Earth Day 2020: Protecting the environment.

April 2020

On the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the world will need to appreciate the planet while remaining socially distant from each other.

As the environment is healing and restoring itself, it has provided a moment to assess how our individual actions and the way we conduct business can impact the world around us. Architects and designers have the benefit of being able to imagine a rather specific future, one where the office spaces we return to can be re-invented as healthier, more productive spaces, while considering their impact on local communities and the environment. From wherever you are isolating. Here are some key considerations to make your workspace more environmentally friendly.

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Extending the average office lifespan.

The average renovation life cycle for corporate office interiors is between 10-15 years, largely driven by lease cycles, which may shift due to economic and global conditions. When a new company moves in, or the existing tenants’ business has changed, the office is overhauled. Almost every piece of material is discarded in a landfill as walls, ceilings, flooring, wiring and furniture are rarely reused. A better solution is to design features that enable long-term tenants the flexibility and adaptability to have a space that changes with their needs. In the case of a required demolition, there are simple designs that can reduce this waste.

Let’s start by reducing waste and increasing the flexibility of the office environment, tapping into the global trend of raised floor systems which can be a beneficial investment for both landlords and future tenants. Raised flooring systems enable teledata, power and HVAC ductwork to flow through the floor instead of the walls and ceiling – sparing these from being ripped out in a demolition while improving cooling efficiency. As we look to the future of the design of newly constructed base buildings, we should consider making raised floor systems standard in all new installations.

New York City can also draw inspiration from Canada and use more demountable wall systems. These are modular walls that enable your office space to be reconfigured to adapt to a changing workforce – creating larger or smaller rooms as needed. Additionally, tenants can mount electronics such as TVs and speakers to create more flexibility and integrated digital capabilities.

Avoiding toxins.

As the global population increases and there is more need for spaces to work, live, learn and play, it leads to an increased demand for material goods, resulting in a rise in the rate of chemical production. Between 2012 and 2020 this rate is expected to increase by 35 %. The shift away from natural materials to man-made, chemical-based products has made it faster, easier and more efficient to build office interiors. But through this convenience, we have been exposed to new toxins that are damaging to the manufacturers, the people who install these products, employees and the environment.

Both volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs) are found in most indoor spaces from chemical detergents to insulation, paint and coating. We’ve undoubtedly made advances in ridding the world of harmful chemicals and toxins in materials, but we need to consider the entire life cycle of products and materials from manufacturing to safe disposal to reduce the environmental impact they may have.

In older structures, legacy chemicals such as lead, asbestos, and PCBs, which are largely restricted in manufacturing today may still be present and can bioaccumulate. At Spectorgroup we source alternative materials and solutions that meet strict industry safety standards. Designers should be asking manufacturers what ingredients are used in the products and understand the impact of those ingredients on people and the environment. Through the use of EPD and HPD documents provided by manufacturers, designers can select alternative materials based on research.

Sourcing natural materials.

Making “green” choices in the design process is simpler than one would think. This requires architects and interior designers to lead the way and push the perceptions away from man-made, harmful materials.

Take advantage of locally produced materials from natural resources and rely on basic materials like wood or recycled products. One recent shift in office culture has been a return to natural, imperfect wood veneering. Bamboo and cork are also ideal for interior finishing and are a useful alternative to non-sustainable interior designs.

In an increasingly environmentally sensitive and sustainable social climate, companies need to become innovative in recycling products for reuse and avoid all volatile inorganic compounds. Furniture options made from recycled plastics like water bottles or melted-down fishing nets are growing in popularity as society becomes more aware of how we consume and how our behavior impacts the world we live in.

Imagining your future and being in it.

Humans spend about 90% of their time indoors between work and home. According to WELL statistics, we breathe in 15,000 liters of air which is 4 times more than the food and liquid we consume. This makes it vitally important for building owners and professionals to implement design approaches that improve ventilation effectiveness, air filtration, air quality control, and microbe management. As Architects and Designers, we evolve and mold our design thinking to pioneer the future of design. As we celebrate Earth Day and reflect on the lessons we have learned; we recognize the value of a holistic design approach that improves the health of your employees and the world we all need to protect.