Why You Should Always Aim for the Green and Eco-conscious Workplace

Take a look around you: we spend upwards of 90 percent of our time indoors! It’s no surprise that buildings account for about 40% of the world’s energy use. Finding a way to de-energize and go green in the office is absolutely essential these days. A healthier ecosystem is not the only reason why more and more companies are transitioning to workspaces that address the sustainability goal. Sustainable workplace design decisions can have long-term economic benefits as well as profound effects on employee health and performance.

Who better to discuss the topic than 4 top architecture and design industry experts? This week we caught up with:

So what makes that great sustainable office building? How does the future of sustainability in office design look like? What drives the movement? Keep reading our exclusive Q&A for all the answers.

How the issue of sustainability influences you as a workplace designer?

Sombat Ngamchalermsak:

Global warming is a critical topic and talks of such issues become even more important as our studio is settled in a tropical climate zone. Recently, around mid of April this year, Thailand was ranked as one of ten warmest countries in the world with temperature of 43 degrees Celsius. I think we all are partially involved in this matter. As designers, we try to reduce the use of natural resources as much as we can by designing functional and delightful atmosphere in the office under sufficient concept.

Neta Davidie:

I have always been very green minded (you could even say I got interested in the ecological movement as a child growing up in the U.S.), and around 10 years ago when I first heard of the LEEDrating system, I started to look into educating myself in green design, taking the big plunge and becoming a LEED AP in 2012. The principles of sustainable architecture are more or less the same in every aspect of planning whether it’s internal design or neighborhoods. The knowledge I have, influences my work even if the project does not have a green agenda, because a lot of green practices are the right practices for healthy workplaces and living spaces.

Marek Svoboda:

I have always preferred “real” materials and I am not into all these fake plastic substitutions which aim to look like whatever other material. Wood should be wood, stone should be stone, c’mon. That is “being” sustainable, I guess.

As a design studio we work with local companies and manufacturers, carpenters, etc. and when it comes to solitaire products we try to think about it and choose producers which are “green”. I am not saying we only use ecological products and materials but it is always a big plus criteria! Nowadays, we also use mainly LED lighting sources, which are much more energy-saving. However, I have to say that I think the real “responsibility” is mainly on the architects and engineers. They make the buildings sustainable and that has much bigger impact.

Paul Angelier:

Sustainability is for us a default condition in architecture. Way more interesting is to think about the future when dealing with the issue of sustainability. There is a great uncertainty about the discourse of sustainability because it is strongly related to materials and history. What may seem correct nowadays may as well seem totally wrong in the future. We seek to transport this ephemeral condition of architecture in our designs.

Could you tell us about the main benefits of applying sustainable design principles when crafting a new workplace?

Neta Davidie: I think the wellbeing of the inhabitants would be the main benefit. For instance: having lots of natural light, and views to the outdoors in the workplace has been proven to improve productivity among workers, and clean and fresh air contribute to having a healthier environment. Healthier workers don’t take sick leave which is a big drain for any employer. There is so much information about how greening your office improves the workplace in the long run, some points are obvious but we don’t always know how to implement them, and others are less known about. I think every architect should at the very least, make themselves acquainted with the main principles of green building.

Marek Svoboda: Energy-saving! But again, that is more about the whole building design than the interior design.

My idea is that people are the most important. When the company they work for is eco-conscious and the environment they work in is “green”, they can be proud of it, they feel better and they are more happy doing their daily job. Maybe I am a bit naive and some of them are too ignorant to actually care… Last but not least, you are happy yourself for contributing a little too!

Paul Angelier:

By taking uncertainties in the design tasks for granted, we provoke new ways of thinking and stimulate a dialogue with the user. The user has full control on what the design should perform and is then able to create for himself a unique condition.

What are some of the key “green” features that your clients are asking for?

Neta Davidie: Our clients want to lower their electricity bills, and usually ask a lot about reusing water and solar energy. In Israel, we don’t have the vast array of green products that use recycled materials for instance, like you can find in the U.S. or in Europe. Green building products here can be more expensive, so we don’t usually get requests to use them, but when you use natural materials in a project such as stone, iron, or glass – they are naturally recyclable. Marek Svoboda:

To be honest, most of our clients are not asking for green features. And it is usually not easy to convince them to use natural and sustainable materials and products since the price is usually higher. Therefore, I appreciate when the client himself wants to go for sustainable design from the very beginning.

Paul Angelier:

Flexibility. We usually have to deal with the topic of flexibility until the very late stage of the design. It is therefore important to create a strong identity upon which the client can rely on.

Who is pushing eco-conscious movement in office design? Maybe it’s a collaborative process between the A&D community, clients and governments?

Neta Davidie: Usually big international companies who have branch offices here in Israel demand green design solutions and therefore they are the market generators. There are also several big private building construction companies such as “Shikun & Binui” who lead the market and are sworn to green certify all of their projects. The government is still lagging behind but many municipalities in Israel are adopting a base-line green requirements method.

Marek Svoboda:

I think it is definitely the A&D community! But a big part of the process is about the clients, especially the more conscious ones. Because the client has the resources and makes the final decisions… Unfortunately, governments are mediocre when it comes to being eco-conscious. At least here in Czech Republic. I guess it is much better in other countries, especially in Scandinavia.

Paul Angelier:

A combination of every of these aspects. Regulations vary from country to country and clients’ expectations are very strong. New technologies are there to lead the path and propose new horizons. In the end, it is the task of the architect to implement all these aspects and curate the design.

What are some examples of your most eco-conscious projects? What obstacles did you have to overcome?

Sombat Ngamchalermsak: We used to cooperate with Indian design company to design workplace for Facebook in Hyderabad city. The thing was this workplace had to be in use only for 6 months and would be demolished before moving to a new spacious area. So our main concept was to use recyclable materials as main elements. Recyclable paper was used on walls, ceilings and furniture so we could recycle it after the demolition of the workplace.

Neta Davidie:

Our own office is probably our most ambitious green project, since we were our own clients, and “going green” mattered to us. First of all, we chose an existing run down office in one of Tel-Aviv’s older industrial areas, where space is cheaper but we were still not far from the city center. We truly believe that renovating well, has a contagious spreading effect. Not too long after we finished our office we were asked to renovate parts of the whole building and it’s lobbies. When the building became less of an eye-sore, it immediately became more attractive to different kinds of businesses, small restaurants and artists, and became a cool place to work in.

Because we were in the middle of an industrial area, with not many trees or a single park, we decided we wanted a garden in our office. How did we do this? Well, we had a whole wall of south facing windows which needed to be replaced, so we built a low wall, half a meter inside and placed the new low-E windows on it. In this space that was shaved off from the office, we planted climbing vines and flowers, and we supplement the drip watering system with water from the air conditioning units.

We built very efficient lighting and air-conditioning systems. We used recycled materials on the walls, and recycled furniture and hand painted everything with water based paints. Our office has a flexible furniture system which we designed and no interior partitioned, so it can be used in many different configurations.

Paul Angelier:

Metropol Parasol in Sevilla is the most eco-conscious project because it deals with the topic of sustainability in a contemporary fashion. It has proven to have an impact on the neighborhood on the levels of economics, social status, culture, ecology and aesthetics. Communication was crucial. The decision to build the project was the result of a democratic vote where the inhabitants of the city had a key role during the selection process. Multiple discussions and workshops were held during the competition phase and information was made public on the internet. Despite the unstable political terrain and financial problems, the integration of all these aspects on that scale shows that an architecture turned into the future can have a positive impact on the city.

Do you find more and more companies approaching you with a sustainably conscious design in mind?

Neta Davidie: More and more house owners want us to incorporate green ideas or at least they want to know more about green design, but the demand for greener office design in small and medium size offices is still not mainstream. Paul Angelier:

Sustainability is seen as one of the minimum requirements in Germany where regulations define the technical performance of the building and sometimes it can have a dominant impact on the aesthetics of the building. Clients come to us in search of another type of design where technology is not seen as a burden to the creation of innovative spaces, but as something that is at first invisible and yet allows new types of scenarios to unfold.

What about the practice of sustainable office design do you think is most exciting right now?

Neta Davidie: I find it very exciting to hear about companies that use cradle to cradle sustainable design for their products. Some companies not only demonstrate how their design is long lasting and efficient, but also how the product can be recycled as they promise to buy the product back from you when you’re done with it after many years to reuse it’s elements and turn them into future products. This is such a long-term way of thinking that shows not only the company’s high standards but also the belief it has.

Marek Svoboda:

The use of natural/solid wood. Oh yeah, I love wood! Paul Angelier:

The constant evolution of new construction materials makes design a continuous game of searching and finding new ways to create spaces. The curiosity and enthusiasm linked to sustainable office design allows us to think about what type of future we want.

How do you see the future of sustainability in workplace design?

Neta Davidie: I think that more and more companies:

  1. are learning that green design is a smarter design and a healthier design;

  2. boasting green design is good for business, it shows the clients that your company cares about things other than money-making and is up to date and innovative.

The main generator of future green design will eventually be the laws and the standards demanded by the state pertaining to the whole building industry. Green ways of life are becoming more and more mainstream here; the public is demanding greener laws. It is now unlawful in Israel to dispose of building refuse in landfills without going first through waste treatment plants. All building waste is sorted, up to 75% of it is reused and recycled. These laws were set by the Israel Ministry of Environmental Protection, and it doesn’t matter if you are designing an office interior or an office building, you have to obey the laws and standards.

Another example is the huge change in the lighting industry. In the beginning of 2012 the Knesset’s (Israel’s legislative body) economic committee passed a law banning incandescent lamps over 60 watts, and almost overnight lighting companies switched to LED technologies. As demand went up – prices plummeted, and now it’s very easy to conserve energy. So I think that we will be seeing the major changes actually coming from the government with grass root organizations and NGOs nudging them in the right direction.

Marek Svoboda:

I hope that being an eco-conscious company, whatever field it operates , will become a standard. Sustainable design generally, including architecture and workplace design, won’t be something special but also a norm.

Paul Angelier:

The aspect of mobility will have a real impact on designing a workplace. Automated and autonomous cars will allow us to re-manage our time spent in the car and ultimately during the day. A different division of time has inevitably an impact on how we perceive space inside the city. Through new technologies new types of services linked to new concepts of mobility will give birth to new types of workplaces.