Sustainability is more and more a topic of discussion among workplace managers. Most organisations are working hard to become sustainable as it is also quite a difficult challenge. Reducing energy consumption, sustainable interior, and lighting are a few aspects that help you to move towards net-zero carbon emissions. In this blog, we give some pointers on how to achieve this. However, if we look at the figure made by several researchers below, we see that sustainability is just the first step. Moving towards positively contributing workplaces means that we move towards restorative-, and eventually regenerative workplaces. But what does that mean and how can we achieve this? In this blog, we will answer: how can we move towards a regenerative workplace?
How can we move to a sustainable workplace?
Reducing the impact of your workplace is an important step towards a sustainable workplace, and will contribute either way to a regenerative workplace. So here are some pointers that make your workplace more sustainable.
Limit office heating
There are several ways to reduce energy consumption within the office. The most impactful is office heating. Occupancy has been dramatically low (35% on average) according to our own data. This enables managers to take several actions to use the office more efficiently reducing energy costs, and thus becoming more sustainable. The first one is to close parts of the buildings or entire buildings. The second one is to limit office opening hours, many offices are open until the evening hours, while most, if not all employees already left home. The last one is to turn down the average heating temperature (from 20 to 18 degrees Celsius for example). However, you might not want to prevent people to come to the office at all. So, one could also limit these actions outside of office hours, distinguishing comfort hours (e.g. 9-17) versus normal hours (e.g. 7-9 and 17-19).
Efficient use of electronic devices
Our data shows that laptop use has been increasing over the past years while desktop computer work has been reducing. Energy-wise this is smart because laptops use between 15 and 60 watts while desktop computers range between 60 and 250 watts (source). Energy usage can be further optimized by setting up efficient sleep modes for all devices within the office. Too often screens, lightbulbs, and heaters keep radiating light while nobody’s watching.
Refurbishing the whole office with new sustainable furniture, carpets, and artwork made from recycled materials might be something you desire. There are many brands that build very pretty chairs and desks from PET waste, hemp and other recycled materials. The Plastic Whale by Vepa is a very inspiring example of this. However, if your current furniture is still functioning well, letting go of it will only increase the pile of waste, while building circular furniture also consumes (some) energy. Just like the high carbon footprint of fast fashion, we might need to move to slow offices too with durable and sustainable products.
In terms of lighting, moving towards LED lighting is a good step. LED lighting can save up to 75% of energy compared to regular lighting. Next to that, energy consumption can also be largely reduced with smart lighting. People often leave meeting rooms while keeping the lighting on, so installing lighting with motion sensors can improve energy efficiency.
How can we move to a restorative workplace?
Restorative practice is the first step towards a net positive world and is about contributing and giving back to nature. As an organisation, you can find ways to restore the environment. Below we’ll just describe ways to restore the workplace outside and within the building, but it is of course also possible to work, as an organisation, on restoring the external environment or restoring damages caused by production processes.
Rewilding and improving biodiversity outside the building
Due to hybrid working we, at Measuremen, see very low occupancy percentages (35.7%). By letting go of property you can give nature more space to regrow (but this might be unrealistic for many readers). More simply, you can also restore parking spaces and remove unnecessary tile to grow more nature around your building in the form of a garden or rewild your property space. You can improve biodiversity by letting go of grass lawns. The iconic grass lawns have diverse negative effects on ecology. For example, they are a form of monoculture that doesn’t facilitate a safe space for insects or birds. You can further support biodiversity by building insect hotels, birdhouses, bat houses, and other animal spaces. Installing green roofs are also great, as they act as a rainwater buffer, purifies the air, reduce the ambient temperature, regulates the indoor temperature, saves energy and encourages biodiversity in the city.
Biophilic design inside the building
Increasing the number of plants might be not very substantial in restoring nature, but biophilic design is a trend that has proven scientifically to support the well-being of humans through designing with natural elements and structures. Appreciation of nature within the workplace through moss walls, giant banana plants, or company gardens, are small steps towards restoring nature, but possibly big steps towards eco-awareness.
How can we move towards a regenerative workplace?
Regeneration usually means giving the resources the time to regrow again before using them, it’s a circular approach of sustaining the balance with nature. However, regeneration in biology, is about animals who can regrow their limbs or tails, like how lizards can regrow their tail when they lost it. Although regeneration is now mostly used as restoring nature on time, the model above shows that regeneration is actually co-evolving with nature. So for a real regenerative workplace we need some imagination and future-thought.
Luckily, the writer of this blog, Justin Timmer, has visualized and written about future regenerative offices on his website. Justin imagines a future where the building is living and made from growing biomaterial. The walls and furniture in this office can grow and regenerate. They will consume carbon, filter drinking water, and produce energy just like plants do. The office will function as an ecosystem for all its inhabitants. We still need a lot of research to reach this regenerative future but some researchers are working on it. Read more on his website.
In this future, we’ve embodied and sculpted the natural growth of biomaterial while combining it with new technologies (e.g. AI, the Internet of things and sensor technology). Where you won’t find many desks or walls with 90-degree angles. Just like nature, furniture can now adaptively respond to the (ergonomics) of its users through Ai and bio-sensors. Broken furniture will heal itself, and innovations can just be applied to the existing furniture, you don’t have to buy new stuff anymore. You could expand and change the shape of screens and furniture like clay, while it calculates and adapts based on the pressure the user exhibits on it.
In this future, meeting rooms can shrink and expand adaptively based on demand and desire. While sound panels move fluently to optimize the sound distribution and change based on privacy preferences. The colour pallet of the design could also change based on the activity and desires of its inhabitants.
There are still many steps to take towards a sustainable future, let alone a regenerative future. But we hope we gave some useful tips on how we can move towards a regenerative workplace. Nevertheless, a sustainable workplace has only a small impact compared to the effect of an organisation when it comes to production and business practices. If an organisation has destructive production processes, having a sustainable workplace seems only to be a form of green window dressing. Nevertheless, a sustainable workplace might inspire employees to change their way of working and eventually change the business model. Changing the mindset of people is pivotal when creating a sustainable workplace and organisation, and the workplace can facilitate this change.