Green and greener
Stand by for Mandatory Disclosure to be an even bigger game changer, says ALICE DREW from HBO+EMTB, as ‘interiorscaping’ and ‘roofscaping’ gain momentum.
Sustainability is well and truly back on the agenda following the global financial crisis-induced hiatus. In October 2010, all commercial office buildings with a NLA (net lettable area) over 2000 square metres will be required to disclose their energy efficiency when they come up for sale or lease. The objective is to ‘ensure credible and meaningful information is publicly and readily available to potential purchasers and renters/lessees on the relative energy performance of buildings’.(1)
Mandatory disclosure will precipitate change in the way tenants are able to negotiate the terms of their leases. While owners of the more energy-efficient tenancies will enjoy higher occupancy rates and rental incomes, tenants will be in a position to negotiate energy conservation and emissions reduction measures as part of their leasing terms. Over time, this is likely to result in a major change in the base terms of leases, with a strong emphasis on green fitouts.
CHANGE IN CONSCIOUSNESS
Importantly, this is likely to precipitate a change in consciousness about using buildings, including reappraisals of how internal environments affect our quality of life and how tenants really want to engage with their environments, given market permission to negotiate on their terms. We are experiencing a tipping point of our common environmental conscience in relation to the sustainability of our planet.
While Mandatory Disclosure is specific in relation to energy efficiency, this is potentially the start of something much bigger. Mandatory Disclosure is just one aspect of the changes that are likely to occur.
It is already documented that owners of green premises enjoy lower annual operating costs, increased occupant productivity, higher relative investment returns, marketing advantage, higher market value for assets, higher rents, higher tenant retention, reduced liability regarding occupant health, less reliance on external infrastructure grids and problems from future climate changes, and reduced capital costs including reduced construction time and variations.
Sustainability, however, is not just about star rating and energy consumption; rather, it is the philosophical basis by which we approach living in a world with finite resources. Sustainability aspires to maintain a quality of life, not detract from it, and by doing so encourages us to live in greater harmony/balance with the natural environment.
LEARN FROM NATURE
The design focus has shifted from producing contained environments to design environments that emulate natural models and use ‘biomimicry’ as a tool to create more sustainable designs. We have all heard of the example of high-rise towers – modelled on self-cooling termite mounds – using up to 90 percent less energy for ventilation than conventional towers. The objective is to create a stable ecosystem within a building or, by extension, if we were to be really ambitious, an entire city. Plants are the natural complement in this ecosystem and the growing presence of landscape designers within a sector that has traditionally paid little attention to it is likely to accelerate. Up to now ‘designer finishes’ and fixtures have been the focus for fitouts. However, what we see emerging within the commercial sector is more attention being paid to landscape design and the incorporation of plants and ‘green walls’ into fitouts, as well as the introduction of roofscaping – given an opportunity.
OPPORTUNITIES – RETROFITTING
The emergence of landscape design within the commercial sector is noteworthy and reflects the changing environment in which business is performed. You would be forgiven for doing a second take at the sight of a robust, healthy tree or a grove of vibrant palms thriving in a mid-city corporate foyer. You would also appreciate the sense of well-being that ensues as you experience and interact with the space, and for good reason.
For most city workers, office spaces and corporate foyers are the first semi-private spaces they experience after locking their front door. The spaces that employers choose to occupy and create for employees express the values of the company and the way they want to be perceived. In this age of ‘going green’, building owners will increasingly experience pressure from tenants to provide spaces that not only meet physical efficiency requirements, but also provide a sense of well-being and connectedness to demonstrate their values and a commitment to the health and happiness of employees.
‘Greening’ contemporary buildings is the issue of the day, and while there is a lot of talk about the physical benefits of energy efficiency, water conservation and recycling, there is also a humanistic side to going green. Bringing landscaping indoors – interiorscaping – is a visual demonstration of a company’s commitment to sustainability: a position that has both physical and psychological benefits. Studies have shown that, particularly for new generations entering the workforce, a corporate commitment to sustainability is an important factor to attract and retain new talent and a natural visual connection will only strengthen positive sentiment towards an organisation.
SOUNDS & TOXINS
Apart from their strong aesthetic appeal, plants attenuate sound, remove harmful toxins generated by office equipment (e.g. printers) and improve general air quality. There is also a high correlation between the presence of plants and increased retail expenditure. Plants facilitate way finding, can be used to create different privacy zones and enhance collaboration in work settings. The presence of nature indoors therefore results not only in happier, healthier employees, but higher business productivity, increased asset value, higher rent yields and higher tenant and employee retention.
New buildings are increasingly marrying the natural and built environment to create spaces that feel and function in a more natural way. Brisbane City Hall is a good example. The building is designed around four atrium spaces which historically had been taken up with air-conditioning equipment and other plant required to maintain the function of the building.
Rationalising the location and reducing the size of equipment have now transformed the atriums into ‘green lungs’. Each atrium is planted with trees from the rainforests of South-East Queensland, providing spaces that are more useful, more nurturing, more humanistic and less austere than a typical foyer or atrium. It demonstrates Brisbane City’s values of sustainability and the desire to be an employer of choice, and awakens people to the importance of conserving the biodiversity on earth that has so much yet to teach us.
ON THE ROOF
One of HBO+EMTB’s Perth clients is also exploring the nexus between natural and man-made environments by converting a rooftop car park into a garden as part of their retrofit. Aiming for a 5 Star Green Star rating by demonstrating a ‘Change of Ecological Value’ – and banking on a reduction in the use of cars by employees – the client has provided a lunchtime oasis for workers, which is a virtual extension of the nearby bushland of Kings Park.
At Australian Catholic University, a retrofitted rooftop was covered with turf and eco-compatible extruded clinker pavers made from earth and recycled terracotta with extremely low porosity and minimal heat conduction, thereby providing excellent insulating properties. The turf provides seating and green space and reduces runoff in an otherwise high-use environment, while the choice of pavers demonstrates a concern for the sustainability of the manufacturing processes used to produce them. They are made in a factory where the water is constantly recovered, purified and recycled; in addition, and the powders extracted from filters and production reject material are recovered and reverted back into the manufacturing cycle. The firing system saves up to 30 percent on combustion gas energy compared to other plants, and the hot air present in the kilns is recovered and sent to the dryers, then used during the slow drying of the pavers.
The rooftop serves as the central student space while providing benefits to the building below and plays a key role in low-energy strategies underpinning the retrofit. There is also a sympathetic connection to the adjacent heritage building. Over time, this rooftop.
With all the abovementioned factors supporting the ideal of bringing nature indoors, what is the future of interiorscaping? As the world faces a tipping point in regard to the sustainability of our planet, the common conscience is shifting towards re-establishing a bond with nature. Enjoying the aesthetic and feel-good notion of nature in the workplace is the beginning of something more innate as we explore what it means to live sustainably with the resources we consume. As humans, we crave interaction with our world and the things we feel strongly about. In our working lives, many of us will see nature being put back to work within the built environment, cleaning our air, growing our food and strengthening the deep connection that we share with the world by bringing the outside in.
In China, for instance, working vegetable gardens are being used in a commercial context, with employees participating in the gardening experience to grow food, which is then used in the staff canteen. Gardens don’t have to be in a fixed location – portable gardens, grown in geo-textile bags, provide flexibility and encourage ownership.
What if supermarkets were more like market gardens, with modular garden beds wheeled in and out as necessary to allow customers to pick their herbs and vegetables straight from the ground? Quirky ‘pick your own’ orchards along the roadside could be commonplace even in suburbia. Green spaces within the city could even be used to cultivate food, with individuals or businesses renting plots of land.
While Mandatory Disclosure in Australia is not scheduled to commence until October this year there can no question the trend to greener environments, in all senses of the phrase, is rapidly gathering pace. Owners and lessees have seen the future.