Technological improvements to offices and infrastructure can be realised through a number of areas including: targeting reduced energy & CO2 emissions, water-saving facilities, waste and recycling, indoor environmental quality, technology, employee facilities and ratings. The extent to which firms engage in this process will be dependent on a number of factors, including priorities and the cost benefit analyses conducted against each area.

In considering the benefits of such an investment—the flow-on effect of being a reputable firm engaged in self-regulated sustainability initiatives serves to demonstrate that you not only practice what you preach, but that your internal processes are no different to what you advocate for in the market: they are one of the same thing. Increasingly the quantifiable benefits of office changes are being used as a sales tactic for high-level buy-in and as a way to engage employees and attract and retain staff.

Beyond corporate reputations and value creation, firms are noting significant impact on: cost savings where minimal upfront investment of about two percent of construction costs typically yields life cycle savings of over ten times the initial investment1, employee health, staff attraction and retention, competition, employee satisfaction and productivity, brand reputation, and reduced liability and risk.

1 2007, ‘The relationship between sustainability and the value of office buildings’, Curtin University of Technology Perth

Australian best practice in Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ)

The Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) Laboratory at the University of Sydney provides for collaboration between the broader building sector to study how multiple factors comprising the indoor environment – including temperature, humidity, air movement, ventilation rates, air quality, day-lighting, artificial lighting, sound and acoustics – combine to affect human comfort, productivity and health.

The IEQ Lab provides experientially realistic interior spaces in which samples of human subjects can be exposed to precisely controlled combinations of the key IEQ parameters. This facility aims to deliver research outcomes that are directly relevant to designers, building services engineers, property and facilities managers, and regulatory bodies. The IEQ Lab research findings will enhance capacity to provide innovative and sustainable, low energy built environments that balance occupants’ expectations for quality, against our obligations to substantively address climate change.

The types of research already underway include topics such as investigations of the impact of ceiling fans on people in both naturally ventilated as well as air conditioned indoor conditions and assessment of comfort of sample subjects in environments with different types of air conditioning systems, namely Variable Air Volume, Chilled Beams and Under Floor Air Distribution. This has the potential to provide the industry with data to support the selection of appropriate air conditioning systems for future developments.

The research conducted at the IEQ Lab will continue to transform international research in the IEQ domain, but perhaps even more important is its demonstrable influence over green building design and engineering practice around the world.

Provided by Ashak Nathwani (University of Sydney)

Activity Based Working

Recent studies by Velndoun+Co. suggest that Activity Based Working (ABW), a term coined by corporate real estate professionals, is a result of the evolution of management styles. ABW focuses on a cultural management style shift away from tight control to flexible management and working arrangements. It also includes a range of furniture types and built zones to suit the work activity undertaken over the course of a day. The idea is that certain workspaces better support certain types of work activity. Examples include specific tables for meetings, project rooms, quiet rooms for focus work, cafés for sharing / exchange, a mixture of shared workstations which are vacated at the end of each day and traditional work stations for long term work and single person booths for innovating. The notion of a traditional workspace is being challenged.

Extract from Mason, B. 2012, ‘Delivering flexible and efficient working environments’, Consulting Matters magazine, Spring edition, pp.33-34

Indicator / measures Description Questions to consider
Third party energy efficiency ratings Tools to monitor and benchmark overall energy usage each year can be an effective way to monitor your energy efficiency. It can be done for the base building, fitout or both.
  • Would a third party energy efficiency rating improve our client profile?
  • Would energy sub-metering be useful to separate areas of high energy usage such as server rooms, air conditioning, and lighting?
Lighting upgrades
  • LEDs: Light Emitting Diodes are an energy efficient lighting technology
  • PIRs: Passive Infra-red sensors, also called motion sensors detect movement, turning lights off when no motion is detected.
  • Photocells and dimming controls: Photocells detect the presence of daylight and can be used to dim electric lighting or switch it off in zones next to windows when there is sufficient natural daylight.
  • Does our office have old lighting technology such as incandescent bulbs or halogen spot lights that could be replaced with more efficient alternatives such as LEDs?
  • Could we implement motion sensor controls (using PIRs) to turn off lights when no-one is occupying areas in our building that are intermittently used, such as meeting rooms, corridors, toilet blocks, or parts of a car park?
  • Could we implement daylight dimming controls (using photocells) to save money and energy by reducing the amount of time the lights are left on in areas near windows?
Building management systems & controls Improvements in the way a system is controlled can result in significant energy savings. Minor upgrades including the inclusion of control dampers and re-zoning the system with localised control will reduce energy consumption and improve occupant comfort.
  • Who controls the air conditioning system – staff, office manager or building manager?
  • Are humidity controls available?
  • How feasible is it to recommission the system?
Improved air conditioning system design There can be large energy savings associated with good air conditioning system design. The inclusion of natural ventilation or mixed mode systems have the double benefit of lower energy consumption and improved internal environment through higher fresh air levels. When considering a new system design, the inclusion of humidity controls can enable an increase in the temperature setpoint without reducing occupant comfort. Even without a new fitout or upgrade of the air conditioning system, large energy savings can be achieved by recommissioning and improving the controls of the existing system (see below).
  • How does the energy consumption from our air conditioning system compare with benchmarks?
  • Can the system be controlled locally/isolated so that only areas required are turned on after hours?
  • Is an office move or new fitout required?
Improved facade design Heat gains and losses can be improved through the use of better materials (e.g. high performance double glazing, well-insulated solid panels, reduced areas of glazing) and external shading.
  • If we’re moving to a new office, can we assess the facade for potential direct heat gains?
  • Which direction are we facing and what factors need to be considered accordingly?

Indicator / measures Description Questions to consider
High efficiency facilities The ideal time to improve water efficiency of an office is when existing fittings are being replaced. Efficient fittings can be specified using the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards (WELS) list with the best available ratings.
  • Are there upcoming opportunities to improve water efficiency?
Water collection and storage for reuse Rain water can be used in cooling towers and toilet flushing. Grey and black water collection, treatment and reuse may be a feasible option after all other water saving options have been pursued.
  • Does our firm have influence over the base building, or who owns the whole building? Or do we own the building?

Indicator / measures Description Questions to consider
Segregated collection of waste and recycling The simplest level of recycling in offices is paper recycling. To achieve this, staff need segregated and identifiable paper recycling bins within close proximity of their desks. General waste bins could also be removed from each employee’s desk and instead be placed in communal areas to encourage staff to reduce individual waste. Bins for mixed recyclables can be included in kitchens. Organic waste can be collected if someone is available to maintain the system and there is an available place to dispose of the waste (either collection or onsite composting). The use of energy efficient hand dryers can be adopted over paper towels in bathrooms.
  • What would we need to do to make employees aware of this process?
  • Do cleaning and waste contracts need to be altered to enable separate waste collection?
  • Is separate organic waste collection possible, i.e. where will the collected organic waste go, is a compost bin/worm farm close by, who will be in charge of maintaining the system?

Indicator / measures Description Questions to consider
Lighting Good lighting design will result in adequate lighting levels with good uniformity. The building floor plate size and facade design will have a large influence on the amount of daylight available. External shading and daylight redirectors (e.g. a light shelf) can improve daylight penetration and reduce potential glare issues. Individual task lighting can provide better lighting levels where required and reduce the need for high light levels throughout the office.
  • Are there opportunities to improve lighting on an individual or office basis?
  • Can we introduce daylight sensors or task lighting?
Fresh air rates Increased fresh air levels prevent fatigue and reduce illness. The ideal way to achieve this is through natural ventilation however the vast majority of commercial buildings are not currently configured to allow this. Alternatives are to increase the rate of fresh air delivered to offices and to use an economy cycle whenever outside conditions allow. Increasing natural vegetation in the office will also improve the look and oxygen levels available.
  • Are there any opportunities to increase natural ventilation?
  • Can we introduce/increase plants in the office?
Indoor climate Internal thermal comfort in offices is dependent on air temperatures, relative humidity, surface radiant temperatures, clothing and activity levels. Comfort is also subjective and varies for each individual. The key to achieving a good indoor climate is good facade and mechanical design and controls systems.
  • Are there opportunities to improve indoor climate?
  • Is there information available on ideal indoor conditions for our climate?

Indicator / measures Description Questions to consider
Communications technology The right type of communications technology can enable a seamless shift from a static style of operation to a highly mobile, efficient and more creative and collaborative way of working. Small measures such as the acquirement of video conferencing facilities have the potential to greatly reduce the level of CO2emissions resulting from work related meetings, as they would reduce the need for air and road travel to client and internal offices locally, regionally and internationally.
  • Do we have a unified communications network?
  • Can we invest in communications technology that will enable our staff to be mobile?
  • Do we have video and teleconference equipment which will reduce the need for travel?
Office technology The technology provided to staff can assist them in sustainable behaviours – reducing paper usage and wastage.
  • Can we introduce interactive whiteboards and wireless presenters?
  • Can we offer our staff wireless printing, swipe-to-print and tablets?

Indicator / measures Description Questions to consider
Furniture (at desk, in communal areas) The internal fittings used in an office send a very clear message to employees and visitors and can be a visible way of displaying a company’s environmental credentials. An office with a higher percentage of natural materials has been shown to improve employee satisfaction and productivity.
  • Can we introduce new furniture to our office?
  • Where will budget come from and will this be a gradual process or a total office refit?
  • What will the future of my firm look like?
  • Do we need to purchase more chairs or less when factoring in work-from-home arrangements?
Spacial layout of office Upgrading the physical space of an office opens up opportunities to transform the way employees engage with one another. As a professional services firm, this is very important as the freedoms, diversity, integration and stimulation of a space has a distinct impact on employee behaviour.
  • Does the layout of our office space allow for easy information sharing?
  • Is there a diversity of work and casual settings as well as areas for individual work as well as collaboration?
  • Are staff (from all levels of management) and business units able to connect easily through movement and circulation?
  • Is the environment visually stimulating?
Access to showers and bicycle racks and lockers Access to showers, lockers, bike storage and easy access to public systems will encourage a move to healthier, and more active sustainable uses of transport.
  • If not in the office, are there suitable nearby facilities that we can make available to our staff?
  • Do the local public transport systems support non-car travel?
  • Would it be useful to survey staff on their travel arrangements and predicted number of people who would ride if the facilities were available?
  • Can we set up a program that will assist carpooling arrangements?

Indicator / measures Description Questions to consider
Building design and construction phase and operation phase If your firm is moving to a new office or location, a sustainability performance measurement tool for the building design and construction phase as well as the operation phase is an important tool to use as it provides external third party validation of your sustainability efforts (e.g. Green Star, NABERS, etc.).
  • Will a building rating tool be used?
  • If a building performance rating tool is to be used, does the project team clearly understand what is required to perform well?
  • Will these requirements be incorporated into the design brief and relevant contracts?