Sustainable office buildings
With a greater awareness and acceptance of all things green, buildings are no exception with a continual rise in the registration and certification of green building both globally and in Asia. Currently Leaderships in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), the U.S.-based United States Green Building Council’s (USGBC) certification system, is certifying 1.6 million square feet of built space in 120 countries per day.
It is estimated that buildings contribute around 30 percent of greenhouse emissions and use up around 40 percent of the world’s energy. Is it any wonder both new and existing buildings are the focus of so much “green” attention?
Driving the need for green buildings is a combination of legislation, incentive programs, education, corporate responsibility and long term costs savings. For landlords the effects of legislation are immediate. In Australia and Singapore governments have legislated that new buildings be constructed to strict environmental guidelines and be certified upon completion. These seemingly harsh requirements are balanced with tax breaks and cash incentives.
Existing buildings are not exempt either, as major modifications also require an adherence to new legislation in Singapore and full disclosure of energy efficiency are now required for all commercial buildings over 2,000 meters under Australia’s Commercial Building Disclosure Program. Furthermore, Australian government departments are now required to include a “green lease schedule” in their rental agreements which will force them to move to green star rated buildings as their existing leases expire.
For corporate occupiers the requirements are less onerous, and do not exist in most parts of Asia. However, more occupiers are exploring “green fit-out” options as evidence mounts on the productivity improvements of going green. In one example a law firm experienced a 7 percent increase in fee-earner billing time, despite a 12 percent decline in hours worked. The same firm also recorded a 39 percent reduction in sick leave after relocating to a five star (green star) rated site in Melbourne.
The cost associated with building a LEED certified fit-out can vary greatly from a small certification cost to approximately 25 percent of the overall project budget, and depends largely on the host base building.
In a fit-out project in an A grade office building in Hong Kong in 2011 where the base building is certified to equivalent LEED Gold, an occupier would expect to pay a premium of 10 percent on top of the “normal” fit-out costs to achieve a LEED Platinum rating, the highest ranking. The same project completed in 2012 would cost less as materials and components used in the fit-out ― once thought cutting edge ― become the norm rather than the exception. Savings delivered via reduction in water and energy consumption would see a return on investment of three to four years.
Clever design and product selection can reduce the financial burden of a sustainable fit-out as most reputable suppliers of components, particularly carpets and workstation furniture (some of the biggest project cost items), now offer sustainably designed and manufactured products which deliver credit points to the project. Clever recycling of existing fit-out components will deliver additional credit points, counter intuitively though, as recycling everything in an existing fit-out will not deliver more points than a combination of the new and old.
The construction process itself also requires careful planning. The use of high volatile organic compound (VOC) materials is reduced or where possible eliminated while the site must be well lit and ventilated throughout the building. Waste materials must be separated from recyclable ones, so that the overall amount of waste delivered to landfill is significantly reduced.
The final office layout is important as well, where natural light and airflow top the list of requirements for environmental must-haves. Offices and closed rooms are kept against the core area and away from the windows to allow the most from natural light and views, while a reasonable amount of circulation space and informal breakout zones are also important for staff collaboration and well being.
Technology developments continue to accelerate and aid the growth of sustainable buildings. “Smart windows” made with thermotropic glass automatically respond to changes in temperature and transform from clear to white in transparency as temperatures outside increase, reducing air cooling requirements within a space. Also “dry” versions of appliances that traditionally used water such as Sanyos ‘dry washing machine’ which uses ozone to clean and deodorize clothes, eliminating the need for water, will become available in the very near future.
With the cost of greening a building or office space is decreasing and the benefits of doing so increasing, corporate occupiers should no longer ask whether a project can afford to go green, but instead ask whether their business can afford not to.
David Cain is the director of project management for North Asia at Cushman & Wakefield.