The importance of creating a sustainable workplace

- In this article, we examine some key considerations companies and designers take into account when contemplating sustainable workplace design for the future.

- From engineered wood to LED lighting, leveraging natural lighting and the usage of energy conserving blinds, as well as having a green supply chain and recycling bin operations, we are well on our way to a carbon neutral future.

The basic premise of the sharing economy has been the ability to more efficiently allocate resources at scale, and this is no different with the flexible workspace. Even just a decade ago, corporate offices were built on the principle of being long-term assets, with companies headquartered in the same location for decades.

This was reflected in the modularity of office furniture of the day. Furniture was marketed with long warranties of 10 years – to be disassembled and reassembled based on the changing needs of the office space, be it the cubicle, partitioning, or office suites.

With the advent of the internet age and fast-growing technology firms, office design has likewise shifted to a more “disposable” approach. Planning for flexibility, the typical firm has been reducing its capital expenditure (capex), and planned for the relocation and redesigning of their office space every few years. This is similarly reflected in office furniture selection that has been dumbed down, with speed and cost being the top consideration.

In response to sustainability being touted as a marketing buzzword, there has been a lazy response to greenwashing projects with recycled or eco-friendly materials. While this has led to a greater selection of products with sustainable qualities, what many do not address is sustainability measured on the full lifecycle of an office project – which has a far more considerable impact on the environment.

This is where flexible workspaces come in, providing companies with the option of taking only what they need at the time. Many corporates are now adopting a fixed and flex approach towards their real estate strategy. They may choose to build out a core headquarter location, but rather than risk creating shadow space by budgeting for growth, this expansion or seasonal requirement is passed on to a flexible workspace partner. Even more can be said of the smaller start-up, which has traded upfront capex projects for flexibility in the size of office and lease.

3 Ways to be a More Sustainable Workplace

Built with a long-term view to champion the future of work

Some of our peers in the industry have been criticised for taking a short-term approach to the business, looking to maximize profits by using cheap materials and cramming the maximum number of people into a space.

Inherently built into the flexible workspace model is a long-term view, with our typical leases potentially running through a decade. The flexible workspace industry has an opportunity to carry the baton of sustainability that many corporate office spaces have unfortunately had to relinquish. I believe that sustainability is synonymous with thoughtful design. My years of experience have allowed me to plan ahead for the way I see companies moving their work arrangements in the coming years.

At conception, spaces can be future-proofed on the design front, eschewing “trendy” designs so that they do not become quickly outdated. Instead, they will only require minor updates to satisfy evolving tenant needs.

With the need to cater to a plethora of different companies, it is no surprise that flexible workspaces have become the laboratories for the future of work, showcasing to corporates and entrepreneurs alike what people want on a massive scale. Through the sheer number of different users and customers that come through our doors, we have had an opportunity to better understand customer behaviour and habits irrespective of corporate culture.

Innovation part of a sustainable workplace

For many companies, the interest in placing an innovation or project team in one of our spaces is driven by the desire to try out and prototype workspace practices prior to implementing it in their own offices. This allows them to “try” before they buy, allowing them to experience workspace best practices without having to invest heavily into the capex or ideas themselves.

We have adopted this philosophy of a long-term lifecycle approach towards sustainability. Operational practices are important (for example, ensuring recycling bins are available throughout our spaces, or pooling resident tenants together for joint CSR initiatives), but are second to this vital first consideration.

Leveraging data and experience has provided us with insights into the design of the most heavily trafficked and used areas of the office, allowing for informed choices to be made regarding the use of appropriate and quality materials. This is a long-term view that dictates how we consider ways to minimise replacement.

Quality office furniture in the workplace with great design ensures ergonomics are paired with durable materials and changeable parts that can be updated rather than replaced.

Towards a carbon neutral workplace

Furthermore, office furniture as a service has now become a more widely recognised concept, allowing flexible workplace providers to offer just-in-time customisation and furniture based on client’s specific needs. Not only is it more sustainable, it reduces capex and the purchasing of redundant goods.

It also allows operators to be more reactive to the needs of the day. If we do have objects that we have purchased but no longer need, end-of-life recycling and disposal programmes are the best approach. This way items can be repurposed, reused, or donated.

While there is still more that can be done, pockets of the flexible workplace industry can be proud of the progress made on delivering sustainability for members and shareholders. From engineered wood to LED lighting, leveraging natural lighting and the usage of energy conserving blinds, as well as having a green supply chain and recycling bin operations, we are well on our way to a carbon neutral future.

This article originally appeared in the Entrepreneur's Digest print edition #91 and has been edited for clarity, brevity and for the relevance of this website.

About the Author

Justin Chen | CEO | Arcc Spaces

Having spent over a decade in real estate development and hospitality, Justin manages the strategy, design and development of Arcc Spaces and its portfolio of spaces across Asia. He is also instrumental in the planning and implementation of the overarching business strategy for the Arcc group. He brings with him a strong understanding of the multiple facets of real estate from acquisition, site selection to design, construction and project management. Justin earned his Bachelor Degree of Arts in Architecture from The University of California, Berkeley.