We are finally waking up. In the recent years, the importance of designing to minimize energy use, waste and reduce the impact on the environment is being given more that much-needed attention. In fact, green buildings are now the popular choice around the world, with the number doubling every three years.
You can easily go green in the office starting with simple practices like printing double sided, stocking reusable pens or eliminating paper towels in the kitchen. When you think of it, it’s not actually “rocket science” to make better buildings and design sustainable work spaces. The most important thing to actually make it happen is to understand the benefits of designing with an eco-conscious mindset on the environment and people, who are working in those buildings.
To give us a taste of what role sustainability plays in modern workplace design, we sat down with four industry insiders for a thought-provoking conversation. Read ahead for our exclusive interview with:
Fernando Forte, an Architect and Partner at FGMF Arquitetos FGMF Arquitetos develops a contemporary, investigative and innovative architecture, acting in all scales and programs, from the details of a residence to an urban plan. FGMF’s portfolio includes over 320 projects. Since the company was founded, they have received more than 81 awards.
Gulsah Cantas, an Interior Designer and Founder of KONTRA KONTRA is an environment think tank where space and ideas are audited, researched, analyzed, created and revolutionized. Kontradesigns and applies contemporary interiors together with a line of Kontra products to meet the demands of life and space.
Andre Straja, the Founder and CEO of GaS Studio GaS (Goring & Straja Studio) was founded in 1997 almost simultaneously in Milan and in Berkeley, California. GaS offices are very active in office interiors, office building renovation and new construction, residential, student housing, hotels, and retail, to name the principal typologies.
Juan Cristobal Fernandez, an Architect and Partner at Mas and Fernandez Architects Mas and Fernandez Architects is an architectural office that is devoted primarily to projects seeking a contribution to architectural design. Mas and Fernandez specializes in the design of equipment, housing and contests. With some forays into the interior design of offices.
What’s the overall big picture of sustainability in office design?
We believe in sustainability as a response on design, project, much more than gadgets. You can interfere with a lot – from the choice of certain materials that make sense within an environmentally responsible chain to products that conserve energy. But we believe in designing spaces that respond more adequately to the climate and weather. In São Paulo, for example, why use a more eco-efficient air conditioner if depending on the design formatting, we can simply not use air conditioning at all.
Sustainability still remains as a trend symbol when it should be the first concept to be followed in office design. At the present time, even if offices make significant progress toward benefits of recycling costs, more innovative production approach is needed for sustainability tools.
The obvious answer is LEED certification. It isn’t a universal standard, but very common in both the US as well as the Italian market and has been the catalyst of many useful evolutions over the course of the last several years. Three factors have combined to create the “smart office” that everyone is talking about:
1.an international economic crisis
2.an explosion of personal communication tools
3.a much improved awareness of the importance of energy consumption.
These factors are changing the way we design and think about the office environment… And most importantly how it gets used.
Juan Cristobal Fernandez:
In office design, it’s a combination of functions of the employees as well as the way the workplace itself is used. Try to go ahead looking for a new way of inhabiting the workplace. The mix of regular spaces and common areas for accidental meetings during the day is something more and more companies share.
The interaction between users is essential to give a platform to the cohesion of the team within the office, this allows to increase productivity and foster good relations. Transparency, lightness and breaking the horizons allow different looks over working hours.
How does designing with an eco-conscious mindset differ from creating a regular office space? What environmental, social and/or economic benefits can businesses gain?
There are many benefits in very diverse areas. Recycling, for example, can guarantee financial results; encouraging the use of bicycles brings results in the forms of improved employee’s health as well as respecting the city and decreasing the consumption of fossil fuels. Sometimes small interventions can change the minds of many employees, like having a dining environment that promotes healthy eating and integration with colleagues; a small garden, for example, also promotes wellbeing and creates a mindset and environment more committed to sustainability and health, generating a much more pleasant climate within a company. Here in Brazil, it is always possible to engage in actions in the poorest communities in the office everyday, helping in the distribution of income and awareness of the economic “gap” in which we live.
It may have higher initial investment costs, but it’s always advantageous for entrepreneurs in terms of operating costs and formative production. In the near future, eco-friendly office design approach will be inevitable, as a matter of course, pioneer companies will be in advance for lovemark, humanism, economy if they got the point right.
Eco-consciousness starts with a cultural shift and a more present and constant awareness of material choices and the idea of efficient use of energy. Therefore BMS systems help control energy use based on actual demand. Co-working environments are being created to avoid long commutes when it’s not necessary. Remote reservation of spaces allow fewer facilities to serve more people without compromising functionality. The LEED protocol (and many others such as BREAM, HQE etc) push for the use of recyclable materials, renewable energy sources, but also careful management of construction sites and the pollution that can be created and more natural light that touches the comfort factor within office space. Office design is simultaneously moving towards task oriented design and an environment closer to a residential palette.
Juan Cristobal Fernandez:
Ecological awareness, today is a fundamental part of the marketing strategies of these spaces with attention to public high standard. Unfortunately, many offices are still in buildings that given their date of construction are old and have no LEED certification, which is why their standarts are more governed by raising awareness rather than by the actual efficiency in consumption.
Spaces for recycling, efficient lighting, sun protection systems to reduce consumption of energy used for air conditioning are some of the things that may differ “green office” from the regular one.
How do you see general receptiveness to “green” initiatives in office design? Can we say that more and more companies are moving toward environmentally friendly office layouts?
Yes and no. While green initiatives are an issue that increasingly appears more on the concerns of all customers, it is still common, unfortunately, that companies occupy buildings that don’t have any concern in this regard. We feel, however, a great acceptance by any kind of proposal of energy efficiency, although small by end customers, especially in projects in São Paulo.
Many pioneer companies from different sectors have started to change their offices into green workplaces. This policy shows us resources are restructuring. So, in the near future Green Office approach will not be a trend anymore. It will be a social will.
Absolutely and even in a culture such as that of Italy known more for it’s conservative tendencies than the contrary. I can’t think of a project done in the last 7 or 8 years that has not addressed these issues.
Juan Cristobal Fernandez:
Indeed, as offices increasingly are inclined to that option, leaving aside the opulence in the design of these spaces. Today it’s more about a provisional character rather than definitive as it was before. The latter is given to the promotion of income in workspaces. In addition, many office building are required to maintain certification standards such as LEED.
What sustainable means and materials are most popular in modern office design? How will green technologies impact workplaces in the near future?
Reforested wood, eco-certified furniture , LED-based eco-efficient lighting, recyclable materials, among several possibilities are the most popular, but this largely depends on the customer. We have more traditional customers who do not care much and others like Google, for example, that have a strong concern in this regard.
In addition to traditional materials like timber or metal, new materials are also manufactured as recycling elements. Using green technology in office design will provide more nature-friendly environment. People will feel more compatible with nature and offices so they will be happier and more productive.
Starting with your second question first… I think the world is moving evermore towards a workplace environment that facilitates communication and interaction, flexibility in terms of where one can work (mobility) and a reduction in formality within the work environment. Perhaps (at least one hopes) the global economic crisis will push towards a greater sense of ethics and morality within the workplace.
The most common tools that recur in our experience is : BMS, Geothermal, photovoltaic, smartphones used to reserve meeting rooms or work stations, co-working hubs, recycling and recyclable materials and more generally the use of materials that appear more ecological and of course energy protocols such as LEED or in Italy energy classifications.
Juan Cristobal Fernandez:
Many of the noble materials used, materials that come from nature, such as wood or granite or marble. Let’s not forget recycled materials or those that are extracted from the earth.
What are some of the biggest challenges interior architects have to tackle to design that eco-conscious workplace?
We believe that most of the time the budget or design speed and deployment are the greatest enemies of new eco-conscious initiatives.
The one and basically the only difficulty for designers is higher costs. Higher costs often cause disinclined customers.
Many challenges come to mind… But perhaps a way of approaching the question is by not divorcing eco-consciousness from an overall consciousness regarding the optimum work environment… And that touches questions of internal functional organization and a companies’ culture. The more a company feels part of a global search for a higher quality of life in all aspects, the more a company will be sensitive to these issues. On the contrary, if they are seen as face saving superficial actions the less these issues will find positive outcomes.
Juan Cristobal Fernandez:
It’s basically about facilities, which are sometimes faced with energy supply virtually obsolete. Thinking of the way to regulate the behavior of employees to meet the sustainability rules imposed is another big challenge.
If you had no limits, what are some ways you would like to incorporate sustainability into modern office design?
I think the most interesting would be to work in multiple simultaneous ways:
Working in a spatial office for something surprising and exciting. A space that privileges creativity and inspiration to employees, either with more placeholders or groups such as libraries, gardens and the like.
Bring as much green inside the work area in order to boost wellbeing and reduce work-related stress.
Work on social issues with the environment in order to help establish links between social and economic classes.
Have spaces and actions that stimulate the interaction between employees – refectory, garden, living spaces, passenger services between employees, etc.
Encourage home office work possibilities with conference spaces, quite different from the traditional – living spaces etc.
If we could, we would love to make offices microscaled-self sufficient areas. With green areas, soil, lakes, valleys, huts… So, nature could be as plants, human-beings, animals all together.
It would certainly start with a more holistic discussion regarding the companies priorities and ambitions as well as moral objectives. Hopefully this would lead to a brief with innovative aspects previously not considered (for instance: sometimes the reduction of space is counter productive , few ever consider this).
Another thought regards the use of natural ventilation and light. Much of Europe and America live in areas of moderate climate in which these tools can be very effective… rarely are they aggressively used.
A final example is the allergy to experimentation. Why shouldn’t a large company, say 15 000m2 or more not reserve a small area of their office space for experimental layouts and functional alternatives?
Juan Cristobal Fernandez:
Through the user and the design of their workspace, which increasingly seeks greater integration and continuity in the environment. Higher levels of spatiality and more plants within the workplace are also something businesses should go after.
While many businesses are aware of the benefits of promoting sustainability, not everyone has the luxury of completely redesigning their office space. Do you have some tips for small design/cultural changes these companies could implement?
I think a number of small actions mentioned previously can be used… From the correct choice of lighting or furniture to conviviality proposals and integration of employees.
In the beginning, the most operating cost part of office can be designed as eco-friendly and savings can support the company to invest more in green initiatives. So partial contribution values turn into a company cost policy.
An easy and immediately effective change is that of replacing all light sources to LED… That can lead to energy savings of up to 70% and much longer lamp life (adding motion detectors to turn lights off as well). Taking recycling very seriously… Strangely enough not all cities in Europe and America require recycling or do it in a superficial way.
Trying to look at a more informal/residential environment… Not all meeting room tables need to be 70cm high; sometimes a coffee table with easy chairs could be better. Take care of those areas where people meet and have breaks… Getting to know your colleagues and creating opportunities for exchange are never a waste of time. Encouraging carpooling is another thing a smart business can implement.
Adding sound absorptive materials can help in creating a quieter workplace… Many manufacturers produce panels that can be mounted with velcro… easy to do it yourself. Provide good coffee and a decent kitchinette… As LEED teaches us sustainability, it is also a question of quality of life within the office.
Juan Cristobal Fernandez:
The best advice one could give are renewing their lighting equipment, increasing transparency in their partitions, and trying to look for pale colors seeking tranquility in the office atmosphere.
We Should Never Forget the Needs of People
Sustainable design is a major global trend for the 21st century. When we hear this term, thoughts generally flow to climate change, carbon emissions, water pollution or resource depletion. It’s not surprising as all of these things are super crucial, but people are sometimes overlooked when designing that sustainable office space.
People are those who will be in and out of the space, so sustainable office design must be about understanding, addressing and supporting the needs of the workforce. A well-designed sustainable workplace consumes less energy, takes up less space, produces less heat and provides environments for various interactions which leads to increased productivity, collaboration and employee engagement levels.