How does sustainability influence workplace design?

28 July 2020. Features.

We recently explored which sustainable workplace accreditation is right for your business, and the next step in the process is understanding how sustainability influences the design phase of your project. We caught up with head of SME design Stephanie Di Losa to find out more.

How does sustainability influence workplace design?

Sustainable design is an approach to supporting the key issues the world is facing today. Sustainability helps improve our health and quality of life by lowering our environmental impact on the world. As designers, we need to be more aware of the impact our decisions have on the environment, and how we can reduce negative environmental impact through our design.

One of the main aims to achieving a sustainable design is to decrease our waste and carbon footprint. This can be achieved in many ways in a design scheme, from selecting carbon neutral finishes, choosing cradle to cradle furniture pieces, to using energy efficient products. There is not a one size fits all perspective on what sustainable design includes, especially when you need to factor in the current building conditions and the client brief.

One trend we have seen gaining traction is the introduction of biophilic design. Being indoors for most of the working day, we need to increase our connectivity to the natural environment. Creating a human-centred approach that improves our health and productivity, and in turn helps the environment by improving air quality and reducing energy usage as less air circulates through the space.

Sustainability must be a part of what we do rather than an afterthought. Creating awareness in simple product or process changes to our designs gets us closer to a healthier world.

Have you seen an increase in client focus / interest in sustainability?

We are seeing more clients asking for information about how sustainability impacts workplace design and build, and what Peldon Rose is doing to help the environment. As a global concern, companies are looking to incorporate a sustainable approach to their culture, and this includes the workplace environment.

Studies show the benefits a sustainability-driven business has on its employees, and can also improve brand value, reputation and can support talent attraction and retention. Sustainability is creating long-term value that takes into consideration the ecological, social, and economic environment inside a company. Sustainability will always be incorporated into the design of our projects.

Is sustainability a two-way process? For example, are clients specific with their sustainability requirements or are they seeking guidance and influence?

Many clients are already aware of how they can help the environment as an individual but are uncertain of how sustainability can be translated into workplace design. An important role for a designer is to educate clients on best practice to minimise their carbon footprint.

There are two general options we discuss initially with a client to better understand how far they want to take this approach and how much they are willing to invest.

One option available to clients is to utilise one of the environmental assessment methods accessible to them, such as, SKA, BREAM or LEED. This option usually requires more monetary investment to achieve the desired rating, but at the end of the fit out the client will receive an official rating, obtain clear guidance throughout the process and even after the design is complete on good practice and how it can be implemented.

The second option is more relaxed and does not entail an official rating, just a better understanding as a client and designer of what is best practice, these include, but are not limited to:

  • Changing client’s infrastructure to using laptops as they are 80% more energy efficient to desktops
  • Changing lighting controllability to be automatically controlled for the presence of daylight or occupancy
  • Using sustainable products
  • Understanding what temperature, you set for air conditioning can decrease your energy costs and consumption.

The main objectives of both options are still the same though. To improve energy and waste consumption, reduce long term costs and improve employee wellbeing.

What is the biggest influence design can have on a workplace?

Workplace design has significantly changed over the years. Gone are the days where we sit in segregated cubicles and eat at our desks. The workplace has evolved to emphasis more on employee wellbeing, health, and personal interests. Because of these changes, the design of a workplace can have social, environmental, and economical influences.

Creating an office environment that best represents the client, their values and culture will produce a space that would attract and retain employees and increase the general productivity. This can be achieved through a number of ways, through ensuring appropriate ergonomic furniture for comfort and posture, creating the company identity through the office, but primarily it is achieved by creating an environment that is flexible to the needs of the users.

Providing employees with a variety of settings in the workplace to cater for the type of work needed, when you need a space for heads-down work, or a large space for team collaboration increases the productivity of the activity.

Environmental and economical influences lean more heavily on the sustainability approach to the workplace. Incorporating this approach to the design can not only lower operating costs from using energy saving products, but will see a reduction in energy, waste, and water usage. This again leads back to the social impacts by designing the space that utilises more natural light, which provides a higher quality environment for employees.

What are your predictions for designing a sustainable workplace?

The last four months have been tough on everyone, what people wanted from an office in February is very different to what we need now. This will lead into the next trend, where the office will become a space people want to come to, a destination, a hub. Being somewhat isolated for such a long period of time, this change becomes more of a behavioral change. Creating more and more spaces for collaboration and a place for face-to-face conversations. It’s the space that takes on the fundamental persona of activity-based-working, with an emphasis on flexibility.

I caught up with the wider design team for their predictions.

Tom Vooght , Project Designer – Landlord

“The obvious response would be flexible working. Isolated booths were not conducive to collaborative working, open plan is not conducive for focused working, so the logical solution is a mixed solution, offices focus on flexibility and collaboration zones, and secluded working spaces”.

“Changes of environment, considering of the iGen ways of working. There are some interesting things on how universities are redesigning themselves. Gone are the days of large lecture halls, and its more about studio environments, and lots of breakaway working spaces. I would assume offices will replicate this, as otherwise the future employees will not know how to work effectively”

Georgia Nogas , Project Designer

“People want separation between the home and office now that working from home is more common. I think more corporate branded offices are going to come back in, for example, if I'm leaving my (residential) home, I want to come to a space where there is a distinct different feel, plus with everyone working from home more – I think companies will want to be very clear on their brand identity and values”.

“We will also see be a big culture push. with large percentages of the workforce at home, there is a risk of feeling disconnected from the organisation. When they are in the office - whether that is 1-2 days a week, or full time - they will want to feel still part of the purpose of the business”.

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