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Which sustainable workplace accreditation is right for your business?


People’s habits are changing, as they ask more questions about where products come from, and the impact they have on the planet. Veganism, sustainable fashion, and eco-friendly products are gaining traction as people wish to live without causing unnecessary harm to the planet.

Our recent blog, how to create a sustainable workplace, explains how the modern workforce expects employers to provide them with a sustainable office to work from. Research has shown that Generation Z and Millennial's strongly believe that they have a social responsibility to change the way in which we are treating the planet. They are force for change and would be prepared to take a pay cut to work for a socially responsible company.

So, how do occupiers and landlords go about creating a sustainable workplace? Senior Project Designer Colm Murphy, explores the topic in more detail.

Have you seen a shift in client focus on sustainability?

Sustainability in commercial interiors has been prominent for the past 14 - 15 years, and as more people are becoming aware of the impact that they can make as individuals, we are seeing an increase in demand for sustainable workplaces.

Back in 2006 Al Gore released a documentary film called ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, which is when we started to realise the impact that we were having on the earth through the increased use of fossil fuels and global warming became an everyday phrase. Since then, we have focused more on what we could do to positively affect climate change through the materials and systems that we are specifying in interiors.

Looking to our future generations, Millennials and Generation Z have such a key role to play, they have grown up in an era where environmental impact is headline news. They understand the impact that we are all having and as the leaders of the future have a role to play and responsibility in reducing it.

Talking specifically about construction, historically a third of all materials that went onto a construction site left in waste lorries. There has been a real shift in being aware of the waste that construction creates, and how businesses can better manage how waste is reduced and recycled.

The built environment accounts for huge amounts of energy consumption and water usage. We are much better at managing this now through energy efficient heating, cooling, and lighting systems. We use intelligent control systems to manage when the HVAC and lighting is on or off and water saving management to minimise wastage.

Has the shift in sustainability awareness happened-pre project, or is it introduced during the design?

There tends to be a thought in the client’s mind that they ought to be doing something, normally in line with the CSR approach of the business. This then leads to a focus on employee wellness and wellbeing. Businesses are incorporating a sustainable brief within their employer’s requirements; it’s definitely shifting to a design awareness.

Introducing a sustainable approach pre-project start is probably too late. As part of our initial consultation process, we ask our clients about their approach to sustainability, to ensure the key drivers are picked up as part of the design brief.

What do clients need to consider when looking to relocate / redesign their office?

Firstly, we establish the client’s sustainability requirements and desire for change. What is the ultimate outcome that they want to achieve from having a sustainable workplace? Do they want an accreditation, and if so, which one aligns with their business?

We then work to uncover the benefits they want to get out of it – is it employee wellness? Or is it an interior rating that has a positive environmental impact? Sometimes it’s both. We then provide guidance around what it means in terms of their workspace, the design, and how it can help their working environment. We can then advise which accreditations are more relevant to their project.

Some clients naturally lean towards a certain accreditation, for example a landlord may have an accreditation on a building and the tenant fit out will need to comply with it. Occasionally it may be a requirement of a planning application, which we have had on a recent project.

How does a sustainability accreditation impact the build and delivery process?

There are elements specific to the accreditation system that we are aiming to achieve. Generally, we specify materials on most of our projects that are from sustainable sources and using high energy efficient mechanical and electrical systems. One example of this was for sustainable leaders, ClientEarth, where every element of the project from our approach to the design, to the material sourced had to be sustainable and backed up by an accreditation.

It helps to be aware of the sustainable accreditation that we are working to at the earliest possible stage, to enable us to factor its requirements into the design and build management process. Overlapping with the design enables us to specify and deliver materials from sustainable sources, and sourcing local suppliers where possible to reduce the carbon footprint. We also focus our project team and our subcontractors on the amount of waste we generate – diversion from landfill into materials that can be recycled and following a carefully prepared waste management plan.

What technology influences are we seeing to support sustainable influences?

Heat recovery air conditioning, LED lighting with automatic sensors, efficient water saving systems to name a few. The positive impact of these systems can be measured, and the more elements we include in the design and build, the more this supports the accreditation that we are aiming to achieve.

What are the impacts long term?

For the client, the measurables such as lower energy bills, lower emissions etc. We want to build an interior that has low VOCs, that includes biophilic elements, with good levels of natural light, creating an interior that is better for their employee’s health and wellbeing. In turn this should reduce things like ‘sick building syndrome’, reducing employee absence rates and creates an admirable place to work.

It’s recognised that people want to work in environments that promote better health and wellbeing which in turn will lead to talent attraction and retention.

What credentials are there and what do they mean?

We appreciate it can be overwhelming for some to understand which accreditation is right for them. The earlier we engage about it the better, to gather a fuller understanding of what the client’s key drivers are, helps us to align a client to the relevant accreditation, if they don’t already have one in mind.


The BREEAM rating benchmark levels enable a client or other stakeholder to compare an individual building’s performance with other BREEAM rated buildings and the typical sustainability performance of new non-domestic buildings in the UK. BREEAM applies to the interior and the exterior build.


LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is an internationally recognised green building certification system, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

LEED provides building owners and operators a concise framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations, and maintenance solutions.


SKA rating helps landlords and tenants assess fit-out projects against a set of sustainability good practice criteria. It is estimated that 11% of UK construction spending is on fit-outs and that buildings may have 30-40 fit outs during their lifecycle and was produced purely for fit out. For Helaba Bank, a combination of sustainable approaches to the build process helped the project to achieve a SKA Gold rating.

WELL Certification

WELL is the leading tool for advancing health and well-being in buildings globally and utilises a flexible framework for improving health and human experience through design.

Does it cost more to have a sustainable fit out?

By consulting at an early stage and through careful selection of materials and systems we are able to design the project keeping any negative impact on cost to an absolute minimum. It’s a process in partnership with the client team.

What does the future look like for sustainability in the workplace?

Modern workplaces should be built with sustainability at their core and should consider the needs of future generations. For sustainability to have an effect we are going to need a big shift. The dream will be to have a workplace that has a low impact on the environment but a high impact on employee wellbeing.

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