5 ways companies are making offices more sustainable
Sustainability features are helping organizations attract and retain eco-conscious employees
The office is getting greener amid demand that companies take action on their commitments to sustainability and net-zero carbon emissions.
Some buildings are recycling water, while others are using energy-saving glass or implementing micro-climates based on employee preferences. Such features are not only critical to companies’ green goals, but are also important for attracting and retaining the eco-conscious.
“Employees today are more motivated to work for a company that promotes a higher standard of living for its employees and the community,” says Roddy Allan, Chief Research Officer, JLL Asia Pacific. “Workers want action on sustainability, and they want their employers to support their goals.”
This is especially true for younger employees. Up to 81 percent of workers aged 21 to 30 expect their company to follow sustainable business practices, and 70 percent of them would prefer to work for a sustainability leader, according to a JLL survey.
Here are five changes that companies have adopted to make their offices more sustainable.
1. Bringing nature into the workplace
Incorporating natural elements — such as natural lighting and ventilation, or green walls — has been proven to help reduce stress, increase attention spans, improve general wellbeing, and reduce energy costs. For instance, integrating natural light in indoor spaces has been found to reduce the need for artificial lighting and potentially lower energy costs by up to 80 percent.
Companies are designing offices with lush greenery as a key feature. In Citibank’s Wealth Hub in Singapore, for instance, the office is designed as a “banking conservatory” with garden meeting pods nestled amid shrubs and trees, instead of conventional meeting rooms.
Seven in 10 workers want employers to incorporate greenery such as indoor plants, green rooftops and vertical gardens in the workplace, according to JLL. Property developer Guocoland’s upcoming Guoco Midtown mixed-use development will see 3.8 hectares of greenery flowing through the property across 30 gardens with over 350 species of plants and trees.
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2. Recycling wastewater in office buildings
The Salesforce Tower in San Francisco filters around 30,000 gallons of dirty water generated by the building and returns it as clean, non-potable water for use in toilets and drip irrigation. A Cambodian resort development project under construction will operate individual treatment plants within its office building, hotel, and carpark to recycle wastewater for farmland irrigation.
Six in 10 workers want universal adoption of 100 percent water recycling in offices, according to JLL. But it’s not just about employee satisfaction. Recycling and conserving water also maximizes energy use and saves costs.
“Recycling wastewater onsite lowers the costs associated with and the energy consumed for pumping and transporting water for treatment elsewhere,” says Allan. “More importantly, reusing the water within buildings also eases the pressure on water resources in cities.”
3. Installing smart windows
Buildings are getting smarter with new technologies introduced. U.S. manufacturer View produces glass that automatically monitors and adjusts its transparency to control the amount of light and heat permeating indoors.
These windows reduce the load on the building’s heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) system, which lowers the overall energy output and leads to cost savings.
According to a Cornell University study, smart windows also offer significant health advantages such as reducing eyestrain by 51 percent and headaches by 63 percent.
4. Using AI and IoT for energy conservation
Using artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) can also help drive overall efficiencies in energy consumption.
Take energy intelligence and automation firm BeeBryte. Its solution leverages AI and IoT to predict thermal needs in buildings based on weather conditions, building occupancy and business activity. Using this information, it automatically adjusts the HVAC setpoints in real time and saves up to 40 percent of energy costs while keeping temperatures within a predetermined range.
“Buildings today have a whole plethora of systems for functions such as measuring air temperature, indoor air quality, traffic patterns, and space occupancy,” says Jeremy Sheldon, Head of Leasing, Asia Pacific, JLL, during a virtual panel discussion on the Future of Workplaces. “We generate an enormous amount of data, but what’s important is what we do with it and how we make more efficient decisions.”
5. Personalizing the workspace
Spaces that give employees a level of personalization can further encourage energy savings.
In an experimental office housed within a zero-energy building in Singapore, a personalized cool fresh air supply duct with adjustable air volume is installed at each desk. This allows the surrounding air conditioning to be set at a lower air supply rate without compromising comfort for the desk occupant.
Similarly, an eco-office concept by Mitsubishi in Japan’s Otemon Tower with next-generation personalized office air conditioning allows employees to control the aircon temperature for their individual desks.
“Increasingly we will see businesses investing in sustainable real estate, leasing office spaces in green buildings, and embedding green features in their offices as part of their sustainability strategy,” says Allan. “Together, these changes will ultimately improve employee engagement and retention.”