Sustainable fitout to reduce the churn

Australian Financial Review GREEN BUILDINGS − SPECIAL REPORT

Designers need to rethink their approach to an office fitout, writes Miriam Hechtman.

If that flickering light in the office is driving you loopy, consider replacing it with an energy−efficient bulb.Not only will it restore office sanity, it will also reduce your energy usage and the bill.Designing a sustainable fitout may require some lateral thinking, but the rewards are plenty.

Something that we have neglected for too long is looking at the carpets, the furniture, the walls, all thepaints; everything that we tend to churn or change around every five to seven years. And that’s why it hassuch a great impact,” says Kirsty Mate, head of the interior architecture program, faculty of the builtenvironment at the University of NSW.The embodied energy of all the office fittings (that is, the energy required to make the fittings), such as thefurniture, can often be more than the energy the building consumes.

For the best impact, Mate says designers should look at the “materials of the stuff that they actually put insidethe office”. Questions to be considered when evaluating these materials should include the origin of thematerial, how it is being produced, how long it will be in use, and if we are selecting material appropriate forthat use. Considering how the material might be disposed of is also important.“We need to be seriously addressing life−cycle thinking,” says Mate. “If it is going to be thrown out, maybewe need to be considering whether it can be recycled or if it is biodegradable.

Leasing office furniture is a good alternative to buying, especially where changing the fitout might bedownsizing or upsizing, so you can’t re−use all workstations, says Mate. “So we’re putting more responsibility on the producers rather than the consumers, and the consumers don’t actually consume as much because they’re leasing rather than buying them. “Designers need to rethink their approach to fitout, and this can require thinking outside the box. “As a designer, the first thing that you think of is: ‘Let’s just get rid of everything and start again’,” says Mate, but this attitude needs to change. Re−upholstering office chairs, for example, is both environmentally and economically smart. “It can actually save companies money, particularly when you’re re−using − and obviously that’s the bestoption,” says Mate.

A lot of the environmental measures that we look at in building − which may have been innovative a couple of years ago − are almost becoming standard,” says Green Building Council executive director Robin Mellon. “It’s another step in the evolution of the office building. “The Council’s office interiors rating tool (a procedure or system), which has recently been reviewed, has been developed to assess an office tenancy fitout. Mellon says the impetus for the review process is to find a balance between being “rigorous enough and robust enough for the market”, but simple enough to use andaccess. “The interior tool really is probably the best tool for fitout because it affects all those items the tenant hascontrol over,” says Mellon. He suggests companies look at where they can achieve maximum environmentalimpact within their social and economic circumstances. “A lot of it comes down to the issues of the cost of green and the value of green.

People are seeing significant cost benefits in terms of greater productivity, reduced rate of churn, reduced let−out rate for tenancies, andobviously reduced bills in terms of energy and water and waste management.” Investa Property Group has achieved a 5−star green star office interiors rating in recognition of its headoffice’s sustainability credentials. Comprising two floors at 126 Phillip Street in Sydney, the company chose this route as an opportunity to set an example for its tenants, says Craig Roussac, general manager ofsustainability, safety and environment. In terms of energy efficiency, the fitout includes a network of occupancy detectors to turn the lights on andoff by way of sensors (there are no light switches in the office space). All the workstations are made from recycled bottles, a lot of the flooring has recycled content, andvegetable−based paints have been used in the fitout.

Changing behaviour in the industry, particularly with the designers, is the next change, says Mate.“That’s the next big move − looking at behaviour. We know the science, but now we really need to address that.”

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