Taking a data-backed approach to sustainable offices
In light of Covid-19, travel restrictions and the adoption of flexible working arrangements have resulted in a general decrease in office occupation in the UK. Teams have adapted and embraced the use of teleconferencing, which has provided a convenient, low-carbon alternative to in-person meetings and is expected to be sustained, at least to some degree, in the future.
While substituting business travel and commuting with virtual and home-working solutions, carbon emissions can be greatly reduced, it is important to not forget about the carbon footprint of working from home. There can often be significant variance across an organisation, given the difference in energy suppliers, efficiencies and occupation of employee home-working stations.
The most significant challenges which we anticipate following a return to a “new normal” are sustained flexible working opportunities, increased resource use (specifically water) due to stricter hygiene measures and the embodied carbon associated with buildings that have reduced occupancy.
For many businesses, operational expenses will have been greatly reduced as a result of the Covid-19 restrictions. Financial savings may also have been realised as a result of early lease termination of buildings or company transport options. As such, there is no better time to be deploying this capital to develop and occupy sustainable solutions such as office spaces that meet the needs of current and future generations by aligning with decarbonisation and wider sustainability targets. With this, it is important to be careful about offices that claim to be ‘eco’ or ‘green’ which although noble may not necessarily be sustainable.
The first step in many sustainability journeys is gathering good quality data. Within your organisation, you should first understand your needs in terms of occupancy levels and how often and for how long employees are expected to work within the office during the week. It is also important to understand how your employees work and use the office space – is it typically in groups or at singular desks. This information will be useful to identify and develop offices that maximise value for your team. Externally, as we touched on earlier, there is a high risk of greenwashing within this space. There are sure to be offices that claim to be sustainable and eco-friendly without the data, validity and certifications to back their claims. By having a better understanding of the credible certification schemes used, like LEED and Green Building Certification, you can avoid paying a premium or be duped into greenwash.
The last piece of the puzzle is continuous data gathering and monitoring. To ensure you are maximising value and managing your impact, you should monitor your data. This can be done by implementing a software system, like Rio, to track performance – allowing you to better understand your current consumption and emissions and improve performance.
What does the UK’s sustainable office of the future look like?
Many of the UK’s biggest businesses are planning to downsize their office estates this year, while outlining plans to continue remote working post-lockdown. But are environmental considerations a driver, as well as Covid-19? And will the office of the future be truly sustainable?
Those are some of the questions edie is exploring in its new, free Explains guide on sustainable offices in the ‘new normal’, published and hosted in association with Rio ESG.
Daniel Botterill, Founder and Chief Executive, Rio ESG