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Ten things you should know about sustainable office building

A sustainable modern office building is low-carbon in its design and construction, and aims for zero-carbon in its operation.

A sustainable modern office building is low-carbon in its design and construction, and aims for zero-carbon in its operation.

 

What does a sustainable modern office building look like? And what should it incorporate and why?

1. They are low-carbon in their design and construction, and aim for zero-carbon in their operation.

2. They aim to be air-tight, sealed up spaces. You typically enter through a revolving door which allows visitors in but keeps the heat, cold, rain and noise out. A sealed space means heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, – which use more energy than anything else in a commercial building – operate at up to 90 per cent less energy when compared with older buildings.

3. Many sustainable buildings include full height atriums which allow waste air to rise through heat exchangers – warming incoming cooler air from outside, without the expense of heating and pumping it around a building. Atriums also allow for maximum solar gain and reduce the need for lighting.

4. Plant/living walls are also typically installed in atriums. These remove toxins from the air and release oxygen at a higher rate than single indoor plants. Plant walls also help with ventilation by reducing wall surface temperatures in the summer and insulating buildings in the winter. But living walls have many other positive attributes: they give bland spaces aesthetic appeal; help companies communicate green credentials; and reduce noise levels by absorbing acoustic energy which reduces stress in the working environment.

Plant/living walls are also typically installed in atriums. These remove toxins from the air and release oxygen at a higher rate than single indoor plants.
Plant/living walls are also typically installed in atriums. These remove toxins from the air and release oxygen at a higher rate than single indoor plants.

Internal plant walls are often irrigated by rain water harvesting systems which also supply water for flushing and garden spaces. Some of these systems can make rain water fit for human consumption.

5. Harvesting rain and recycling wastewater has allowed some sustainable buildings to run on net-zero water. This means they are independent of municipal water and sewage systems.

6. Sustainable buildings use materials that retain heat well – like concrete and tile – in their double-skinned façades. Large windows allow for passive solar design elements where walls and floors are made to store, reflect, and distribute solar heat in the winter and reject it in the summer.

7. Electrochromic glass, with its layers of ceramic plates thinner than a hair, is coated with materials which change from clear to dark. This cools air in the summer and eliminates the need for shades/window coverings.

8. Energy production is also a key design element. Rooftop solar panels are common and semi-transparent photovoltaic units are now replacing some windows.

Solar energy is on the cusp of making a major impact in Ireland with a typical pay-back time of five to nine years 

Solar energy is gaining traction in Ireland. A solar system with 1,585 panels on the roof of the Butlers Chocolates HQ at Clonshaugh in Dublin 17 provides 19 per cent of the company’s daytime electric load. But not many office buildings here use rooftop solar. However, as it develops – solar is a digital technology and is subject to the same ongoing improvement as computing – costs will come down and it will become the norm.

Fergus Wheatley, managing director of energy consultancy SmartPower, says solar energy is on the cusp of making a major impact in Ireland with a typical pay-back time of five to nine years without grants and a return on investment of 10 to 15 per cent.

9. Office equipment and furniture should be carefully chosen, using recycled, reclaimed, refurbished, and sustainable materials where possible. It’s important to use quality products that will last, sourced locally to avoid excessive shipping costs. avoid adding interior walls that aren’t necessary. For privacy, consider glass or even glazed partitions that allow natural light to permeate throughout the room.

10. Water can be conserved by installing touch or push taps. Special fittings can be used to adjust the time and water flow. Water efficient toilets and urinals can be used as well.

Sustainability in the modern office block takes many forms but is increasingly being introduced at the design stage rather than through retro-fitted add-ons but what about older buildings? This is being driven by software advances which make it easier to design-in green building elements. As a result, buildings in the US meeting credible sustainability certification systems, like LEED and BREEAM, have grown in number from 296 in 2006 to more than 65,000 in 2017.

Claire Solon: “Plenty of US companies setting up operations in Ireland look for LEED-certified office blocks and this type of building is now very much the norm in terms of new-builds here.”
Claire Solon: “Ireland fell behind Europe and the US in developing these buildings as a result of the crash.”

“Plenty of US companies setting up operations in Ireland look for LEED-certified office blocks and this type of building is now very much the norm in terms of new-builds here,” says Claire Solon, head of property at institutional landlord Friends First. “Ireland fell behind Europe and the US in developing these buildings as a result of the crash but developers have got the message: green and sustainable buildings are what the market wants. Studies show that green buildings also tend to add more capital value and achieve higher rents.”

Examples include The Reflector on Hanover Quay in Dublin’s south docklands, the new central bank building on North Wall Quay and 2 Grand Canal Square beside the Bord Gais Energy Theatre.

Global warming and advances in green technology have moved sustainability to the top of the design agenda. Not only is sustainable good for the environment and a company’s image, it also provides a healthier and more productive work environment.

Older office blocks

For companies in older office blocks, Fergus Wheatley, managing director of energy consultancy SmartPower recommends getting an energy audit done as this will highlight energy wastage and ways to tackle it. “In older buildings you often find that big energy users, like heating and cooling systems, are competing with each other,” he says. “Adjusting their settings can often resolve this and result in big savings. Energy savings in one area can result in savings elsewhere. For example, using LED bulbs which emit less heat reduces the demands on the air conditioning system. So you have a very beneficial multiplier effect going on.”

Switching to a green energy source provider is another simple step for a company to take in order to green up. All electricity supplied by SSE Airtricity, for example, is from renewable sources, including its 29 wind farms in Ireland.

Sustainability in the modern office block takes many forms but is increasingly being introduced at the design stage.
Sustainability in the modern office block takes many forms but is increasingly being introduced at the design stage.

“We’re seeing more and more interest from businesses in the benefits of going green as a great way to make savings on their energy bills while reducing their carbon footprint,” says Stephen Gallagher, director of business energy at SSE Airtricity. “Our business energy solutions team delivers bespoke energy solutions for different needs. For instance, through our investment in Activ8 Solar Energies, we’re helping businesses realise the benefits of solar power.”

We believe that meaningful changes can be made relatively simply, yielding up to a 40 per cent saving on costs

Cormac Mannion, energy services manager at Energia, says businesses in older buildings face a number of sustainability issues. “Via our ‘upgrade and save’ scheme we work with businesses to understand the solutions required to bring energy consumption down,” he says. “For example, we undertake bespoke light and design studies for customers, installing the lights at no upfront capital cost. We believe that meaningful changes can be made relatively simply, yielding up to a 40 per cent saving on costs.”

Examples of sustainable office buildings in Dublin include;

  • The Reflector on Hanover Quay in Dublin’s south docklands
  • The new central bank building on North Wall Quay
  • 2 Grand Canal Square beside the Bord Gais Energy Theatre

Apart from their green credentials and costing less to run, sustainable building also tend to be healthier and happier work environments. Benefits for employees include:

  • Air quality Plant walls and natural ventilation help reduce headaches, fatigue and eye irritation. Plant walls also look good, so are mood enhancers. A plant on your desk can cheer you up so imagine what a wall of lush greenery could do?
  • Productivity One US study showed that people working in a green-certified building had a 26 per cent increase in cognition and 30 per cent fewer sick days. Some workers even indicated they were sleeping better.
  • Values Those who work in green-certified buildings may seek those companies out for their environmental commitment. This gives the employee the satisfaction of working for a company that aligns with their personal values. Employees who feel they are part of something bigger are more likely to remain committed to their employers.
  • Light Studies show that employees who receive enough natural light take 6.5 fewer sick days every year than those without healthy levels of lighting. Sustainable buildings maximise the intake of natural light.
  • Rooftop garden This can provide workers with a quiet space to de-stress and get some fresh air.
  • Building materials Green buildings uses a mix of eco-friendly materials and repurposed elements which release less toxins than some man-made materials.