screens until 20.00, following the lead of a late-working boss, now there’s no option but to pack up and head home. “People’s reaction has been very positive since they are able to realise a balance between an intense professional activity, leisure and family time.”

In northern Europe, where winter sunlight hours are already limited and temperatures are well below zero, it’s a different story. “[The Madrid scheme] is not really an option for us,” says one of Stockholm’s vice mayors, Ulla Hamilton. That city has instead opted to invest approximately €1bn over the next decade to refurbish publicly owned buildings with upgrading heating systems and energy-efficient lights.

And in Copenhagen, the choice has been to change office culture in other ways, with a scheme to encourage city employees’ already strong cyclist culture. Let’s hope it also eases commutes and encourages a longer stay at the office: the Danes have Europe’s shortest average work week, at 37.7 hours, and OECD statistics show they are even less productive per hour than the Spanish.


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