By Marc Pallisco 12 May 2017

Given the rapid development of the sustainable products industry, it may cost you money not to take up some of the environmentally responsible innovations on offer.

Can you improve both the environment and the bottom line with your workplace?

The designers behind some of the country’s newest workplaces and fit-outs are confident it can be done.

Occupants of Green Star-rated workplaces use substantially less electricity and water, have cleaner air and produce fewer greenhouses gas emissions than those working in the average Australian city building.

But, in addition, according to the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA), productivity in Green Star-assessed workplaces is often boosted by up to 15 per cent.  And buildings that use sustainable technologies can also help attract the best human resources and win clients.

The Green Building Council of Australia is a membership organisation that promotes environmentally responsible building practices and operates the Green Star building rating system.

Can your current workplace claim it will deliver operational savings as well as improve the wellbeing of its occupants?

With the built environment responsible for 23 per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to the GBCA, we take a look at just some of the cutting edge (and often cost-cutting) green initiatives incorporated into some of the world’s newest workspaces. 

Can your current workplace claim it will deliver operational savings as well as improve the wellbeing of its occupants?

Cloud capabilities

 

Cloud technology allows occupants and property managers to tweak conditions such as climate and light, based on – among other things – the needs of workers in the office at the time.

 

Building faults can also be picked up more quickly because of the live-data monitoring.

 

The technology is taking care of administrative functions which used to be environmentally unfriendly. Things like time sheets and task records, which normally had to be printed and stored, can now be paperless.

 

Within property management circles, the Internet of things (IoT) is revolutionary. The UK government has contributed £40 million to researching the initiative, which allows the performance of all facets of a building to be monitored.

 

HVAC

 

This is an acronym for Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning.  Within the property industry, much attention is being paid to climate control. In fact, so confident was Google in 2014 that people will want to watch their energy use, it paid $US3.2 billion for Nest Labs, which produces self-learning, sensor-driven, Wi-Fi enabled thermostats, smoke detectors and security systems.

 

Environmentally friendly buildings utilise sensors for temperature, gas, occupancy and light. Some buildings are already fitted with smart thermostats that adjust such variables as temperature, humidity and brightness as employees move through the workplace. Sensors are also used to shut down climate control in certain areas when nobody is around.

 

Insulation 

Insulation Concrete Forms – ICFs – are marketed as simple, durable, versatile, fire resistant, strong and energy efficient.

But because they are created by combining polystyrene with concrete and steel they are not particularly green products.

 

Insulation using recyclable materials may cost more, but it is better for the environment in the long run. Shredded denim, wool and hemp are other insulation forms. 

 

Lighting

The fact that a Lighting Council of Australia exists is testament to the will of the Australian industry to get smarter with natural and manufactured light. The council’s goal is “to encourage the use of environmentally appropriate, energy efficient, quality light systems in an environment increasingly characterised by connected lighting, smart controls and the internet of things”.  

Most new workplaces use the latest LED (light emitting diode) technologies. Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and OLED (an organic LED which contains no mercury), are also growing in popularity.

 

Energy

Why not look to some of your fixtures and appliances to save energy use (and costs)? 

Consider laptops instead of desktops. According to Energy Australia, notebooks typically consume less than half the energy.

 

Think about turning off equipment like printers and photocopiers at the end of the day. Unplugging computers from the wall – or setting the screen to turn off after a certain time (not go to a screensaver) are other ways to easily lower energy consumption.

 

Also, turn off the lights when the office isn’t in use. As well as being good for the bottom line, it will lengthen the life of the equipment. 

 

Water

 

Rainwater harvesting, sometimes also known as roof-water harvesting, is a system whereby water collected from a building’s roof can be distributed for use inside or outside of the building.

 

Grey water harvesting also collects water but from such places as wash basins and showers.

 

Using fresh water to, say, cool an industrial building down or water the garden, is increasingly unacceptable given the availability of rainwater and grey water harvesting technologies.

 

Inside a workplace, installing water-saving taps and showers is known to reduce potable water consumption.

 

Human resources

 

Increase the occupancy density of the office.

 

This doesn’t mean cramming more cubicles into the same space. Although in saying that, the average Melbourne office user now occupies about 12 square metres, compared to 28 square metres in the 1990s, according to prominent tenant advocate Christopher Goodwin.

 

Smart use of activity-based workplaces (ABW) might mean the space is most efficiently laid out with a variety of rooms – some with open plan workstations, others with lounges for collaboration, some which allow staff a place to work alone.

 

Providing technology to assist flexible working means not everyone needs to be working in the office at the same time. Many companies encourage the use of instant messenger type programs, even to communicate with people sitting beside them, so as to not disturb fellow workers.

 

Towards zero carbon emissions

 

The GBCA wants all new buildings to have zero emissions by 2030 and all existing buildings to have zero emissions by 2050.

 

Promoting passive design, encouraging renewable energy infrastructure, increasing the market for net-zero carbon products and promoting the potential to offset remaining emissions, are four of the ways the industry group is working on this.

 

“As with the uptake in building certification and green buildings, a zero emission future will be driven by both industry leadership and government requirements,” GBCA chief executive Romilly Madew said. “Momentum among tenants and investors is building, and 50 per cent of the ASX200 companies operate from Green Star buildings.

 

“Large institutional investors and superannuation funds are now starting to see climate change as a financial risk,” Ms Madew said.

 

Finally, in a sign of how serious the subject is, Ms Madew points out that the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report has rated the failure of climate change mitigation and adaption as in the top five risks by impact for the past three years – along with weapons of mass destruction and water crises.

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