The benefits of sustainable design in commercial spaces

Horton Interiors Design Director, Neelanchana Kumar, shares her views on striking the right balance.

Sustainability should be a non-negotiable in modern commercial design, and the biggest impact comes when we integrate it into the early stages of a project. Attitudes in the region are changing, and building management firms and local authorities are doing a lot to make sustainable materials and practices the norm. However, it’s still not always a top priority from the clients’ perspective. That’s why it’s our job as architects, designers and contractors to educate them about the environmental and commercial advantages of designing sustainable spaces that meet the criteria for green building rating systems such as LEED. 

MNCs are usually the most aware about the benefits because they have corporate sustainability strategies in place. They see how creating a sustainable office environment can help them stay ahead of the curve as a preferred employer in a more socially and environmentally conscious recruitment landscape. They also understand the long-term cost savings from lowering energy consumption, using less water, and reducing maintenance expenses.

Features of sustainable buildings

For companies who are less familiar with what sustainable design means and the kind of improvements to expect, key aspects include:

  • Overall energy efficiency: We can increase a building’s efficiency using energy-efficient lighting systems incorporating LED lights, efficient HVAC systems, smart controls for occupancy monitoring and temperature regulation, and maximising natural daylight to reduce reliance on artificial lighting.
  • Renewable energy sources: Integrating renewable energy sources like solar panels helps to lower carbon footprint.
  • Efficient water usage: Implementing water-saving fixtures, such as low-flow faucets, toilets, and water-efficient appliances, minimises water consumption.
  • Indoor air quality: We can improve this through adequate ventilation systems, using low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) materials to lessen indoor air pollution, and incorporating natural ventilation whenever possible.
  • Sustainable materials: Using recycled content, responsibly sourced wood, low-emission paints and finishes, and sustainable flooring options (e.g., bamboo, cork, reclaimed wood) minimises the depletion of resources and reduces waste.
  • Waste management: Effective waste management systems, including recycling programs and composting, encourage responsible waste disposal within the office. This helps to divert materials from landfills and supports a circular economy approach.
  • Biophilic design: Bringing elements of nature into the office space can enhance well-being. This includes incorporating plants and natural materials, views of the outdoors, and green spaces or living walls.
  • Flexibility and adaptability: Designing flexible office spaces that can accommodate changing needs and adapt to different work styles and technologies promotes sustainability. These spaces can be easily reconfigured and repurposed reducing the need for extensive renovations or construction waste in the future.

Taking a responsible approach

Like all social movements, we need to ensure that sustainability isn’t just a box-ticking exercise. Again, it’s our job to educate clients enough to avoid ‘smart-washing’ in favour of an integrated and holistic approach to sustainable office design. A genuine commitment should be encouraged, and this can be done by:

  • Setting clear sustainability goals: Establishing measurable goals related to energy efficiency, water conservation, waste reduction, and employee well-being. 
  • Involving stakeholders: Engaging employees, stakeholders, and design professionals in the process to ensure a collaborative approach. 
  • Life-cycle thinking: Taking a life-cycle approach to office design by considering the environmental impact of materials, construction processes, and long-term operational needs.
  • Embracing innovative technologies: Incorporating cutting-edge sustainable technologies and solutions that align with the company’s goals. These could include energy management systems, smart lighting controls, occupancy sensors, and advanced building automation systems. 
  • Focusing on employee engagement and well-being: Recognising the importance of employee engagement and prioritising the well-being of users.
  • Monitoring and optimisation: Implementing monitoring systems to track energy consumption, water usage, indoor air quality, and other key sustainability metrics.
  • Exploring collaborations and partnerships: Foster collaborations with suppliers, contractors, and other stakeholders who share a commitment to sustainability. 

Overcoming challenges in a changing environment

As the tide continues to change, companies are understandably still navigating what it takes to create truly sustainable buildings. Some of the main considerations include the expense, a lack of understanding, regulatory compliance and existing infrastructure limitations. Organisations also need effective change management strategies, leadership commitment, and stakeholder engagement to create a shared vision. It’s not always straightforward to balance sustainability goals with other performance factors such as cost, functionality, and aesthetics, none of which should be compromised. Getting it right can be a complex task that requires careful design and decision-making.

If you are interested in speaking to our team about ways to make your space more sustainable, get in touch.