Ecological office buildings – what are they all about?

At present, pro-ecological activities are not only becoming trendy – but also needed. In view of the climatic threats that await our planet, taking care of the environment is crucial at every step. The same goes for the office. And this does not just regard saving paper and segregating waste.

An office, in fact an office building, can be ecological in itself. How is that possible? Through the application of varied solutions not only inside the buildings  as well as their operation in a manner that is conducive to ecology, but also through the use of appropriate materials for their and spatial and structure layout, impacting the use of space and employees’ health. In terms of the number of ecological office buildings, Poland looks very good compared to other European cities.

How to measure ecology

The BREEAM and LEED certificates are the most well-known ways to measure this. The first is a certificate created in 1990 in Great Britain the second – in 1994 in the US. The British certificate is more popular in Poland and throughout Europe, which does not change the fact that many Polish buildings can boast the LEED certificate, more popular in other parts of the world. Both are applicable to new and existing facilities that were not built with certification in mind. In the case of the latter, however, certificates must be renewed (BREEAM must be confirmed every year and a full audit is conducted every three years, LEED – is confirmed every three years, and an audit is conducted every five years). The conditions that must be met to obtain the certificate are very strict. The categories that are assessed include: location, design process, construction management, systems and characteristics of the facility. The most important, however, are the uncompromising requirements regarding energy efficiency and the comfort of use of the building. Ecological solutions are also important, such as the use of regional and recycled materials, the use of modern and effective installations, etc. In the case of BREEAM, the buildings are assessed in the following categories (management, health and well-being, energy, transport, water, materials, waste, land use and ecology, pollution and innovation), each with a specific number of points to be awarded in order to be certified. This is awarded at various levels – the scale ranges from Pass as the lowest, Good, Very Good, Excellent, and Outstanding ranks highest. To receive this, 85 percent of the points must be achieved. So far only two buildings in Poland have managed to do so. In the case of LEED, Certified is the lowest level, followed by Silver, Gold and Platinum is the highest. Seven categories are assessed in this case.

 

BREEAM and LEED in practice

From buildings that boast ecological solutions, especially those confirmed by certificates, we can expect primarily technological solutions that reduce the building’s energy consumption, such as the maximum use of solar energy and its conversion into electricity, heat, hot water, the use of cold air from the outside to cool the building inside, collect and use rainwater and gray water from showers and toilets, e.g. for the irrigation of green areas, the use of glass with optimal parameters of solar energy transmittance and the use of materials produced in the region for construction, which reduces transport and thus CO2 emissions. Some office buildings also use astronomical clocks that adjust the switching on and off of external lightning to sunrise and sunset. In everyday use, in return, elements such as the use of taps with motion sensors and two-phase toilet flushing in the bathrooms, energy-saving light sources with motion sensors, and even artificial intelligence that controls heating and lighting depending on the traffic intensity in a given part of the building, attract attention. In addition, factors that increase the comfort of work are taken into account, such as appropriate illumination using non-flickering high-frequency light, which does not tire the eyes and access to natural sunlight in all rooms in the building, maintaining an appropriate fresh air ratio, fast elevators, which  recover electricity while braking and acoustic ceilings, which are used to soundproof office space, thanks to which they significantly improve the comfort of work (over 70% of the material used for their production comes from recycled materials, e.g. glass waste from households). These ceilings have a high light reflectance, which helps to reduce electricity consumption and can additionally have a special hygienic coating that actively fights pathogenic microorganisms. All buildings that apply for BREEAM or LEED certification must have bicycle parking spaces. Increasingly, they are also equipped with electric vehicle charging stations.

In terms the health and well-being of employees, another certificate is becoming more and more popular – WELL (we will write more about this soon). It intends to show how friendly and a given workplace is to employees and to improve health. This is a very demanding certificate, and sever criteria are assessed here: air, water, lighting and access to natural light, guaranteeing employees access to healthy food and fitness services, the impact of the environment on the work of the mind and user comfort, with indoor plants being the most important element. All over the world, just over 1,500 buildings can boast of obtaining this certificate, two of them are located in Warsaw (Spark and Verso).

Caring for the environment is already a standard

Ecological solutions in office buildings do not only help to protect the environment and give hope for a better tomorrow, but also allow to reduce operating costs, which is of great importance for tenants. Today, no developer will build without pro-ecological standards – this is not only of marketing importance, but also affects the competitiveness of the office building on the market. Ecology in construction is also followed by other solutions aimed at improving the natural environment, such as apiaries on roofs or green areas next to buildings, gardens, green areas that absorb smog, etc. Tenants pay attention not only to the convenient location and layout of the spaces, but also to solutions improving the comfort of work, reducing operating costs, but also more and more consciously conducting socially responsible businesses and this trend fits perfectly with ecology.