Sustainable Office Design is Good, Sustainable Business
April 10, 2017 AD&V
sustainable office design

When you sustain your resources, they sustain you.

In sustainable architecture and interior design, designers seek to minimize the negative impact of buildings on the environment by applying to their designs innovative green methods—involving energy-saving technology, sustainable materials, recycling, repurposing and other elements that support long-term ecological balance.

Indeed, balance is key. As good citizens, we must balance our need to consume natural resources with the planet’s need to conserve them. We can truly flourish only in a flourishing environment.

Sustainable design best practices not only focus on saving energy and natural resources, but also on increasing the well-being of those who work in the spaces we design, adding to their comfort, enhancing their experience, boosting their productivity, and improving the quality of their lives while reducing demand on the environment.

The United Nations Development Program estimates that if everyone in the world were to live like people in developed countries live today, the world would need the resources of 5.5 earth planets.

SUSTAINABLE OFFICE DESIGN

Sustainable design is responsible design. It creates attractive and functional spaces that elevate the human experience and people’s wellbeing without compromising the condition and wellbeing of the planet. It considers the end result of every design element, adapting its approach in order to maximize benefits for the occupants while minimizing energy use and waste.

Green or sustainable office buildings are high-performance buildings because they are cost- and energy-efficient and, research shows, they can increase employee performance, productivity and job satisfaction.

The United States Green Building Council estimates that, on average, green buildings reduce energy consumption by 30%, carbon emissions by 35%, water consumption by 30% to 50%, and waste costs by 50% to 90%.

Green building and sustainable office designers have their eye on the future. An eco-friendly workspace must be able to function, look current and sustain itself for years to come. Choosing reusable, repurposed, recycled or recyclable materials makes more sense and costs less in the long run than using good-looking, trendy materials that are not durable.

A well-designed sustainable office can grow with the business and avoid unnecessary and expensive changes that lead to additional waste; therefore, designers must take into consideration their clients’ growth projections.

Sustainable design choices—sometimes simple, sometimes challenging, always powerful—can transform a normal workspace into one that saves money as a result of its lower energy costs and increased employee productivity, engagement, and retention.

DESIGNING FOR EFFICIENCY

Incorporating high-efficiency systems that minimize use and waste and that provide long-term savings and a lower environmental impact is at the core of designing a sustainable building or office.

From building orientation to window size, LED lighting to occupancy sensors, low-flow faucets to energy star appliances, architects and interior designers have numerous options when designing for efficiency and seeking BREEAM or LEED certification for their clients.

Following are the basic elements of a sustainable office: energy, light, air, water, materials and furniture.

ENERGY

The goal here is to reduce overall energy consumption and waste by using energy-efficient equipment throughout the office, employing renewable energy sources, and getting employees involved in energy-saving measures such as turning off their computers at the end of the work day, participating in company-wide recycling programs and car pooling.

According to a Carbon Trust survey, 67 percent of employees want to help their companies reduce carbon emissions but do not know how.

LIGHT

Take advantage of natural light—it is much cheaper than electric light and improves employees’ performance in the office.

At an estimated cost of $38 billion a year, lighting represents the largest source of electricity consumption in U.S. commercial buildings, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Apply daylighting techniques such as skylights, solar harvesting, sloped ceilings, light shelves, reflective surfaces and shading devices (to reduce direct sunlight, glare, and heat). Use LED lighting and occupancy sensors, photosensors and dimming systems to control electric light usage.

AIR

Fresh air and thermal comfort have a positive influence on the health and wellbeing of office occupants. Alert, healthy, and comfortable workers are more engaged in their jobs and more productive, so it pays to improve air quality in the workplace.

Incorporate as much fresh, natural ventilation as possible. Stick to low-emission materials, paints, furniture and equipment. Provide individual temperature controls for employees—they will be more productive, and your energy use and costs will drop.

Indoor pollutants are generally two to five times greater than outdoor pollution levels—reaching 100 times greater in some cases, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Purify the air with plants. Plant deciduous trees near the building to provide shade in the summer and heat in the winter. Consider a green roof to further reduce air conditioning and heating costs.

WATER

Conservation and recycling are the fundamental principles of sustainable water use.

The EPA estimates that about 40% of the water used in office buildings is for sanitary purposes and about 28% is used in heating and cooling.

According to the Alliance for Water Efficiency, each male worker is responsible for 3,900 toilet flushes and 13,000 urinal flushes at the office per year, and each female worker flushes the toilet 6,420 toilet times per year.

Conserve water by installing water-saving devices such as low-flow and sensor faucets, low-flush toilets, and waterless urinals (made with sealants and water-repellent coatings). Recycle water from hand-washing to flush toilets (gray water). Harvest rainwater if possible.

MATERIALS

The materials we use have an environmental impact that stretches from the manufacturing process to the landfill.

When designing a sustainable office, we should seek out materials that are non-toxic, eco-friendly, recycled, recyclable, renewable, durable and/or repurposed. Use paints low in volatile organic compounds, recycled glass worktops, bookshelves instead of walls or partitions, carpet made of recycled materials or carpet tiles.

Remember to purchase locally whenever possible to give a local sense of place to your space, save money and energy on transportation, and support the local economy.

TOXIC CHEMICALS TYPICALLY FOUND IN OFFICES:

  • Formaldehyde: A carcinogen used in carpentry, soaps, detergents, cabinets and glues
  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): Gases emitted by paints, plywood, particleboard, office equipment such as copiers and printers, carbonless copy paper, varnishes, glues and cleaning supplies
  • Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs): Found in plastics, foam, and fabrics
  • Pefluorinated Compounds (PFCs): Found in stain-resistant furniture and non-stick cookware
  • Perchloroethylene (PCE): Found in furniture polishes, rubber coatings, aerosols, solvent soaps, adhesives, sealants and lubricants
  • Phthalates: Found in air fresheners, vinyl, wood varnishes and lacquers

FURNITURE

When it comes to office furniture, the first thing client and designer should consider is which existing pieces can be reused or repurposed. Sending usable furniture to the landfill in order to buy new green furniture sort of defeats the purpose, right? Remember, too, that a sustainable product from overseas will not be truly eco-friendly by the time it gets to you.

Choose furniture that is refurbished, repurposed or reconfigured, preferably made with non-toxic, recycled or recyclable materials. To be sustainable, furniture also needs to be easily maintained and repaired, durable, adaptable, and timeless.

CERTIFIED SUSTAINABLE WOOD SHOULD MEET THE FOLLOWING REQUIREMENTS:

  • Responsibly managed forests
  • Protection of biodiversity, species at risk, and wildlife habitat
  • Respect for native cultures and economies
  • Sustainable harvest levels
  • Protection of water quality
  • Restricted pesticide use
  • Monitored chain of custody
  • Prompt regeneration (replanting and reforestation)
  • Third-party certification audits performed by accredited certification bodies
  • Publicly available certification audit summaries
  • Multi-stakeholder involvement in a standards development process
  • Complaints and appeals process
  • Designing for People

In the end, it comes to people—how they experience the spaces we create for them. Sustainable design is no exception.

Sustainability must serve the people as well as the environment and the bottom line. Designing for people means understanding and addressing the needs and wants of those who will occupy the space. For example, a growing emphasis on innovation and collaboration requires us to design spaces that motivate and facilitate a variety of interactions and gatherings.

Sustainable office design improves the performance of employees because people think, feel and work better in offices that have more natural lighting, cleaner air, comfortable temperature, nice views of the outside and inspiring decor. A healthier office environment, therefore, improves staff morale, employee retention, productivity, and profitability.

These days, more employees prefer to work for companies that care about their impact on the environment and the well-being of their employees. That belief—that the company cares, about the planet, about me—is a mighty and profitable one. Job hunters often choose the “company that cares” over a higher salary.

A 2016 report by the World Green Building Council, Building the Business Case: Health, Wellbeing and Productivity in Green Offices, identifies the following eight key elements of greener and healthier workspaces.

  1. Indoor Air Quality and Ventilation. Healthy offices have low concentrations of CO2, VOCs and other pollutants, as well as high ventilation rates. Cognitive scores for workers in a green, well-ventilated office increase by 101%.
  1. Thermal Comfort. Healthy offices have a comfortable temperature range that staff can control. When offices are too hot, staff performance falls 6% and 4% if too cold.
  1. Daylighting and Lighting. Healthy offices have generous access to daylight and self-controlled electrical lighting. Workers in offices near windows sleep an average 46 minutes longer.
  1. Noise and Acoustics. Healthy offices use materials that reduce noise and provide quiet spaces to work. Staff performance falls 66% as a result of distracting noise.
  1. Interior Layout and Active Design. Healthy offices have a diverse array of workspaces, with ample meeting rooms, quiet zones, and stand-sit desks, promoting active movement within offices. Flexible workspaces help staff feel more in control of their workload and encourage loyalty.
  1. Biophilia and Views. Healthy offices have a wide variety of plant species inside and out as well as views of nature from workspaces. Processing time at a call center improved as much as 12% when staff had a view of nature.
  1. Look and Feel. Healthy offices have colors, textures, and materials that are welcoming, calming and evoke nature. Visual appeal is a major factor in workplace satisfaction.
  1. Location and Access To Amenities. Healthy offices have access to public transport, safe bike routes, parking, showers, and a range of health food choices.

In a nutshell: Sustainability saves energy, saves money, saves the planet, and makes people happier, healthier, and more productive. Everybody wins.

At AD&V, we walk the walk.

Our offices are meticulously eco-friendly, and we actively provide and promote design solutions that incorporate sustainable practices.

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