In the middle of a global climate crisis, promoting sustainable spaces is more important than ever before. But eco-friendly workspaces don’t just benefit the environment, they benefit the people in them.
Humankind is facing ecological collapse, and we’ve witnessed the related terminology shift from climate change to climate crisis, and now climate breakdown. Projected environmental deadlines have followed suit, declining from a lifetime in the future, to 40 years away, and now just a decade down the line.
A UN report issued on September 25th cautions that if our current trajectory continues, sea levels will be rising four times faster by 2100, a date that may seem distant but lies in the tangible lifetime of many people alive today.
“It doesn’t take a big rise in sea level to lead to catastrophic problems,” says co-author Bruce Galvovic. “Sea level rise is not a slow onset problem – it’s a crisis of extreme weather events.”
The way we live and the spaces we occupy provide ample opportunity for productive environmental change. The good news is that a lot of that change is incredibly easy to execute with massive payoff, from reduced environmental impact, to sizeable reductions in expenditure and serious health benefits.
A green office is a sustainable one. This means that the workplace considers its impact on the environment, and takes necessary measures to ensure energy efficiency and lower emissions. On a simpler level, green offices are just that – they’re green, due in no small part to the visible inclusion of plants.
The sustainability of a building depends on its incorporation of energy saving elements like smart lighting systems and HVAC technologies, in order to render the building as energy efficient and low-emission as possible. The use of recycled and reused materials in a building’s design is also a contributing factor.
Many new buildings are adopting more rigorous environmental certifications, making them comparatively energy efficient from the start. A building’s EPC score is a good indicator of its efficiency level, while certifications like ISO 14001 verify the level of environmental consideration of the companies that build and fit out those buildings.
Biophilic design is the incorporation of natural materials and elements into the built environment, bringing the outside world inside. Human beings need exposure to nature, and the incorporation of natural light, vegetation and raw materials in a space, promotes the wellbeing of the people in that space.
Many people think of houseplants when they think of biophilic interiors. But biophilia spans far beyond live plant walls and indoor trees, encompassing elements like sound, airflow and circadian rhythms.
A wealth of recent studies has found that sustainable office design is as good for its occupants as it is for the environment. From health benefits to productivity boosts and the obvious planet-friendly impact, here’s a closer look at the payoff of green office design.
Experiments as early as the 1960’s demonstrated plants’ ability to improve air quality – and even purify water. A study conducted at Washington State University revealed that incorporating plants in office spaces can reduce dust levels by as much as 20%, as the plants remove particulate matter from the indoor environment. Office flora can also help bolster humidity levels to the 30% – 60% range required for human health.
In fact, biophilic design has restorative power. Research shows that hospital patients recover faster when they can see natural scenery through windows, and workplaces with biophilic elements see employees taking fewer sick days. As Human Spaces explains, “…designs that incorporate ecological aspects minimize stress levels, reduce mental fatigue and elevate mood.”
A 2015 study at Stanford University found that a 90 minute exposure to nature lowered rumination levels in participants – rumination is another word for negative self-thought, a leading factor of mental illness.
Research lead by the University of Exeter found that the introduction of plants to lean office environments resulted in a 15% increase in productivity. Researcher Dr Chris Knight explained in an interview with the Guardian, “if you are working in an environment where there’s something to get you psychologically engaged you are happier and you work better.”
Exposure to natural light is also linked to increased productivity, as found in a study from Northwestern Medicine and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Similar findings occurred throughout The Impact of Green Buildings on Cognitive Function study, where improved indoor environmental quality doubled subjects’ cognitive function. The simple presence of living plants has also been proven to boost creativity.
Sustainable building design is poised to significantly reduce global emissions, as the buildings sector is responsible for around 39% of all energy-related CO2 emissions and 36% of final energy use. In fact, buildings account for 40% of greenhouse gas emissions and 20% of all solid waste generation in developed countries, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.
Because buildings are responsible for such a large amount of the world’s emissions, seemingly small changes to building design can make a huge impact. Implementing energy efficient systems as well as adopting an environmentally-minded company culture, can eliminate waste, conserve resources and even save a lot of money – the United States Energy Department suggests that sustainable building design can cut yearly energy expenditure by 50%.
UN Environment quoted the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, Dr Fatih Birol, in a press release stating that “buildings are a key driver of energy demand…. If we don’t make buildings more efficient, their rising energy use will impact us all, whether it be through access to affordable energy services, poor air quality or higher energy bills.”
Sustainable design involves much more than bringing natural elements into the office. Sustainable buildings are energy efficient, and conserve resources both in their day-to-day function and in their construction. If you are considering an office build or refurbishment, it is important to work with designers and developers who are dedicated to reducing their impact on the environment. Here are some ways you can go green in your current workspace, and some ways we can help.
• Companies can reduce energy consumption by 6-8% just by turning heating on one hour later and turning it off one hour earlier.
• Installing smart lighting systems will help cut emissions, and can actually help you optimise your space (we recently built the UK’s first office with a Human Centric smart lighting system). Even switching off the lights in your building at night will make an impact.
• Commit to waste management, installing separate bins for food waste, general waste, glass, plastic, metal and paper.
• Incorporate living plants into the office layout.
• Eliminate single-use plastic. On June 5, 2019, Canary Wharf became the first plastic free commercial centre, certified by Surfers Against Sewage. Discontinuing the use of single-use plastic items like straws, utensils and coffee cups, is a simple way to reduce waste. Providing ceramic coffee mugs and reusable drinking glasses will help office members make the switch.
• Office fit outs using recycled and reused materials promote circular economies and have smaller carbon footprints due to the use of fewer virgin materials. We are committed to promoting circular economies through each of our projects.
• We offer sustainable design and build services meeting the environmental requirements of ISO 14001. This means our business operations, the suppliers we work with and the solutions we provide our clients, weigh environmental sustainability equally with all other requirements.
• Installation of energy efficient systems like LED lighting, smart lighting and HVAC systems, is part of how we take the energy performance of the buildings we work with into consideration.
• Where we can’t reuse materials, we implement responsibly sourced ones, like the acoustic panels with an EU Ecolabel in the Gymshark Lifting Club auditorium, or the woven vinyl throughout the building that’s made with 33% recycled content and has a BRE A+ sustainability rating.
• We create and implement biophilic design solutions for our clients, bringing nature into the office to create a healthier work environment. From offices designed after urban parks, to plant walls and in-office gardens, we specialise in bringing the outdoors, in.