Cost or benefit? Changing our view of IEQ
Research shows that a sustainable approach to indoor environment quality (IEQ) can deliver a range of benefits for health, productivity and profitability. So why do some businesses still baulk at the chance to boost their bottom line through green building solutions? Why are IEQ inclusions still among the first to be ‘value managed’ out of scope? And how can we convince owners, users and investors that sustainability is a cost saver not a cost centre?
The more we talk about the positive impacts of green design and building management the harder it is to write it off as ‘not worth it’ or ‘too expensive’, so the first step is to measure and communicate our successes.
The fact that almost all of Australia’s big financial institutions are now based in Green Star-rated offices is instructive. These workspaces have three things in common: they’re big, they’re beautiful and sustainability is at the heart of their design and operation. But why are the banks going green? Because they recognise the true value of an investment in IEQ.
Macquarie Bank was one of the first banks to take the sustainability plunge, moving its headquarters to the now iconic six-Star Green Star-rated One Shelley Street on Sydney Harbour. A post-occupancy study followed the bank’s employees as they transitioned into their new workspace, revealing an incredible 15 percent jump in perceived productivity. Big dividends for Macquarie Bank and an important validation for green interiors.
Clever water and energy-saving solutions at the NAB’s headquarters at 700 Bourke Street in Melbourne have generated big savings for the bank on the cost of utilities, and allowed it to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 25 percent when compared to a typical office space.
The fitout also enables employees to engage in activity-based working through a range of flexible, task-oriented spaces that promote collaboration, health and well-being. NAB was able to significantly reduce the footprint of its space, leading to lower construction and operational costs and greatly improved worker satisfaction and productivity.
In fact, the NAB HQ was recently ranked number one in the country by the Building Occupant Satisfaction Survey Australia, a benchmarking tool that recognises high-performance workplaces. The survey recorded a 17 percent increase in NAB employees’ satisfaction with their new office and an 11 percent jump in productivity.
These examples provide valuable endorsement for sustainable buildings specially designed to deliver optimum IEQ. But what about existing buildings? The key here is to remember that any green improvement is positive, and that incremental changes do add up.
The recent achievement of a four-Star Green Star – Performance certification by the Sydney Opera House is the perfect example. Many of the sustainability initiatives and upgrades that have helped win this iconic, World Heritage-listed building its rating were implemented gradually, with a focus on getting the basics right.
For example, the project to upgrade lighting within the Opera House’s concert hall took place over two years and involved transitioning the old, energy-sucking globes and fittings to long-lasting, LED alternatives. A new control system was also implemented and together these initiatives have resulted in a 75 percent reduction in energy use across the venue and estimated savings of $70,000 per year. As an added benefit, maintenance staff now spend less time in high, confined spaces changing out busted globes.
Thinking carefully about how the space is used has resulted in a better occupant experience for performers at the Opera House, too. Temperature zoning and controls ensure that the orchestra pit is maintained at a constant 22.5 degrees, allowing the musicians to enjoy optimum levels of comfort during opera and ballet performances.
The Opera House has also gone ‘back to basics’ when it comes to cleaning. Olive oil is used to keep bronze railings and fixtures clean and shiny, while bicarbonate of soda is used to keep concrete looking like new. And what does that add up to? A great looking space and a healthier indoor environment for staff, performers and visitors.
Romilly Madew, the Green Building Council of Australia’s chief executive officer perhaps put it best when she said, “The general consensus has been that it’s ‘too hard’ to improve the sustainability of existing buildings. The Sydney Opera House has laid down the gauntlet for the property industry with a pragmatic, practical approach, which shows even the most iconic, historic and challenging buildings can be high-performing, energy efficient and sustainable. If you can green the Opera House, you can green anything.”
One of the most persistent arguments of green building detractors is that the capital outlay for sustainable solutions is too high and the rate of return too slow. It’s here that we need to encourage an expanded conception of the value of individual solutions, and support the development and uptake of new technologies.
The SAMBA building information and IEQ monitoring unit is a great example of technology delivering better, cheaper solutions to green building challenges. Developed by PhD student Tom Parkinson and IEQ research assistant Alex Parkinson under the leadership of Professor Richard de Dear from the University of Sydney, SAMBA users sensor technology to measure multiple aspects of a building’s indoor environment and feed valuable multifaceted data back to building managers.
“Until now the industry has been limited by technology and high costs to capture this information through one device. What we now have is a revolution in technology, which has been produced at a relatively low cost and will have high returns for companies and its employees,” Professor de Dear has said.
SAMBA’s impact – and therefore its value – is immediately multiplied, as it is one relatively cheap solution that can do the work of a range of other systems. And this is how we must learn to think and talk about all the green building solutions we design and deliver.
When we apply this way of thinking and communicating, a staircase is not just a way for building owners to cut costs on the installation and upkeep of a lift. It’s also an opportunity to boost productivity through healthier, more active building users who take fewer sick days and engage better with their colleagues. Ecofriendly cleaning products aren’t just a method for improving indoor air quality and reducing toxins, but a quick and easy way to reduce operational outlay on expensive chemical cleansers. An atrium is no longer just a source of light to reduce energy costs, but a powerful aesthetic enhancement.
There will probably always be people who argue that green buildings built and managed for IEQ represent more cost than they do benefit. But, by sharing our successes, implementing incremental improvements and expanding our thinking about return on our investment in sustainability, the more people will realise that going green is really just a powerful way to keep businesses in the black.
The author, Tony Arnel is global head of sustainability at Norman Disney & Young.