The Push for Sustainable Office Space

The drive to deliver more environmentally efficient office schemes results in buildings that improve the well-being and productivity of their occupants and have a lower impact on their surroundings.

Of those industries jumping aboard the environmentally aware trend in recent years, few will have done so with more desire to reach their destination than construction. 

A major contributor to greenhouse gases, the sector knows it has to change the way it works and the type of buildings it delivers.  

The environmental impact of the building industry is considerable. According to the World Green Building Council (WGBC), buildings account for around 39% of the world’s total carbon footprint.  

Of this, 11% comes from embodied carbon emissions relating to the construction and subsequent lifecycle of buildings, according to the WGBC.  

The rest, 28%, is derived from day-to-day running of properties – the energy used to power services, illuminate, heat and cool them. 

Reducing this contribution to global warming is essential. Better construction methods, the use of sustainable construction materials and – once completed – better day-to-day operational systems, can all help create sustainable buildings and mitigate a project’s impact on the environment. 

What are the benefits of having a sustainable office space? 

The benefits of using green technologies when developing, occupying and owning a building – from financial, health and productivity perspectives – are significant.  

The WBGC sets out the advantages like this:  

For developers: 

  • Lower design and construction costs 
  • Higher sales price 
  • Quicker sales
  • Ability to secure finance 
  • Speedy return on investment 
  • Increased market value 
  • Lower vacancy rate 

For occupiers: 

  • Health and well-being 
  • Increased productivity 
  • Reduced downtime 
  • Lower operating/maintenance costs 

For owners: 

  • Slower depreciation 
  • Increased occupancy rates 
  • Lower exit yield 

There are additional factors from which all three parties jointly derive benefit. These include lower refurbishment costs, improved corporate image, compliance with legislation and corporate and social responsibility requirements, as well as lower transaction fees. 

Office space that is sustainable and achievable 

It’s not as if the industry has been starting from scratch to deal with this. Much work has been done over the years to make the homes we live in more energy efficient, whether that’s new homes built to higher environmental standards or existing housing stock retrofitted with energy-saving technologies. 

But what about offices?  

Many of the older office buildings in cities like London, Paris and New York were designed and built without the environmental knowledge we have today. 

While existing buildings can be improved by refurbishment, new office developments are now being designed and built with environmental and sustainability criteria firmly in mind from the outset. 

Investors know they can get better returns from building schemes that are sustainable, while owners appreciate the kudos that come with having such a building on their books.  

And tenants get to work in an office that doesn’t leave them feeling exhausted. No more ‘sick building syndrome’; far from it, as such buildings can maintain and enhance their well-being, and boost their productivity. 

What is a green building? 

Today, new office developments are built to exacting standards, such as BREEAM and LEED. These go to great lengths to certify a building’s environmental, social and economic sustainability performance. 

So what exactly is a green building? The U.S. Green Building Council states that the definition of a green building is generally accepted as the planning, design, construction and operation of buildings with several key considerations: energy use, water use, indoor environmental quality, material section and the building’s effects on its site. 

This can cover all types of building, from residential properties to leisure, industrial and commercial, which include offices.  

What are the considerations needed when designing and delivering an office that ticks the sustainability boxes?  

Interior designer and fit-out specialist Morgan Lovell sets out a number of steps for those wishing to develop a sustainable office scheme. 

Steps to sustainability in office space 

Firstly, key stakeholders need to buy into the benefits and objectives of delivering a sustainable office, and the desired level of sustainability should be discussed and agreed upon at the beginning of discussions. 

Sustainability elements – energy efficiencies, carbon reduction, air quality, lighting, reduced wastage, etc. – need to be designed into the project from the beginning.  

On-site construction activity needs to be exemplary, Lovell argues, with ‘green’ materials such as timber used as much as possible.  

Environmental on-site targets for the project need to be clearly set out, with building waste minimised. Where waste is generated it needs to be recycled effectively. 

Finally, in preparation for occupation, tenants should inform all employees about their sustainability goals. The recycling paper and other materials should be encouraged, as should reducing unnecessary energy use within the building – for example, shutting down computers when leaving the office.  

Examples of sustainable buildings 

Let’s look at some examples of sustainable office developments. 

  1. Bloomberg’s European headquarters, London, UK
    Designed by Foster + Partners, Bloomberg’s new office development in London earned the prestigious Sterling Prize for best new building in 2018.

    It features a ceiling containing half a million LED lights, saving the media giant 40% vs. a typical fluorescent office lighting system, together with natural ventilation and smart airflow technology, which will save 600-750 MWh of power per year. 
  1. The Edge, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
    Claimed to be one of the most sustainable and efficient buildings in the world, the PLP Architecture-designed Edge was crafted to capture as much sunlight as possible, without the heat of the sun influencing the indoor temperature.

    Groundwater sources provide The Edge with hot and cold water, which is sent to the building via pumps powered by solar energy, while occupants with a smartphone or tablet can regulate the light and climate of their workplace with a special app. 
  1. The Bullitt Center, Seattle, USA
    Laying claim to being the world’s greenest building, the Miller Hull Partnership-designed six-storey Bullitt Center uses an array of technologies to maintain its sustainability credentials, including radiant heat and cooling via hydronic radiant tubing that coils a few inches beneath the concrete overlay of each floor.

    Computers automatically adjust passive and active systems to keep the building comfortable and efficient, while timber framing was used throughout much of the construction, using responsibly sourced wood and locking in more than 540 tonnes of CO2

These and other examples of environmentally savvy buildings are already playing their part in the move toward a greener future.  

Looking ahead, sustainable construction will become increasingly prevalent. Despite questions over the future of the office in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the drive toward more healthy working environments is unlikely to go into reverse.

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