Green Office Design Guide: Creating a Sustainable Workspace

Green Office Design: Eco-Friendly Solutions from Blueprints to Launch

By Jennifer Sy

Considering how much the construction industry contributes to our carbon footprint, sustainability has become a priority from the design stage right through to the realization of buildings and the offices they host. As we become more aware of our impact on the environment, it also becomes increasingly apparent that we must reduce our carbon footprint, minimizing the waste we produce. Eco-friendly solutions are now an absolute priority for many businesses and organizations.

The goal of green office design is to significantly reduce our impact and our buildings’ impact on our environment by incorporating green elements and eco-friendly methods into both the design and construction of offices. From energy-saving technology to recycling, sustainable materials, and energy sources, going green has never been more vital to our planet and our health.

While new designs and constructions are more eco-friendly featuring reduced energy consumption, often the real challenge lies in repurposing or upgrading existing buildings. This means we need to decarbonize existing edifices. The importance of sustainable office design has never been greater.

An organization’s impact on the environment is measured by things like the reduction of an office’s carbon emissions, the recycling of plastics, wastewater discharge, and a reduction of harmful chemical emissions in the products used.

What Is Green Office Design?

Green office design refers to the design and building of office spaces that produce the minimum possible effect on the hosting environment and conserves resources such as energy and water. When an office design is considered green, it is friendly to the environment and efficient in its use of resources whether through the use of sustainable or recycled materials to the integration of natural light and natural ventilation in the design phase. Harvesting daylight, incorporating occupancy sensors, and renewable energy sources are at the foundation of green office design.

The objective of green office design is to create a workplace that is both energy-efficient and environmentally friendly.

Green Office Design: A building seen from the air, surrounded by green spaces and with rooftop gardens

Why Is Sustainability Important to the Workplace?

Designing and constructing new offices is crucial to meeting the challenges presented by climate change and the impact that our edifices have on CO2 emissions. Many carbon emissions are produced by buildings with a part emitted specifically from building materials and referred to as ‘embodied carbon’. ‘Embodied carbon’ refers to buildings’ floor area or the continued expansion of additional buildings. 

Other emissions refer to ‘operational carbon’ and are produced by daily operations. ’Operational carbon’ signifies emissions from daily use. With so many buildings already in existence, decarbonizing these and safeguarding future carbon emissions is urgent.

The use of renewable energy, building, and furnishing materials that have a low impact, and the maximizing of energy efficiency are crucial elements in achieving green office design and realization. 

Green offices in general can provide healthier and more enjoyable work environments which may, in the long term, boost employee productivity.

Determining and Achieving Sustainability Goals

Determining what your sustainability goals are before the design process begins is essential to your success. Deciding before the designs are set to paper will assist in saving both time and money. Once you have established your sustainability objectives, the design process can begin. There are various ways to achieve eco-friendly goals while still achieving your aesthetic style and the space’s functionality. When designing and building your office, consider

  • Minimize the materials you use. Reduce the materials used in your office design to the essentials. Open-space plans can contribute to reducing the number of materials employed. Select materials that can be recycled infinitely like aluminum.
  • Sourcing locally both construction materials and office furniture and equipment. By choosing to acquire locally you will need less energy when transporting those materials, thus reducing the carbon footprint. Local suppliers will probably carry materials that are selected for the local climate, and you will be contributing to the local economy. 
  • Acquire office furnishings that are manufactured with eco-friendly materials. Make specific choices when selecting materials to reduce the use of ‘embodied carbon’. Look for attractive natural materials and renewable materials. Selecting office furnishings can be quite the challenge when attempting to prioritize environmental protection and business functionality in the organization of your office. 

When selecting furnishings, look for furniture that uses eco-friendly or recycled materials. When selecting woods look for certification that the supplies come from responsibly managed forests and lumber suppliers. Select furniture that is 100% plastic-free and that uses recycled fabrics such as silk, hemp, or flax, when possible. Also, consider new fabrics made from recycled marine plastic waste.

  • Invest in office furniture that is long-lasting and multi-functional. Long-lasting furniture means that it is also more sustainable as your furnishings do not need to be replaced as often. True sustainability implies that your furnishings will have the longest lifespan possible. This reduces consumerism and waste.

Quality furnishings also have the advantage of eventually being repurposed. Many companies now choose to upcycle, searching for new ways of using furniture within office spaces.  Green materials include bamboo, sustainable timber, and mushroom leather. Better to repair than replace and this does not apply only to furnishings but can include repairing flooring, walls, stairs, and even light fixtures.

Multifunctional furnishings are also a sustainable option as they can be used in a variety of ways in various locations within an office space. Height adjustable desks are just one example of furnishings that provide increased flexibility and therefore potentially increased and prolonged use.

  • Prioritize energy efficiency with LED or solar-powered lighting. This kind of lighting uses a lot less energy than fluorescent or incandescent lights and boasts a longer lifespan. Thus, they will be replaced less often and conserve energy resources in the process. Solar-powered lighting is even better as it is fueled completely by renewable energy, so it does not produce gas emissions or contribute pollutants in any way. Solar-powered lighting will save you money and reduce your carbon footprint. When installing energy-efficient lighting, extend this principle and install an energy-efficient HVAC system as well.
  • Conserve water. Don’t limit your conservancy efforts to energy but remember water consumption as well. Plan office kitchens, lunchrooms, and restrooms with water flow devices to minimize water consumption and reduce waste. 
  • Minimize waste. During building minimize the amount of waste your green office design produces. This will contribute to limiting embodied carbon. 
  • Opt to introduce biophilic elements into the design of your office space. The biophilic design philosophy integrates natural elements into the built office environment. This philosophy promotes the connection between humans and nature to increase well-being. It may include increased use of natural lighting, natural materials like wood or stone, and views of the outdoors when possible. Greening your office also can improve indoor air quality and improve your brand’s image by demonstrating your commitment to sustainability.

Typical biophilic design elements might include green garden roofs, water elements, plants, natural shapes, and specific natural spaces for relaxing and socializing. Many of these elements can contribute to less need for artificial lighting or heating and cooling, saving on energy consumption and reducing your office’s carbon footprint. Natural lighting is a fundamental component of green office design as it contributes significantly to improving employee well-being and your office’s productivity.

  • Employ Green Retrofitting. Green credentials will wane over time as natural degradation takes place. HVAC systems may become less efficient with age permitting heating or cooling to escape. If you are not building a new edifice, renovate your existing office location with the intent of reducing carbon emissions. Substituting systems with new, state-of-the-art technology, as well as updating doors and windows are a great way to reduce carbon emissions.
  • Introduce smart technology. Smart building technology such as commercial access control, security camera monitoring, motion sensor lighting, or HVAC systems that automatically adjust will contribute to reduced energy consumption and reduced carbon emissions as well as your office’s operational expenses.
An indoor shot of the rooftop lounge at Restoration Hardware Nashville.
An indoor shot of the rooftop lounge at Restoration Hardware Nashville.

The Benefits of Green Office Design

Eco-friendly, sustainable office design offers a variety of benefits, not least of which is reducing carbon emissions. Other benefits include:

  • Reducing operational energy bills
  • Improving your company’s or brand’s reputation
  • Improved employee well-being
  • Higher employee retention 
  • Attracting new talent
  • Retaining customers
  • A functional and welcoming office environment

In Conclusion

The reduction of energy consumption and carbon emissions, reducing water consumption through flow control devices and meterage in restrooms, selecting responsible materials, and recycling existing materials can help you realize a green office beginning at the design stage right up until when you open your office for business.

Before beginning your design process, determine your green priorities. Select a company committed to sustainable designing and building. Request a detailed assessment of the environmental impact your office design may have due to your choice of materials, furnishings, and the building process employed.

A final suggestion if you are building new: choose a location that can be reached either by walking or by using public transport. Locations not well-served by public transportation translate into more carbon emissions from automobile use. If you are unable to influence the location with regard to public transport, at least encourage car-pooling!

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