It’s Earth Day: Thoughts on the sustainable work space

Sustainable Work Space

It’s the 46th anniversary of Earth Day, a perfect time to take a moment to highlight what we see and hear around the industry and the community in terms of environmentally conscious development and the sustainable work space.

The Building

At the BisNow Seattle’s Earth Day Pre-Game on April 20th, the panelists expressed concern about greenwashing buzzwords and policies, or developers and users doing the bare minimum to satisfy LEED requirements or local regulation. Walker Leiser, Greenroof and Living Wall Specialist at Solterra Systems said his company’s focus has been to bring nature into an urban environment with green roofs and living walls. But he considers abiding by current regulations and “bringing the outside in” just a baseline. The next level is to address grey water capture and reuse, and further, addressing the use and reuse of energy and water by the people in the buildings.

Behavioral Change

Which brings us to the issue of adoption. You can construct a building in a way that has minimal environmental impact and energy efficient systems, but to make a significant and long-term impact, you need the tenants to embrace a more sustainable environment and way of operating on a day to day basis. Claudia Fère-Anderson, Director of UW Sustainability said “If you have tech that is green, it doesn’t do much without people being cognizant.” The people occupying the buildings need to be engaged and educated to initiate a real behavioral change. Ms. Fère-Anderson said the University easily met regulatory requirements to reduce paper usage by 30% in the offices, but once they succeeded in engaging the students in other initiatives, i.e. composting and developing their own plans of action, the impact of their behavior changes far exceeded anything that checking a box on a list of rules could have.

Sustainable Work Space

When asked about Millennials’ impact on sustainable development Dina Belon, Director of Paladino & Company said they are “driving innovation due to their desire for a health and wellness lifestyle.” Furthermore, they want to be inspired by their space. And it’s not just Millennials. In a world where technology allows for tech savvy workers of all stripes to work outside of the office, it is all the more important to create a sustainable work space that is attractive, comfortable and yes, inspiring to draw them back in.

The Nature Conservancy recently moved into their new headquarters, and chose to work with furniture design company Watson to acquire locally sourced, sustainable office furniture. All of Watson’s products are manufactured at The Orchard, a 34 acre forested headquarters located in Poulsbo, WA. The raw materials used are all regionally sourced, and the pieces are manufactured using advanced machining processes, and handcrafted finishing. Watson believes “we should return this world in better condition than we found it. We adhere to the concept of Practical Environmentalism in which our aggressive pursuit to minimize impact on our planet is achieved within a disciplined structure of environmental and financial accountability.” See below for photos of The Nature Conservancy’s space, a beautiful demonstration of the philosophy to “bring the outside in”.

Here at Kinzer Partners we also thought carefully about the space we were creating for ourselves. Our conference room table is 100% “made in the USA” from locally sourced reclaimed wood and metal by Meyer Wells. Meyer Wells only uses salvaged, reclaimed or responsibly harvested wood within a 100 mile radius of their mill located just outside of Seattle, and work with local, small forest land owners and family farms. LED lights have a myriad of benefits and were the only choice for Kinzer’s office. They have a long life, are energy-efficient, durable, have zero UV emission, excellent light disbursement, and allow for substantial design flexibility. In addition, we made sure to arrange the overall work space to maximize the impact of our windows. Not just for executive offices, they allow for natural light as well as the energy of South Lake Union to flow into the entire work space, increasing productivity and an overall sense of well-being. And everyone seems to love our living wall designed and maintained by Botanical Designs.

We have come a long way from 1970. Initiatives and regulatory action by the City of Seattle and King County along with the adoption of sustainable standards and innovation by developers and designers has made our region a prime example of what a sustainable work space can be. But we have a long way to go. Transit solutions are on their way, but won’t be completed in the immediate future. Reduced operating expenses are great incentive for tenants, but developers also need increased incentives on their side to motivate them to push farther. And for true, long-term sustainability, let’s continue to seek innovative ways to engage the people inside those buildings to adapt and adopt new habits and new technology for the sake of our health and well-being now and in future generations.