Here’s how to create sustainable, cost-efficient offices that businesses need to rent.

There are many strategies a Landlord can employ to deliver the sustainable, cost-efficient offices increasingly demanded by tenants today. I fully appreciate that many of these come at a cost, and it is sometimes difficult for investors to see the return. Still, with a non-traditional view of property, you can soon see and communicate the benefits. 

A more engaged and proactive approach to future offices

You need to understand your prospective tenants’ viewpoints. For example, BREEAM and WELL on their own may have little meaning to them. They may not understand how they are measured and fundamentally, the positive impact it could have on their business. 

“The world, as we have created it, is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”― Albert Einstein

Offer your tenant a genuinely green and more sustainable building, with the real virtues explained in a humanistic way. I have no doubt they would pick this building over the generic, run of the mill building. Even more so in a time when occupiers are looking for cost savings, alongside providing the safest and most productive environment for their employees.

Landlords will show real value when they offer green and sustainable buildings that reduce the environmental impact, mitigate operational costs and provide cost savings for the occupier. In short, these higher specification offices will be easier to let.

A building should make a positive contribution to its occupiers, the surroundings and life in the Capital, prioritising green and slashing the carbon footprint.

The PowerHouse Kjørbo, an office building outside Oslo designed by Snøhetta, was designed with green priorities in mind. The priorities were to produce more energy than it needs from its solar panels. But also to generate more power than was used for building material production, construction, operation and disposal. It actually pays back its embodied energy.

When accreditations fail us

Contrast PowerHouse Kjørbo to the ‘most sustainable building in the World’, which is in London. It contains 600 tonnes of bronze imported from Japan and a quarry-full of granite from India. Was this taken into consideration by the accreditation?

The world has moved on. In my view, there is often too much lip service paid to accreditations. It is like Greta Thunberg sailing to the U.N. Climate Action Summit on a carbon fibre yacht with a diesel engine attached…..

How do buildings appeal to tenants?

In the first instance, Landlords should engage with occupiers about the cost savings their new offices can generate. Given that carbon-efficient buildings are cheaper to run, there should also be savings through the service charge. 

Once occupiers understand this in more detail, they will be able to identify with the building and will make buildings more appealing from a Corporate Social Responsibility perspective. 

It is also essential for the tenant to understand that the building’s credentials encompass everything from design, the positive contribution to its surroundings and engagement with the broader community. 

From a Landlord’s point of view, I do not doubt that such buildings will lease quicker, see lower rental depreciation and extend the building’s life cycle. 

Making positive design changes

Smart Tech

Smart technology sounds great on a building’s marketing campaign, but occupiers need to know the benefits. Smart building technology is sold to Landlords for implementation in their buildings, but the benefit is mostly for the end-user. 

Landlords often baulk at the cost of the current building automation apps. They worry they may never recoup and prompt the discussion of can it be a service charge item. 

To take an example: smart airflow – smart CO2 sensing controls distribute air according to the approximate number of people occupying each zone of the building at any given time. The ability to dynamically adjust airflow in response to occupancy hours and patterns will significantly save power and reduce CO2 emissions.

Smart controls will monitor everything from ventilation to heating and much more. If we educate the occupier and show the vast benefits that they can get, I have no doubt any building without them will be left in the dark ages. 

While the cost savings will be their first focus, they will see how their teams are interacting and what areas of their space people are interacting in the most. It will open their eyes. 

Or on the flip side, use it for compliance and let the technology tell you when teams shouldn’t be interacting, and you can make the changes. The possibilities are endless. 

Natural Ventilation

Natural ventilation strategies aren’t just a case of having opening windows again – especially given the air quality in many major cities. 

Natural ventilation reduces the dependency on mechanical ventilation and cooling equipment and significantly reduces energy consumption. Take the bronze blades on Bloomberg Place. When ambient weather conditions are temperate, the building’s blades can open and close, allowing the building to operate in a “breathable” natural ventilation mode. 

It’s similar at CH2 in Melbourne. The building is 100% naturally ventilated via tapered ventilation ducts. The air is changed every half an hour, providing a continuous supply of fresh air. The natural ventilation is combined with natural lighting to reduce energy consumption.

Another stellar example is TateHindle’s work at the Institute of Physics. The concrete frame is exposed and is used to adsorb the heat from computers, people and the weather outside. This passive measure helps reduce the load on the building, pushing the peak load to later in the day, so less plant is required. Besides, the building has feature chimney stacks which draw air into the building to cool the M&E equipment, expelling the hot air through the atrium. 

Many of the most sustainable buildings have adopted a double-skinned façade to facilitate natural ventilation. In winter months the solar gain within the cavity may be circulated to the office space to offset heating requirements. While in summer months the cavity may be vented out of the building to mitigate solar gain and decrease the cooling load. 

End of Trip facilities

Large areas of London are to be closed to cars and vans to allow people to walk and cycle safely as we ease coronavirus lockdown. The mayor announced that main streets between London Bridge and Shoreditch, Euston and Waterloo, and Old Street and Holborn will be limited to buses, pedestrians and cyclists. It’s one of the most significant car-free initiatives of any city in the world.

Officials are also working with boroughs to implement similar restrictions on the minor roads they manage within the area. They may also ban cars and lorries from Waterloo Bridge and London Bridge.

Milan has introduced one of Europe’s most ambitious cycling and walking schemes, transforming 22 miles of streets over the summer. In Paris, the mayor has allocated €300m for a network of cycle lanes, many of which will follow existing metro lines, to offer an alternative to public transport.

London is somewhat behind some European Cities with respect to electric scooters. Still, the legalisation of rental will undoubtedly lead to the full legalisation. This will lead to the likes of Tier and Lime taking over the London streets and create demand for charge points in office buildings. 

With more bikes and scooters on the roads, where will they all be stored and charged? It is also always the case that Landlords follow BCO guidance on the number of bike racks and showers, but this generally gives about 16% of the office occupiers use of a space. 

In my view, bike racks and showers need to be at least double today – before taking into account increased scooter usage. It’s an expense, but bike and scooter storage and charging are sure to be a deciding factor for many occupiers interested in attracting the right employees.

Standby Generators

I very much doubt these are used in any building’s lifetime? Unquestionably now with everyone’s ability to work from home they are obsolete. I can’t imagine everyone sitting at home with a petrol engine on standby should there be a power cut in their home! 

Sustainable buildings should not be burning fossil fuels and any Landlords with these in place or considering replacing them need to think twice. 

Solar Power & Rainwater Harvesting

Solar energy is a key part of many buildings’ green strategy—renewable energy on the premises. For example, The Crystal in London’s east end is run entirely on electricity – the majority of which is generated by photovoltaic solar panels. The building is lit by LED and fluorescent lights switched on or off depending on the amount of daylight.

We always focus on rooftops to add communal terraces and drive value on the upper floors. But why is there little discussion beyond this? Many buildings will include an element of green roof but may not have a rainwater harvesting system in place or generate electricity for the benefit of all the tenants. 

The Bullitt Center in Seattle is 52,000 sq ft and is capable of collecting and filtering 56,000 gallons of water. They also went a step further and turned the rainwater to safe drinking water. 

Water conservation can include rainwater from the roof, cooling tower blow-off water, and greywater sources, like basins and showers. Capturing the water enables it to flush vacuum toilets and water plants. 

What does the future hold?

Wind turbines on towers – ones that work, unlike the building we all look at in Elephant and Castle. On the Shanghai Tower, standing at 632 metres tall (twice the height of The Shard), wind turbines are located near the top. They power its exterior lighting as well as local park areas.

Custom made light panels function as sensors for motion, light, temperature, humidity and infrared throughout the offices. They require so little energy they can draw power from the same cables used for the internet. 

Is there still a need for raised floors as we reduce cabling? We could increase floor-to-ceiling heights – or perhaps even add a storey in some buildings. 

The world’s second-highest BREEAM-rated building, in London, operates on biofuel sourced from locally collected and refined waste vegetable oil. London-based TP Bennett refitted the 25-year-old building, and it now has the highest BREEAM rating of 96.31%. Here is where a BREEAM rating means something. 

For me, BREEAM, LEED and related standards should be looked at as a minimum benchmark rather than something to aspire to. 

Landlords and investors cannot be short-sighted or think this is a short term knee jerk reaction that will fizzle out. 

Get next generational thinking from Rubix

At Rubix, we believe that environmentally-friendly practices are as good for business as they are for the planet. From day one, we had a desire to redress the balance and do things differently and to push the boundaries of sustainable office design.

If it is next-generational thinking you are after, please call Rubix to hear more of our ideas.