Are Sustainable Office Buildings The Future?

Published on 27/03/2019

The Edge, Amsterdam

We hear so much about the future and we are always trying to picture in our minds what it is really going to look like. Perhaps a few years ago we had images of flying cars and robots in our minds, but we’re still a long way from those innovations becoming mainstream!

For the time being, it seems that the future (and the here and now) is more about becoming more environmentally conscious, and when it comes to the modern office workplace, it’s about becoming both: energy-efficient and high-tech. Of course, it’s also about creating an attractive space, with clever office space planning too. 

You’ve probably heard the term ‘sustainable office building’, or a sustainable building in general. Of course, the term doesn’t really give much away. What does it mean? What does it do? How is it helpful for the environment and for business?

If you’re keen to do more for the future of our planet, but you’re not sure where to start, this guide is going to give you a few ideas.
Whilst you might not be in a position to tear down your building and construct a new, completely sustainable design, you will be able to make changes here and there which will add up to massive differences over time. It’s about being more energy efficient, about reducing emissions, and of course, increasing morale and productivity for your employees along the way. 

Let’s explore the world of sustainable office buildings in a little more detail. 

What is a Sustainable Office Building Exactly?

This is actually a really huge umbrella term, and it can mean intelligent offices, with smart interior solutions and furnishings which matches the bill, such as smart sofas. These buildings basically know who you are when you walk in, what you’re there for, and what you’re going to do, whilst being environmentally friendly through their construction and workings, or it can be about how you run your office generally.
For instance, ensuring that you have energy efficient equipment installed within your space, purchasing office furniture which is made from environmentally friendly materials, and cutting down on your energy bills. These are all ways you can work your ways into the sustainable office bracket. 

The Edge building in Amsterdam

You might hear these types of offices called ‘green offices’, or ‘green buildings’, but they’re much the same thing. It’s basically about focusing on your print on the planet, and as a result, increasing wellbeing for those who work within your four walls. If you do your research into some of the most modern designs on the planet, you’ll see that most of them are completely environmentally friendly in their overall design, usually with solar energy incorporated, and huge leaps towards recycling efforts. They are made from materials which have done no harm to the planet, totally natural, and sustainable without the need for excess heating or lighting. They also look pretty impressive too!

If you’re not a position to be hiring the world’s best architects, you can still do your bit. From the most basic point of view, a sustainable office building focuses on three key areas – energy, water, and materials. That means that the materials used to build the entire building and office itself are natural and not manmade. Certain manmade materials can give off emissions and toxins into the air, which damage the environment and also make life less than pleasant over time for those spending considerable time within the office space.
Of course, this also means that when construction takes place, everything is done in an environmentally-friendly way, focusing on reducing harmful emissions into the air, and using fair trade methods for those involved. 

It’s more likely that you have inherited your office space and office storage areas, or you are renting. In that case, you don’t have control at this point over how the office was built. You can however look into records and find out about the materials used. If you find that your building is particularly damaging in any area, you can consult with a building and construction company to attempt to right that issue. 

However, it’s more likely that you will have control over other areas, such as energy consumption and water consumption.
These are key areas which can be reduced; this saves cash for the business and saves harm to the planet. It’s win-win all around!

Within the sustainable office bracket, we also need to think about procedures which take place within the space. Do you encourage recycling? Do you try and reduce the amount of paper you use within your office? Do you purchase recycled ink cartridges, rather than new ones? There are many ways your office in general can become more environmentally friendly, and that ties in very well with the whole sustainable vibe. 

The bottom line is that we all need to do our bit to reduce negative impact on this planet of ours. A lot of damage has been done in previous years, and whilst we might not be able to turn back the clock completely, we can do our bit to slow it down, and at least roll back the years a little. If we can all do our bit, major changes can take place. Here at Calibre Office Furniture, we’re huge advocates of eco-friendly practices, and sustainability is high up on our list of priorities.  

How Can an Office Building Impact Negatively on The Environment?

There are more ways that an office building can detrimentally affect the environment than you might first realise. When we’re going about our regular daily business, perhaps sat around our boardroom table and chairs, making decisions about the future, we don’t tend to think about the bigger picture. The thing is, by doing that, we’re harming the very planet that we call home. 

Buildings Impact on The Environment

Here are a few ways which a building can detrimentally affect our planet. 

  • Poor use of resources, such as water, electricity, gas, and general office supplies – Are you guilty of buying new reams of paper and brand new ink cartridges? Do you leave printers and computer monitors on ‘stand-by’ when you go home in the evening?
    Do you ever leave lights on in rooms which aren’t being used? These are all ways to use far too much energy, thus creating a negative impact on the environment. Using brand new paper and ink cartridges is also damaging, and it would be far better to go down the recycled route – these are far cheaper too!
  • Poor waste disposal techniques – This often comes down to a lack of recycling knowledge. Paper, ink cartridges, cardboard, plastic bottles, and even food can all be recycled in some way. When your old business furniture has seen better days, do you simply throw it out? Why not recycle it and gift it to a start up company? You’re helping them and you’re helping the environment!
  • A large amount of emissions – If you have old heating or cooling equipment, the chances are that you will be emitting far too much gas or other toxic substances into the air. These can all cumulate into a very negative situation for our planet, especially the o-zone layer. Cutting down on carbon emissions has been big news over the years, but anything which is emitted into the atmosphere from a piece of equipment can be harmful. Ensure that you have your equipment, e.g heating, air conditioning systems) checked on a regular basis by a qualified individual, and consider replacing old equipment with newer, more efficient models. In addition, old building which have been made from manmade materials can often give off emissions without you even realising it!
  • Contributing towards water pollution – You’re probably not aware of it, but you may be contributing towards water pollution.
    This means the water which comes from your catering area, e.g. your canteen, and the cleaning products you use which get into the water system and out towards the external drainage systems. How about your car parks? If there is an oil leak and it rains, where do you think that oil goes? It makes its way either into lakes and rivers, or onto the soil which is just as much of a negative.
    If you use chemical products within your organisation, these should also be very carefully regulated and monitored, to prevent contamination.

As you can see, we are far more damaging to the environment than we realise! It’s about educating ourselves and our employees on what to do differently in order to reverse changes wherever possible, and to prevent further damage in the future. 

The Benefits of Sustainable Office Buildings

The biggest benefit of designing a sustainable office building, either from scratch or by making changes as you go along, is that you are doing your bit for this planet we call home. One person making changes isn’t going to do a huge amount, but if we all make changes, we’re creating a snowball effect which will impact now and in the future. 

Benefits of Sustainable Office Buildings

Choosing to build a sustainable office building, or by making changes in order to create a more ‘green’ office environment means that you are reaping the following benefits:

  • Lower energy bills – If you’re using less electricity and heating, you’re not going to be paying as much on your monthly utility bills
  • Better efficiency of resources – Recycling increases your efficiency straightaway, and by cutting down on the resources (paper, cartridges) that you don’t need, you’re streamlining your practices and saving cash
  • Carbon footprint reduction – Those emissions we were talking about all add up to a rather hefty carbon footprint.
    By making changes, you’re reducing that footprint and doing your bit for the environment and your bills
  • A calmer place to work – Sustainable office buildings tend to be a little more tranquil. There is no firm reason of why this is, but many have more natural elements incorporated into them, such as biophilic office design elements. In many ways, this helps to create a more ‘chilled out’ environment, and when you add in some welcoming reception desks, you’re creating a fantastic first impression for visitors too. Of course, we don’t have to tell you how important first impressions are!
  • Helps employees become more aware of the environment – If you place importance on reducing your carbon footprint, recycling and generally being more sustainable, this is going to pass to your employees too. Having a workforce which is more environmentally aware is no bad thing, and that means they are more likely to make ‘green’ choices at home too, adding to the benefits.
  • Improves your company image – These days, most people prefer a company who are doing their bit for the environment over a company who don’t really care too much about it. If you place importance on being more green and creating a space which is attractive, using trendy office desks or ergonomic task chairs, and showing that you care about the planet, many new customers will come your way, as well as making it easier to retain your old customers too.

The benefit of being more environmentally friendly and sustainable in general are more far-reaching than you first thought, right?

How do Sustainable Offices Impact on Employees And Their Wellbeing?

There is a lot of research to back up the idea that becoming more sustainable is a positive change for your employee health and wellness. We all know that making employee health and well-being is a vital part of the business puzzle, because it helps to boost morale, and morale therefore leads to productivity and profits. Despite that, on a human level, we want our employees to be comfortable and to feel happy and healthy in their working environment. Becoming more sustainable and green can do just that.
When you combine this with creating a funky and comfortable space for them to work, perhaps adding furniture choices like acoustic pods, you’re onto a real winner. 

Sustainable Offices Impact on Employees

Many sustainable office environments tend to feature more in the way of natural elements. For instance, we mentioned biophilic design earlier, and this is the practice of bringing the outside, literally inside. Studies have shown that having more natural elements in your office is hugely beneficial for morale. You’ll see live walls, more plants around, and a generally green and tranquil space.
This is all designed to improve health and wellbeing, as well as boost oxygen within the office environment. Of course, the more plants you have, the more oxygen there is, and a clearer air quality you’ll have. 

Having poor air quality within your office is linked to many detrimental health problems for your employees, not least lack of concentration and headaches, as just two. You can also add air filters to remove toxins and allergens from the air and provide a cleaner space for your employees to work in. This helps the environment immediately too! Studies have certainly backed this claim up. 

A more natural vibe in your office is also directly linked to productivity, and that takes you right towards higher profit levels! 

Sustainable office design may also feature UV blocking on the outside of the building. This helps to prevent harmful rays from the sun getting into the office space, especially for employees who sit close to windows. UV rays can be harmful to the skin, but also to the eyes, and can also be a reason for headaches during a working day. In addition, your boardroom leather chairs and other office fittings are likely to look less than sparkling after a while sat in the glare of UV rays! 

Becoming more energy efficient in general helps people to realise that they are part of something big, e.g. part of making a change for the future. When we feel like we’re doing something like this, we feel good about ourselves. When we feel good about ourselves, we work harder, we do more, and we feel better about it all. Again, we’re looking at productivity and morale! 

What Are The UK Criteria And Standards For Sustainable Office Buildings?

In order for an office building to be declared officially sustainable in the UK, it needs to pass certain criteria and standards.
You might have heard of BREEAM before, but if not, this is a standard which needs to be met. 

BREEAM stands for Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method, and it is used when projects are being planned from the building point upwards. Whilst there is no legal necessity to have this standard met, it is considered to be the one to aim for. 

The BREEAM assessment focuses on the use of energy, land use and how it impacts on the ecology of the area, the water supply, health and wellbeing of those around the building, pollution problems, transport links and how that will impact on the environment, the materials used and their possible emissions, waste and how it is handled, and management of the whole project. 

In order for a building to meet this criteria, there will be several visits to the site, and each criteria is scored accordingly. Many clients, and even the Government, now require BREEAM to be carried out in most situations, so it’s vital that if you are considering building a new office space from the ground upwards, you take into account the various criteria which the award is marked against. Climate change, biodiversity, and ecology are all big subjects within this area, and it’s not only about recycling and energy efficiency in this case. 

Solar roof

Top Quality Sustainable Office Buildings in The UK Currently

In the UK we are lucky to have some of the best architects and designers around, and once buildings are completed and the interior is ready to be designed, there are many luxury office furniture options to finish the job. We certainly have some very impressive office spaces up and down the country, but how many of them are actually classed as sustainable? How many have achieved BREEAM status? 

The difference between modern and traditional office design of old is purely based on how well it performs environmentally, because that one subject links into countless other sub-sections, such as morale and cost saving. Thankfully, we are now opening our eyes to the major benefits of being more environmentally aware!

Let’s check out a few of the UK’s most sustainable office buildings. 

  • Manchester – One Angel Square: with more than 3000 employees within the building, this is the home of the Co-Op.
    The building was finished in 2013 and the design is completely eco friendly. The office design is based on an open plan method, which allows light to permeate through and reduce the amount of false lighting required. Glass office furniture is also used to reflect the light even more. By redesigning the building in this way, the group manages to save up to 60% on their energy costs, and they also incorporate a rainwater recycling method for toilet use and general irrigation.
  • London – Bloomberg Building: based in central London, this building is huge and very impressive, as well as being rated top quality by BREEAM. The interior design is based around collaboration, with zones for maximum working productivity. There is a ventilation system which works naturally, without the need for any device. The entire space was also constructed with sustainable materials for emission reduction.
  • London – One Embankment Place: back in 2013, this building was the best of its kind on the planet, but many have been built since then. Despite that, One Embankment Place remains a hugely sustainable building choice! Carbon emissions were cut by half, and energy by a quarter. Recycled vegetable waste was used to power and cool the entire building, and the most impressive thing is that more than half (60%) of it’s energy is produced right there, within the building as a result!

These are just three of the country’s most sustainable buildings, and as you can see, they’re pretty impressive! Whilst you might not have the budget to design a heat producing, waste recycling building from the ground up, that doesn’t mean you can’t start making changes in the here and now. Remember, every change makes a difference to the planet!

How to Create a More Sustainable Office Right Now

It’s a great idea to have a brainstorming session around a stand height table, or a coffee table and to allow your employees to help you collaborate on this project. Not only will it help them feel more valued, increasing morale, but it will also allow you to access new ideas that you might not have thought of otherwise! Set up a focus group and ask for opinions and suggestions. 

The first thing to do is to work out your energy bills every month. From there you can work out where you can save. This isn’t only about the planet remember, you can save cash from cutting your energy bills too! Look at how much heating you’re using, how much lighting, how much water. From there, work out how old your appliances are within your building, and are they energy efficient rated?
When was the last time you had them tested? Be honest!

In terms of health and safety it is vital that all your appliances are regularly tested, and of course you will already know that boilers in particular require regular testing and maintenance. Older appliances do tend to be less energy efficient than newer models, so this is certainly something to think about in terms of what needs to be replaced. 

These are the areas you need to look at from this point, and new measures to implement. 

  • Consider the building materials within your space and work out what can be replaced – Whist you might not be able to do a lot about the bricks and mortar at this point, you can look at the doors and fixtures you have. These should be low emission and they should be constructed from materials which are totally natural. Many people are unaware of the fact that manmade doors and other materials release toxins which can create an unhealthy environment over time. This does nothing for the health and wellbeing of your employees, and also for the visitors who enter your building on a regular basis.
  • Create a waste reduction scheme – Printing should be restricted to only when necessary, and then it should be double sided.
    You can place signs up next to printers, but it’s far better to inform your staff in person, through a team meeting. This means you can explain why these changes are being made. In addition, you should use recycled paper, as well as recycled ink cartridges, start using rechargeable batteries. Ensure that all employees know that they must recycle anything they can, e.g. paper, waste food, plastic bottles etc, and have recycling bins in useful spots around your building. 
  • Be more aware of the amount of electricity you’re using – We’ve already mentioned looking at your old appliances and having them replaced if they’ve seen better days, but it’s a huge must do to avoid ‘stand by’ on machines. This can use so much electricity that could have been saved. In addition, encourage staff to turn off lights when they’re not being used, e.g. meeting rooms, breakout spaces, etc. Screen savers should be disabled on computer screens, to avoid too much energy, and use light management on screens instead. This means the screen will dim and switch off automatically, rather than the screen saver kicking into action after a length of time without use. Do you use air conditioning or heating? Find a temperate amount and make sure that the doors and windows are closed in that area, to avoid wasted energy. You should also double check whether the air con and heating really needs to be on!
  • Check the credentials of suppliers – If you regularly order items from suppliers, check that they are sustainable and what certification they have. Are they Fair Trade? This is another considerate to think about and all ties in with sustainability over time.
  • Encourage staff to cut their own carbon footprints – If every single member of staff is driving to work every day of the week, that is a huge amount of carbon emissions heading into the atmosphere. Becoming more sustainable and environmentally friendly is also about increasing awareness amongst your employees. Why not encourage car sharing or cycling to work? You could have incentives, such as cut priced gym memberships or prizes at the end of the week. 
  • Highlight the importance of diet too – Whilst you’re on the environmentally friendly route, why not highlight the importance of choosing sustainable and healthy foods? If you have a canteen, only stock Fair Trade, organic produce. This will increase the health and wellbeing of your staff via their diets, and will also help to reduce issues with the environment in terms of pesticides and chemicals used in traditional farming methods.
  • Purchase second hand items, rather than new – Do you need some new multi-functional furniture for your office space?
    In that case, do you really need to purchase brand new products? Why not try and find high quality, but cheaper, used office furniture instead? You’ll be helping someone else out and saving cash too! Your old furniture could be gifted or recycled. So, if you have any old classic desks which you’re ready to part ways with, you know what to do!

Benefits of buying 2nd hand office furniture


As you can see, there are many ways you can become more eco-friendly and more sustainable in general, without hiring a top quality architect and constructing a multi-million pound office from scratch. If you want to do that however, go for it!
The more totally sustainable office buildings we have, the better! 

It certainly looks like in the future we will be moving towards construction of this kind as the new norm. That’s no bad thing, and in terms of doing our bit for the environment, it all adds up to a hugely beneficial picture. The more changes you can make, no matter how small you think they are, the better, and it doesn’t have to cost a small fortune to make a difference. These changes are like a snowball, they grow in momentum and turn into a huge, unstoppable force over time. 

Becoming more sustainable means that you save money as a business, but with this subject, that’s not the main aim. The main aim is optimisation – to do your bit for the planet, increase the wellbeing and general health of your employees and create a space which ticks every single box required of it. Sustainable office buildings certainly do that, and they’re fantastic places to work too. 

It might be a big change to jump from one way of working to another, but heading out of your office comfort zone in this case is probably going to be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make! 


Thank you for reading!

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