Sustainable office design is the creation of an office interior that uses eco-friendly materials, energy efficient lighting and other green design principles that reduce environmental impact.
The term sustainability, and what it means to be sustainable has evolved dramatically over the past 5 years. What used to be a focus on using recyclable materials and green energy has become a broader lifestyle choice impacting fashion, diets and social change. This sustainable shift has influenced the design, construction and property sectors as attitudes change towards creating greener buildings to help address the climate crisis.
As sustainable habits have become more widely adopted, they have started to inform business practices with companies aiming to achieve carbon net zero as well as ensuring their office space is environmentally friendly. With lots of information and processes to consider, we have highlighted the important elements to consider when designing a sustainable office.
Sustainable design processes are set at the early stages of your project and setting out your objectives for the level of sustainability you want to achieve is integral to success. Establishing the levels of complexity that you and your fit out partner need to consider will steer the project and help structure your programme.
There is a big difference between wanting to make your office more energy efficient and striving to achieve a SKA Gold. Many businesses are now including their fit out and property strategy within their CSR responsibilities and ESG commitments so there are certain processes and products which can be considered from the outset.
It’s essential that you select a fit out partner with a solid understanding of sustainability policies to help make your space compliant, as well as being able to propose a design scheme which integrates sustainable design elements that will help benefit your people.
Whether you’re fitting out your current office or moving to a new business premises, there’s room for improvement. If you are locating your office, selecting a BREEAM or LEED accredited building, which will help achieve these goals before you even start with your fit out. Choosing a building with an international accreditation helps to validate the sustainability of the building but also manage the cost-efficiency of their space within the property.
Depending on your fit out budget, there are all sorts of ways you can influence environmental performance, from added insulation to the inside of external walls, to designing the office layout to maximise solar gain and reduce dependency on artificial lighting. Using natural ventilation rather than expensive, energy consuming air conditioning will help contribute to a more sustainable building. Even having adequate bicycle storage plays its part in supporting a green travel policy that cuts fuel emissions and costs.
Energy efficiency, carbon emissions, lighting, air quality and water usage should all be factored into your building selection and fit out process. Your landlord should supply you with energy usage data to help you make informed decisions. This information will also be essential if you are aiming to achieve a high level of sustainability in your office.
The site management and build phase of a project play an important role in making sure the office is sustainable. If you have taken time to find an accredited building for your business and are starting to select environmentally friendly finishes for your office, your fit out contractor should also be delivering your project in line with your sustainability ambitions.
Any materials stripped out of the existing space need to be managed and streamed properly so that any recyclable materials are handled correctly and that waste is diverted from landfill. There should be procedures in place for safely disposing of any hazardous waste as well as recycling on site.
If you are refurbishing your existing space, it is a good opportunity to reuse any furniture or upcycle it to reduce the number of new materials used on your project rather than disposing of it.
The materials and products that you install in your office will have an impact on how sustainable your office is. This mainly relates to your office furniture but this also includes flooring, finishes and fabrics used within the office.
Selecting low volatile organic compound (VOC) emitting materials like carpets, adhesives and paints will help improve the air quality in your office. Over time VOCs can be harmful and some accreditations specify this as part of their grading criteria. Making better, more informed choices on these types of materials will benefit your working environment.
Sourcing products with sustainability credentials is a good foundation to build from when selecting products for your office. Different products and materials will carry a variety of sustainability accreditations, for example, FSC & PEFC are certifications used for timber to demonstrate how they’ve been sourced.
To ensure that you are meeting your sustainability goals, it is best to engage with your design partner so that they can recommend which products to use at the start of the project, rather than trying fit them in at the end. While the products used are important, the carbon impact of sourcing furniture and materials also needs to be considered. Reusing existing products or selecting reclaimed materials is another way of making your office design more sustainable.
For our latest project with Artistic Spaces at Oxgate House in London, we only used materials sourced within 500 miles of the site.
An energy usage audit of your existing office arrangement will provide you with an accurate way of bench-marking future performance and highlighting weaknesses in building, technology and working practices.
You can make your office space more energy efficient by choosing the appropriate lighting throughout the workspace. Building regulations specify that certain levels of light, measured in lux, must be maintained. Using the right types of lighting will help save energy and support certain tasks better.
Lighting with built-in PIR sensors is more energy efficient and help to reduce your carbon footprint. However, PIR lighting can cause distractions when it turns off due to not detecting movement.
Other energy efficient lighting solutions include zonal lighting with individual controls, task lighting which can be used in independent workspaces and LED lighting is a more sustainable solution.
Circadian lighting can also benefit wellbeing in the office. Circadian lighting systems have been shown to make us more productive, improve our mood and aid concentration. Circadian lighting replicates sunlight to help keep us aligned to our natural circadian rhythm – even in the office. The lighting is dynamic, which means that throughout the course of the day the light changes colour and position to mimic sunlight.
Sustainable office design can also positively impact wellbeing in the workplace. While designing your office space there is several ways to reduce your carbon output, introduce waste streaming as well as adding plants to your office space.
Many wellbeing initiatives are closely aligned to sustainable goals and companies can make business decisions such as going paperless or using renewable energy sources that will help their business become more sustainable.
Engaging staff to set a culture of creating a sustainable workplace will be valuable in the long term. Asking employees about the types of initiatives they would like to be involved with can help generate more practical ideas. At Oktra, we have partnered with Cool Earth, a sustainability charity that helps protect endangered rainforests. For every fit out we deliver, we protect 10 trees in the hope of building towards a greener future.
One of the popular ways to introduce wellbeing and sustainability into the office is by embracing biophilic design. Biophilic design has been a big trend in office design for several years as it has proven to benefit our wellbeing and productivity by as much as 20%. Integrating plants into your office design is a good way to support staff wellbeing and mental health.
There is a variety of different measures you can take to help improve the wellbeing of your staff in the workplace and there are a range of benefits of why you should work in a sustainable office.
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