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GreenTech: The changing parameters of sustainability

What it means to be sustainable now is very different from what it meant 10 years agowrites Adam Tillis, building director at Bruntwood.

It’s a positive evolution driven by emerging technology that is helping to push the boundaries of workspace design. But with things developing so rapidly, there’s a risk that businesses may get left behind. This is why we have to ensure the workplaces we’re creating now offer futureproof sustainability – but what does this look like and what benefits does it offer to businesses, their employees and the environment?

The wellbeing factor

Health and wellbeing play a major role in today’s sustainable workplace. As the lines between the office and home continue to blur, the next generation of employees expect their workspaces to offer comfort and stimulation while supporting a healthy body and mind. They also want to work in eco-friendly offices. The modern sustainable workspace should help businesses win the war for talent by being green and healthy in equal measure.

We’re talking offices that maximise natural light and fresh air, and spaces that embrace biophilic design – literally bringing nature into the workplace though planting and the use of natural forms and materials, with the added advantage of increasing oxygen levels, reducing mental fatigue and boosting productivity to boot.

Tech is opening up new possibilities here too – with advancements like urban farming, meaning companies can actually grow healthy, sustainable produce for their food and beverage amenities on their own rooftops, using hydroponic and aquaponics systems. This has the added benefit of cutting down the supply chain carbon footprint and is an innovation we’re currently exploring on behalf of our customers.

When it comes to helping keep us active, office-based sensor technology can be used to monitor how individuals are using their workspaces – raising flags to prevent too much screen time, encourage good posture and stop people from becoming too sedentary.

And what if you could keep fit and power an office at the same time? This sustainability double whammy is something we’re hoping to help our workspace users exploit soon, with the introduction of shared exercise bikes that generate energy as employees cycle, producing pedal power to be fed into a storage battery for use at the optimal time.

This all goes far beyond what was viewed as sustainable just a few years ago, but businesses wanting to get ahead of the curve should actively pursue workspaces that support the health of their staff.

It’s an approach that’s certainly paid off for Hilson Moran, whose office at our Neo building in Manchester was recently awarded the first UK WELL Certified Gold rating outside of London. The rating is a quality certification system developed with scientists, healthcare and industry professionals to measure how a project’s design and operations benefit customer health and wellbeing.

Buildupp, Chris Snook Photography, Hilson Moran

Hilson Moran’s office at Neo in Manchester was awarded the first UK WELL Certified Gold rating outside of London. Credit: Chris Snook Photography

Ever-improving energy efficiency

The sustainable offices of the future need to be ultra-energy efficient. Technology can make this happen and that’s why we designed the Bright Building in Manchester Science Park to be one of Europe’s most tech-enabled developments.

It features best of breed, interoperable technologies such as hyper-location services that give a real-time overview of building use, and environmental sensors. This lets us map the carbon footprint of each individual business operating in the building – helping to monitor energy consumption, study how their space is being used and make changes to increase efficiency. It’s a smart building, designed to be kinder to the environment, help customers reduce their energy costs and ensure workspaces are being used in the most efficient way possible.

Powered by renewables

Renewable energy technology has the power to shrink the carbon footprint of our workspaces. If we want to be carbon neutral, renewables are the way forward. Across our workspace portfolio we’re looking at how we can harness renewable energy to help drive sustainability. This ranges from the installation of photovoltaic panels, like the ones that will soon feature at our 111 Piccadilly workspace building in Manchester, to the introduction of a lithium-ion Tesla Powerpack system, the most advanced commercial energy storage solution currently available, outside the Bright Building. The Powerpack gives Manchester Science Park the capability to store power from renewable sources – such as solar energy generated during the day – and distribute it efficiently at peak times, reducing reliance on the National Grid.

As a result, we envisage the Bright Building becoming an energy island – a completely self-sufficient workspace community in energy terms. And, as the first commercial developer in the UK to sign up to the Green Building Council’s Net Zero Carbon Commitment, which aims for new buildings to be net zero carbon emitting by 2030 and old buildings the same by 2050, we mean business.

Technology is allowing us to set new standards when it comes to developing sustainable workplaces. We’re going far beyond simply delivering offices that satisfy company sustainability policies and government regulations. It’s time to provide innovative workspaces that support healthy businesses, healthy employees and a healthy planet.

  • Adam Tillis is building director at Bruntwood

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