Key elements and emerging trends in “green” office design
Sustainability linked to office design is a wide-ranging concept that involves both structural and design aspects.
The key is developing a design that incorporates both visions, creating offices that are not just aesthetically “beautiful”, but also efficient and functional.
We have already introduced this highly topical theme within the ThinkLab (see, for example, “Sustainable offices: “human-centric” design as a corporate strategy”), and its importance is such that it deserves further examination.
So, what are the key elements and trends to be considered when designing a green office?
Context and requirements
An analysis of the structure, areas comprising the office and workers’ needs, lies at the foundation of every design, and it is fundamental in assessing the impact that every office space will have on the environment, as well as on worker wellness and performance.
Safeguarding worker health is of primary importance. The components of the interior design project should protect the wellness and health of people in the office. For this reason, it is important to use, amongst other items, panels marked CARB2 for the production of furnishing units, in other words presenting emissions of formaldehyde – a noxious pollutant that negatively affects the health of interiors – at a percentage that is half the levels specified by current health protection regulations.
It is important to dedicate special attention to insulation, by designing interiors with uniform interior thermal conditions, so that they are comfortable for workers.
This is a principle that regards both the company premises overall, and every single office. Adequate thermal insulation also helps reduce the amount of energy required for heating and cooling.
Natural and recycled materials
The use of certified raw materials, the adoption of sustainable processes and the total reduction of all toxic or noxious substances help make an office sustainable.
Examples include the use of bamboo and wood, valuable natural resources that have a high level of sustainability. More specifically, for wood, it is advisable to prefer timber with certification (Forest Stewardship Council) showing that it has been sustainably harvested.
Lighting is a factor that is all too often underestimated in the office design phase; in fact it is a key element not just for reducing energy consumption, but also for protecting worker health.
A study on the correlation between lighting and worker wellness and efficiency, performed by the City University of London and the Philips company, has shown that unsatisfactory lighting causes eye fatigue and general tiredness, and has a negative effect on mood, motivation and productivity.
Therefore it is advisable to opt for natural lighting – something that an increasing number of companies are adopting – utilising techniques that maximise the use of daylight, such as the addition of reflective internal surfaces or the insertion of plants to filter excessively intense direct light.
In the case that it is impossible to rely on daylight due to structural limitations, it is advisable to adopt dimmable lighting, which ensures greater control of light intensity with respect to ambient conditions.
A study performed by Harvard University has shown that office air quality is a fundamental factor for worker health, and that good ventilation improves employees’ intellectual performance, reduces absenteeism and even the transmission of infectious diseases.
This is why it is vitally important to invest in efficient ventilation systems that don’t just meet the standards required by regulations, but that are also capable of dealing effectively with VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds), ventilation rates and room temperature.
Biophilic design is an approach utilised to create an intrinsic relationship between nature and the employees present in the office.
The adoption of biophilic design improves air quality, and also worker wellness and performance.
According to the report “The Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace”, the presence of biophilic design elements in office interiors makes employees 15% happier, 15% more creative and 6% more productive.
As we have seen, our choices in terms of sustainability are important for the attainment of eco-friendly development.
We are facing a new age in work, in which it is increasingly important to promote organisational strategies that protect the planet and safeguard employees’ wellness.
In this way, sustainability takes on a far wider significance, regarding not just environmental considerations, but also the company’s organisational framework, in a vision of offices in which not only do people work well, but above all they live well.
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