Fresh building in the urban jungle

We all know that going green is good for the environment, but is it good for the workplace? 

Increasingly, it seems, the answer is yes. Across the globe, businesses and organisations are making environmentally-friendly choices in their offices that are impacting positively on productivity and proving popular with staff.

In Seattle, USA, the Bullitt Center, which opened in 2013, styles itself as the greenest commercial building in the world. With its composting toilets, solar panels, heat recovery system and bike-friendly design, it claims to create more energy than it uses. Its occupants seem to like it, too. “I’ve worked in every type of building from a high rise to a historic building and this is the best working environment,” says Amanda Sturgeon, executive director of the International Living Future Institute. “The building not only connects the occupants to nature but it also reacts to it, generating energy and controlling operable windows and shades. There is never a moment when you are not aware of the weather and climate.”

It’s not just about new buildings, though – office space created in less environmentally-aware times is also going green. The Dubai Chamber, which opened in 1995, reduced its energy and water consumption levels by 47% and 77% per person respectively between 1998 to 2008, and in 2009 became the first building in the Arab world to receive LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certification.

The changes, says Annelies Hodge, a senior manager at Dubai Chamber, have also had a positive impact on working conditions. “Green buildings feel much better to work in, they are more comfortable and healthier for those using the building, and this affects productivity, satisfaction and absenteeism too. Staff satisfaction with our offices rose from 59% to 88% when we moved into our renovated green offices.”

Bullitt Center solar
Efficient bicycle parking at the Bullitt Center in SeattleImage: Bullitt Center

In Amsterdam, the advertising agency Gummo took a suitably headline-grabbing approach to going green – by painting all of its furniture grey! Following the motto ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’, they sourced everything second-hand and created an award-winning office space that was both kind on the environment and achingly cool. The Paris HQ of Foundation Nicolas Hulot for Nature and Humankind has combined a passion for collaborative working spaces and commitment to ecological values. Using recycled materials and including a wall made of living plants, this bright and open space reflects a concern for both the planet and the well-being of staff.

On a larger scale, at the Sydney HQ of global financial services company Macquarie, which opened in 2010, innovative design has reduced energy use by 50%. Responding to the company’s ‘activity-based working’ approach, the building’s 10-storey atrium features 26 specially-designed meeting pods and staff are encouraged to be adaptable rather than chained to one desk.

For most, though, building from scratch isn’t an option. That makes the experience of Dubai Chamber – which in 2013 was upgraded to platinum LEED status – all the more heartening. “If you have a traditional high energy and water consuming building you have so much scope to improve it,” says Hodge. “It is not difficult, it will save you money and will provide a highly popular space for building users.”