Syntegra’s Quick Guide to Green Office Measures

If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon” – the warning from the revered naturalist Sir David Attenborough as he declared climate change “our greatest threat in thousands of years”.

His declaration, along with the Paris Agreement, an increasing number of scientific reports into the extent of the climate crisis and more visible demonstrations the world over by ever younger protestors, have brought environmental awareness to a new high and it’s time to capitalise on that in our work life.

Here at Syntegra, we make our business out of helping clients operate in the most sustainable ways possible throughout the built environment.

We work with them on major developments, from the design and planning stage through to implementation and ongoing maintenance and overhaul.

We advise on site and engineering considerations, large scale operating systems and regulatory compliance. These are our areas of expertise and clients are prepared to invest heavily in our services (for which we are naturally very grateful).

But acknowledging the climate emergency and doing something about it doesn’t have to remain the domain of big business or developers designing out heavy carbon footprints. Everyone can play their part, and most households are now geared up to recycle as much rubbish as possible and think twice about leaving the TV on standby overnight, the thermostat several degrees too high for too long or the lights on in every room in the house. Some have gone further and installed solar roof panels or invested in an electric vehicle. All very laudable and we hope that trend continues to expand.

But there is still more that can be done in our office environment and we believe that collective responsibility is key to the success of awareness raising initiatives so we produced this brochure to highlight of a few simple cost effective ways to ‘green’ your business without opting for the big ticket items we manage for companies.

In 2018 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report confirmed that we have until 2030 to take action to avoid global climate disaster – just 11 years from now.

But research indicates that only 10% of companies have set a carbon reduction target and while individual employees support the idea of reducing carbon emissions, most do not believe their organisation is doing enough to involve them in these goals. It is clear that businesses have more to do.

Sustainability is profitable within a very short timeframe when businesses take the plunge and change working practices or implement new initiatives so fears over the bottom line should not be an excuse.

And with more and more environmentally savvy consumers, sustainability is an excellent brand badge to maintain a company’s competitive edge in their field.

We all know (or should know) about the relative merits of recycling our paper, card, glass and plastic waste – or simply using less of those materials in our everyday lives. Such thinking should be central to our business life and second nature in our habits.

But other measures have as much, if not greater, impact on our carbon footprint and lead to an all round more sustainable way of living our lives and this affecting the planet.

The built environment is key to this and there are a raft of measures that can be introduced, many at low cost and without expert intervention

Others which lie more in the fabric of the design, can be implemented with advice from consultants like ourselves.

Typically, a happy workforce is a healthy workforce (and vice versa) so it is in everyone’s interest to operate in an environment which is not detrimental to health.

WELL building certification and assessments by BREEAM for use of low VOC materials, for example, can act as drivers for businesses to take such issues into account.

Air quality is vital – yet often overlooked as an element for consideration, despite the health and economic impacts of poor air quality, both internal and external, becoming major talking points in the construction and medical worlds.

Paint, carpets, even furnishings, can all have an impact on the internal air quality and assessments on materials can be conducted to minimise pollutants.

High levels of CO2 in a building are harmful to health. They increase absenteeism and reduce cognitive performance but ventilation systems can increase energy consumption.

As a quick fix, indoor plants can be used to remove many harmful pollutants from the air, thus improving human health and reducing the need for reliance on HVAC systems. They also aid building energy consumption by removing carbon dioxide and relative humidity regulation.

On a larger scale for increased efficiency, designers can incorporate entire green walls into buildings.

Local authorities often require an air quality assessment as part of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for new developments to protect the local residents and environment from poor air quality.

Here at Syntegra we provide expert air quality assessment services to help our clients achieve successful planning applications and ensure we help them from start to finish.

Lighting levels are also critically important for both energy consumption and personal wellbeing.

Exposure to natural sunlight is optimal but in an office environment, lighting can affect the body’s circadian rhythm which controls our ability to feel alert during daylight hours and sleepy at night.

It is now possible to install dimmable, colour changing lights to give brighter, bluer light in the middle of the day and dimmer light later in the day.

All efforts should also be taken in a workplace to avoid glare by shielding lamps and roof lights and altering the angle at which computer screens are used away from direct light, either natural or artificial.

When it comes to building planning and development, our team offers a range of daylight and sunlight assessment services.

Whether you are a developer, an adjoining owner or even a local authority, our daylight and sunlight assessment specialists are on hand to help with issues and factors of daylight and sunlight amenity and the potential environmental impact any development may have.

We are perfectly positioned to provide every aspect of daylight and sunlight assessment for your project; from initial feasibility advice, to formal assessments, development envelopes and daylight modelling, planning reports and guidance on rights of light compensation and mitigation advice.

Ventilation is increasingly focused on providing appropriate levels of fresh air for occupants rather than the space itself. It takes into account minimum fresh air requirements for hygiene, air quality, acoustics, safety , thermal comfort and draught levels and balances natural and artificial provision – simply being able to open a window might increase levels of pollution from outside, for example.

Now systems in developments, particularly in multi-use buildings, often feature variable air volume – the ability to reduce the flow of ventilation when fewer occupants are present to optimise air volumes and minimise energy costs.

Wirelessly connected components and sensors can determine occupancy levels and select appropriate ventilation levels. Heat pumps can also reduce operating costs in comparison with traditional district heating.

Noise levels are not always considered in an environmental audit of a workplace but they are important and it is crucial to distinguish between good and bad noise.

Health and Wellbeing is now seen as a fundamental part of sustainable development and the BREEAM appraisal method specifically rates these aspects.

To create a more productive workplace, internal noise levels should not be too high, but high enough in a shared office environment to ensure speech privacy. This includes noise from mechanical ventilation.

There should be effective sound insulation between rooms and reverberation time in rooms to ensure good speech, listening and working conditions.

We can offer both design stage assessment and final testing of all of the above, and they are all requirements of BREEAM section HEA 05.

From acoustic assessments to ensure your compliance with the Noise at Work 2005 and the Vibration at Work Regulations 2005, to advice from our acoustic consultants on remedial measures needed to achieve compliance, the Syntegra Group offers everything your business needs to assess noise and vibration in the workplace.

In addition, we also offer a fully comprehensive range of complimentary acoustic testing and design services, including Environmental Noise Assessments, BREEAM Hea 05 and Pol 05 credit contributions, and Noise at Work assessments. Our consultants are members of the Institute of Acoustics and Syntegra is a member of the ANC (the trade association for acoustics, noise, and vibration consultancy practices).

Once you’re occupying it, you can maintain an ongoing relationship with us for tips,  strategies and assessments but also take ownership of some of the day to day policies and practices that will ensure the smooth running of a (hopefully happy), healthy and sustainable building.

So what, exactly, can be done relatively quickly and cost effectively?

  • Recycling bins. Obvious, maybe, but a quick and easy to introduce scheme for all buildings, no matter the size or purpose. Compost bins for food waste should also be considered.
  • Use recycled paper for copiers and other admin resources. Ensure toner cartridges and batteries are recycled and encourage all staff to reuse paper for notes.
  • Think before you print – most items do not need to be printed out and are appropriate to remain in digital format.
  • Make sure all office equipment and lights (with energy efficient bulbs) are switched off overnight.
  • Encourage your team to open windows where possible rather than adjusting the dial on the A/C.
  • The use of public transport for commuting to and from the building should be encouraged and where possible, the creation of a carpool scheme is recommended.
  • Consider investing in an EV charging point on site.
  • Switching to a green energy provider or ensuring that the current company offers a tariff that support research or has a ‘green’ element to it rather than relying on coal-powered schemes.
  • Virtual meetings should be considered whenever possible to reduce travel and associated emissions.
  • Put friendly notices up next to washbasins urging people to use less water.
  • Introduce houseplants into offices to help reduce CO2 levels. Plants are proven to remove pollutants and improve indoor air quality by removing CO2 and can alleviate the symptoms of sick building syndrome
  • Support schemes such as National Tree Week and volunteer to plant trees (to help balance our CO2 footprint):
  • Use Non-toxic cleaning products.
  • Encourage staff to use mugs, glasses, dishes and cutlery rather than disposable items.
  • Use mobile devices or overhead projectors to display meeting agendas rather than printing and distributing them.
  • Where possible, purchase products that are made from post-consumer content (materials have been collected back from previous products and remade into new ones) such as paper and plastic products. Paper clips and staplers made  with reused materials are now available.
  • Good ventilation to avoid indoor air pollution and raised levels of CO2 which have been linked with headaches, dizziness and poor concentration, damaging productivity.
  • When replacing wall and floor coverings, opt for those with low VOC levels.
  • Design lighting to improve wellbeing. Find the right balance between artificial light and natural daylight which is the best for good health. Research suggests daylight has a significant positive impact on health and wellbeing. It helps avoid sleep disruption and allows restorative sleep and provides a work environment which has a positive impact on alertness and performance. Conversely, poor lighting has been linked to sleep disruption and its associated health concerns.

While not exhaustive, and not touching upon the CapEx projects associated with business running costs, we hope this is a user-friendly guide you can share with all employees (electronically, of course!) to keep thoughts of tackling climate change to the fore at all times during their working day. The more we encourage this in the workplace, the more likely business owners will see the benefits of further investment in sustainable modifications, the more people will continue such positive habits at home, the more measures will be put in place to tackle this international crisis, now officially identified as an ‘environment and climate emergency’.