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Today it's hard to know what a sustainable office building looks like. A host of green classifications, Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (Leed) levels and marketing pushes are likely to confuse and drive companies away from an environmentally friendly office fit-out before it's even considered a solar panel.
An eco-friendly rating, such as the US Green Building Council's Leed, gives companies a benchmark to achieve and can be a great marketing tool for promoting green practices to partners, clients and employees.
Farzana Khan, Owner of Ur-bane Design Interior Solutions, says many companies are going green in the UAE. Operating for more than 15 years in the country, Khan has signed, executed and completed office and store fit-outs for regional and global giants including Al Futtaim, Mugg & Bean, Reckitt Benckiser and Krispy Chicken to name just a few.
''Fitting out an office while taking into consideration the environment is often difficult because it ultimately increases the cost,'' says Khan, who has also looked after Urbane's parent company Midas Interiors for the past 12 years. ''It is about understanding that although going green can seem a little expensive at first it's always cost-saving, not to mention planet-saving, in the long run.''
So just how important is going green? ''Legislation for building regulations, some already in place in the UAE, is setting certain standards, and it's only going to get more restrictive,'' says UK based office systems specialist Gerard Hanover. ''Most companies are on board with sustainability and can see the benefits that going green brings to their business.''
For example, look at the fact that Dewa charges can account for more than 30 per cent of the cost of running an office. It's the job of Mohammad Al Kasmi, a consultant for the electricity and water authority, to educate companies and workers about saving energy costs.
''Save on lighting by installing daylight-capture systems and motion-sensitive fittings,'' says Al Kasmi. ''Using a sub-metering system will help identify and manage high-energy consumption.''
Hanover believes the best way to save money on lighting is to not use any. ''Maximising natural brightness within and adopting a lighting control system are great ways to ensure that areas are not being lit unnecessarily,'' he says. ''This is an example of a system that is expensive to install but will save a lot as [low] Dewa bills start to roll in every month.''
There's more to fitting out an office than moving to a new space. At the same time, it can be exciting and reinvigorating. It's also likely to be one of the biggest financial outlays your company will have to make.
''First you hunt for the right fit-out design and contracting firm,'' says Khan. ''You want a one-stop shop to design and build — from mechanical, electrical and plumbing requirements to approvals to build and later completion certificates to take to the authorities in order to start operations. They should also be able to handle everything from furniture to flooring.''
The biggest factors to consider when fitting out an office are existing building services including Dewa power levels, AC output and drainage.
''Ideally a site survey should be done before taking the space if possible. This will help save costs for the future wherever required,'' adds Khan. Approved fire alarm companies will ensure Dubai Civil Defence requirements are met and reviewed regularly.
The world's most eco-friendly building
The Living Building Challenge (LBC), founded in 2006, outstrips all others when it comes to sustainable office design. Its flagship building — a 50,000-sq-ft commercial space in downtown Seattle called the Bullitt Center — is being called the greenest office building in the world.
With educational facilities on the ground floor and office space up top, the structure uses only 23 per cent of the energy typically required for a building of its size.
Denis Hayes, President of LBC, is also the founder of Earth Day and forked out $30 million (Dh110 million) to make it happen. The Bullitt Center can't contribute any waste to the environment; can only use as much water as can be harvested from rainwater; and must generate all its own energy.
Building materials must be locally sourced and can't contain any of 362 red-listed chemicals often found in construction materials. There's no onsite parking for cars, only spots for bicycles, and the building generates 100 per cent of its energy through the use of 14,300 sq ft of solar panels. Triple-pane, Argon-filled, low-emission, oversized 10 ft by 4 ft windows spanning the high-ceiling walls help draw natural light deep inside the structure and fulfil 82 per cent of all lighting needs.
With a frame made from sustainably harvested wood from within a 965-km radius, Seattle's first multi storey wood-frame building since 1926 will actually last 250 years, an incredible improvement over the typical 40-year framing life expectancy in most modern structures. With a 211,983-litre underground cistern, the Bullitt Center harvests Seattle's rainwater for all non-drinking needs. The LBC has a list of toxins builders must avoid and it took planners an extra year to figure out how to source materials without choosing ones with known toxins.
Source: Kelly Ann Crane, Special to Property Weekly