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Coming Up Roses: What Flowers Can Teach Corporate Occupiers About Sustainability

Oct 24, 2023
The term “sustainability” was first used in the context of environmentalism in 1972. Since then, the concept has spawned countless “green” initiatives.

Guest Post by Darcy Utting, Senior Principal Design, Unispace New Zealand


The term “sustainability” was first used in the context of environmentalism in 1972. Since then, the concept has spawned countless “green” initiatives. Yet 50 years later, humans are emitting more carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere than ever before, according to the International Energy Agency. Organizations need to evolve from a pick-and-choose approach to sustainability to one that is holistic. For corporate occupiers, the Living Building Challenge (LBC) provides a roadmap for how to achieve that.


The LBC comprises guidelines that, if adhered to strictly, result in workspaces and buildings that are not just climate neutral but regenerative, meaning that they have a net positive impact on the environment and their communities. These standards are onerous and will not be suitable for every organization. Still, they offer a useful framework for any company seeking to do more to combat climate change. A recently completed project in Auckland, New Zealand, built in adherence with LBC standards, offers a glimpse into how the LBC standards can be applied. The project, a 6,500 square foot office, was constructed by Unispace for Arup, a global engineering consultancy.


The seven petals of the Living Building Challenge


The ultimate goal of the LBC is to create buildings that emulate flowers, which receive all of their energy from the sun and water from the sky, shelter organisms and support the surrounding ecosystem. Like flowers, structures should also inspire and enthrall those who interact with them. This metaphor is reflected in the LBC’s seven performance areas, or “petals,” which Unispace and Arup followed closely as they created the latter’s office:


  1. Place


    By choosing to establish the new workspace in a century-old warehouse that had been converted into contemporary offices, Arup and Unispace minimized disturbance to the surrounding environment and community. The office’s location – in Auckland’s central business district, just steps from both a commuter rail station and ferry terminal – also meets this petal’s mandate to promote connected communities that are pedestrian-friendly and encourage sustainable density.


  2. Water


    Through the use of efficient taps, showers and toilets, Arup’s new Auckland office uses 30% less water than a space of this size normally would. Water consumption is actively monitored to ensure that it remains at acceptable levels and identify areas for improvement.


  3. Energy


    The office is powered by 100% renewable energy and, thanks to the use of sensors that ensure lights are only used when needed, uses 35% less of it than a traditional office. The office layout maximizes the basebuild’s zoned air conditioning, reducing energy consumption, while allowing occupants to control airflow and temperature.


  4. Health & Happiness


    Zoned air conditioning also helps Arup’s new office meet LBC guidelines addressing indoor air quality and thermal comfort. The standards also state that workspaces should incorporate elements like greenery and the sound of running water, which have been shown to improve employee morale and productivity. To meet this requirement, Arup and Unispace not only distributed native plants throughout the office, but also incorporated into the office’s décor natural raw materials from the local environment, like logs and river stones, that occupants can see and touch.


  5. Materials


    The project used recycled and salvaged materials where possible, including the last 130 reclaimed bricks from the basebuild, salvaged sliding doors and acoustic paneling, repurposed furniture and a countertop in the kitchen made from 5,000 pieces of plastic waste. During construction, 99% of waste was diverted away from landfill by prioritizing material reuse, sorting offcuts directly on site to achieve the highest levels of recycling, and donating dust from plaster and wood for use in compostable toilets.


  6. Equity


    This petal of the LBC suggests that structures should be accessible to people of all abilities and backgrounds and should not inhibit anyone’s ability to enjoy natural light or clean air and water. These guidelines echo issues New Zealand’s native people, Māori, have faced for centuries involving land rights and resource protection. Unispace and Arup worked closely with cultural advisors to interweave Māori values and culture into the design of the new office space.


  7. Beauty


Many of the seven petals come together to deliver an inspiring and inviting space. While the building façade radiates history and heritage, the locally sourced timber and recycled bricks imbue the interior with a warmth that feels both urban and natural. Biophilic design introduces textures, sounds and smells that one would normally only encounter outdoors. Finally, an abundance of natural light energizes the space.


When it comes to sustainability in real estate, the time for half-measures has passed. Organizations must adopt holistic sustainability practices that not only stem the progression of climate change but help reverse its affects. This is no small task, but Unispace and Arup have shown that regenerative office space can be done.


Darcy Utting is Senior Principal Design, Unispace New Zealand

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