Green and friendly office properties

14 Feb 2013

With so many companies and property owners jumping on the green building bandwagon, I thought I should look into the benefits of what users derive from these properties and what they are all about.

In the Johannesburg CBD, the Absa Towers West is a green building office which has created a challenging and rewarding place to work, providing an opportunity for the bank to become a leader in transforming workplaces as energy savers.

I aspire to work in a green building, but after talking to one of my dear friends who is totally against fancy titles, I was left unsure of what to make of these properties, but of course, experts and owners of these buildings have more to tell us.

It began with an email chat to my friend Mathumo Manaka who recently moved to Durban to slow down a bit (who wouldn’t if you spend hours sitting in Johannesburg traffic).

Luckily for him, his office is located a mere 10 minutes' drive from his house. He absolutely loves the property location with sea views and lots of fresh air, something which is duly lacking in many office properties.

But it is not just the property location, the fact that this entire environment is almost natural ensures that he is happy to go to work every morning, go for a walk or jog on the beach and ultimately watch the sunset while enjoying a beer or catching up with friends.

“I enjoy the sea view/ beachfront from my office and it is a refreshing and exciting to have all of this especially coming from the big city,” he says.

This is far flung from his days in Johannesburg where most of his time was spent trying to drive from one point to another.

Green building benefits

According to Manfred Braune, technical executive at the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA), a green building delivers a suite of financial and environmental benefits which conventional buildings do not.

According to Braune, although the impacts of improved IEQ can be difficult to measure, multiple peer-reviewed studies have linked improved indoor environments to greater productivity, including increases in the amount of work accomplished, better student performance, improved worker retention, reduced absenteeism from work or school and reduced hospitalisation times.

In any green building, there is increased productivity, that is, improved internal environment quality (IEQ) due to enhanced ventilation, temperature and lighting control, as well as daylight and the absence of toxic materials result in increased health, comfort and wellbeing of building occupants, he points out.

“This has been shown to lead to increased productivity – an important area of focus due to the significant potential impact on the profitability of a business.”

Braune explains that studies show improvements in productivity of up to 20 percent - easily covering the premium which may be paid for the higher quality green space.

He says because salaries can represent as much as 88 percent of typical annual costs in a commercial building, it follows that productivity increases associated with green buildings can have a significant impact on the profitability of a business.

However, Manaka is not a subscriber to green building philosophies nor is he a property developer, he believes productivity can be increased by various things and this depends on the individual.

As an example, he points to the fact that many modern and even some old office properties offer open plan seating which can be both a blessing and a nightmare.

While he is one of the lucky few with an office within an office boasting sea views, he does not appreciate colleagues who simply walk into his office unannounced to say hello.

As an example, he points to the fact that many modern and even some old office properties offer open plan seating which can be both a blessing and a nightmare.

This he says can be very disruptive and feels even if one were to be in a green office, such colleagues are just not acceptable considering that social media has made it possible to chat to the person sitting next to you without uttering one word.

Another thing he feels is that companies that either own green properties or aspire to, can help with productivity by creating an environment that makes people want to come to work.

Some offices tick all the possible boxes for a good building but in many instances, the people working in those properties walk around with long faces and cannot wait for the clock to strike 4pm so they can call it a day.

Many employees are often on sick leave citing flu symptoms and tummy bugs, in reality, some of their office properties are just not environments that encourage creativity never mind promote good health.

So what is his solution to this then? Quite simply actually, employees love being incentivised, and if a company can add a free cappuccino machine to the office kitchen and perhaps an 80 percent subsidy on canteen food and a booze bar for Fridays you end up with a happy productive team and not an absent one.

But that is Manaka’s take, whatever yours is, the point of the matter is we spend more hours in office spaces and if the air is not healthy we get sick, then we take sick leave and productivity is nil.

Click here to read more about green buildings benefits.  

On productivity

According to Braune, although the impacts of improved IEQ can be difficult to measure, multiple peer-reviewed studies have linked improved indoor environments to greater productivity, including increases in the amount of work accomplished, better student performance, improved worker retention, reduced absenteeism from work or school and reduced hospitalisation times.

‘Bringing the outside inside’ is a huge trend at the moment and plants have always been a peaceful and calming influence in an interior space. The 17m high Vertical Garden installation is the tallest in South Africa with more than 7 500 plants (mainly indigenous) in the building fed mostly by rainwater from roof storage, and seasonal changes are made to plants.

He notes that one US study of office worker productivity reached the following conclusions

1. An increase in daylight illumination levels up to seven metres resulted in a 13 percent improvement in productivity.

2. An ample and pleasant view was consistently found to be associated with better office worker performance.

Office workers were found to perform between 10 and 25 percent better on tests of mental function and memory recall when they had the best possible view versus those with no view.

3. Glare from windows decreased performance by between 15 and 21 percent.

4. Increased ventilation was associated with performance improvements of between 4 and 17 percent.

5. Physical comfort conditions were found to affect worker performance by up to 20 percent.

6. Better quality ventilation reduces sickness by between 9 and 50 percent.

Furthermore, he says the report notes that four of the key attributes associated with green building design – increased ventilation control, temperature control, lighting control and daylighting – have positively and significantly correlated with increased productivity.

It is generally accepted that toxic substances in the workplace can increase sick days and sap energy levels – hence the commonly-used term “sick-building syndrome”.

Statistical evidence suggests that reduced sick-building syndrome would yield between $10 and $30 billion in potential productivity benefits nationally in the US.

Adrian Leaman and Bill Bordass are considered international experts in post occupancy and building use studies.

Their 2005 paper ‘Productivity in Building: the Killer Variables’, based on extensive surveys carried out in the UK, claims that productivity gains of up to 20 percent can be achieved through improvements in heating, cooling, lighting, ventilation and noise, noting that occupant control over these elements is a key contributing factor.

According, Robin Wheeler, writer, author and speaker at BEntrepreneuriNG, any living space ought to be well-thought through and when it comes to work, it is essential that people not only enjoy the work they do, but derive inspiration and creativity from their immediate surroundings.

South African financial services provider Alexander Forbes moved to its new green state-of-the-art property located on 115 West Street in Sandton late last year, reinforcing a growing trend in going green.

Read the article here.

Building green is also a trend in homes nowadays.

According, Robin Wheeler, writer, author and speaker at BEntrepreneuriNG, any living space ought to be well-thought through and when it comes to work, it is essential that people not only enjoy the work they do, but derive inspiration and creativity from their immediate surroundings.

Wheeler spends most of his time in his home office and when he renovated his home, he says it was important that he created a space that allows him to be creative, while at the same time a place where he is able to relax.

His office overlooks a garden and because he can take regular breaks to sit outside, he finds this to be a friendly and inspiring environment to work from.

Green office properties

In the Johannesburg CBD, the Absa Towers West is a green building office which has created a challenging and rewarding place to work, providing an opportunity for the bank to become a leader in transforming workplaces as energy savers.

According to Sandile Mthiyane, head of corporate real estate services engineering at Absa, they wanted to create a business environment for employees, customers and other stakeholders who align with the bank’s sustainability strategy and the regeneration of the Absa CBD Campus.

Asked about some of the impacts of the green building on employees, Mthiyane says they have easily integrated very well with the energy efficiency and sustainability systems in and around the Absa Towers West building.

“It is now normal to walk into an unlit and unoccupied boardroom, then automatically the occupancy sensors switch on the lights till the meeting is concluded.”

Furthermore, Mthiyane says employees have relaxed seating areas lined with trees inside the building while the natural light coming in through the glass ceiling and roof has fully replaced the need for electric lighting in the eight storey common area, making use of the sunny skies.

Furthermore, Mthiyane says employees have relaxed seating areas lined with trees inside the building while the natural light coming in through the glass ceiling and roof has fully replaced the need for electric lighting in the eight storey common area, making use of the sunny skies.

Employees now have recycling bins where waste is separated into paper, plastics, glass and food matter.

“This has encouraged employees to recycle at home having being influenced by the practices at work,” says Mthiyane.

Nedbank Menlyn Maine, the bank’s regional head office in Pretoria, Gauteng has a 4 Star Green Star Rating from the GBCSA featuring open spaces to encourage free communication, networking and cross-functional collaboration.

Click here to read more.

According to Kerry Tangney, Nedbank manager for design, the use of glass promotes transparency and the distribution of light and helps to open up the space.

She says the allocation of cellular spaces were focused around the core of the building, thus allowing the open work plan areas to receive the full benefit of the natural light penetration supporting light harvesting.

Tangney explains that the benefit of such a design is that it promotes creativity because the breakaway rooms or pause areas are designed to look very different from the office space.

“We wanted spaces where staff can step away from their desks and interact in a completely new and different environment and hopefully, inspire new ideas.”

“Also, there is a great deal of comfort that we have incorporated into the design to give the feel of a home away from home.”

Nedbank aspires to create a great place to work for staff and part of this effort was the collaboration with Prof Andrew Thatcher from the University of Witwatersrand in assisting in using the building to improve the productivity of staff.

Tangney explains that the benefit of such a design is that it promotes creativity because the breakaway rooms or pause areas are designed to look very different from the office space.

“The workplace is no longer just a place where you go to work – it is now a space that needs to adapt according to the needs of the people that use it.”

For this property, Nedbank chose to use the open plan desk policy together with reusable materials in creating an office environment that helps to ensure they maintain a maximum level of flexibility within the workspace.

She says the reception area is truly symbolic of current trends with one of their proudest landmarks being the Vertical Garden.

‘Bringing the outside inside’ is a huge trend at the moment and plants have always been a peaceful and calming influence in an interior space. The 17m high Vertical Garden installation is the tallest in South Africa with more than 7 500 plants (mainly indigenous) in the building fed mostly by rainwater from roof storage, and seasonal changes are made to plants.

Asked what makes this property special, she says it is the first building in South Africa’s first green precinct and the third occupied Nedbank building to achieve the sought after 4-Star Green Star Rating from the GBCSA.

The other two buildings are Nedbank Phase II Head Office in Sandton and Ridgeside in Durban.

Menlyn Maine is included in the Clinton Climate Initiative as one of 16 green cities being developed worldwide.

The initiative is headed by former US President Bill Clinton, and forms part of the Climate Positive Development Programme, she says.

If like me, you do not work from a green office but work within an office block with a garden, it is quite useful to walk in the garden and stretch your legs. – Denise Mhlanga

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