Green office design for healthier workplaces by Space Matrix

Greening the workplace: Helping Singapore — and the world — design greener, healthier offices


Greening the workplace: Helping Singapore — and the world — design greener, healthier offices


Ever since the UNDP released its 17 sustainable development goals in January 2016,1 countries, organisations and people have rallied around each other to meet the targets set out for a better world. Organisations and workplaces have a huge influence on what people consume and how they spend their time and therefore, they have a larger role to play in reducing the impact of climate change, improving the health and well-being of communities, and building sustainable cities. In fact, corporate initiatives like RE100 are committing to 100% renewable energy at facilities and workplaces, 2 and leading organisations across the world are working to reduce the impact of climate change, improve the health and well-being of communities, and help build sustainable cities.

One of their biggest concerns is energy-efficient buildings. Buildings remain the largest energy-consuming sector today — they account for 40% of energy usage and contribute 30% of total city-wide emissions. 3 That’s why green building rating frameworks like LEED, IGBC and the BCA Green Mark Scheme of Singapore are the need of the hour.

Singapore’s BCA Green Mark Scheme

In a bid to hasten the real estate industry towards a more sustainable future, Singapore’s Building and Construction Authority launched the Green Mark Scheme in 2005. This scheme sets forth certain building performance benchmarks and construction best practises to help reduce resource waste, cut down energy consumption and minimise harmful environmental impacts within the sector.

The effect of the Green Mark Scheme is palpable. A recent report assessed global cities based on the percentage and performance of green buildings — and ranked Singapore 2nd in the world. Moreover, the Little Red Dot came out on top with regard to green building policies and targets.

Impressive though this is, Singapore will have to pick up the pace if it wants to achieve its targets of having 80% of its buildings meet the Green Mark standards by 2030. Currently, just around 30% of its building stock meets the qualifications. 4 The corporate sector can play a major role here, by embracing Green Buildings and implementing environmentally sound practices with office design. At Space Matrix alone, our LEED and Green Mark certified projects with organisations like Vestas and AbbVie have played a huge role in reducing energy usage and improving occupant comfort and overall employee productivity.

Why Green Buildings make great business sense:

  • Energy saving: Green buildings provide smarter, more sustainable solutions with regard to lighting, temperature controls and ambient factors. This brings down energy costs considerably, so firms working out of these buildings notice an immediate economic advantage. Besides, it leads to the reduction of the overall carbon footprint.
  • Healthier employees: People working in Green Buildings report being less fatigued, enjoy higher immunity and are less prone to experience burnout. Acknowledging the correlation between energy efficiency and wellness, the government has introduced a new scheme called Green Mark for Healthier Workplaces. Companies with a user-centric and sustainable design that encourages a healthier lifestyle within its offices are recognised under this scheme.
  • Long-term sustainability: Most firms today recognise the importance of minimising long-term environmental impact and ensuring a better future for generations to come. Embracing sustainable practices is a big part of the corporate consciousness, and working out of green buildings can help firms live up to their core value of eco-friendliness.

How can office interiors be designed keeping “greening” in mind?

1. Active building design

The shift to sustainability can start right from the construction phase — offices built near public transport hubs and bike routes do indeed encourage employees to leave their cars at home.

Other design elements, like bike racks installed in prominent locations, prompt employees to start seeing cycling as a convenient alternative to driving to work. Well-equipped showers and locker rooms complement this active workplace strategy and make cycling a practical option even in hotter climates. Encouraging a greener, fitter lifestyle is beneficial for companies too — the Dutch Cycle-To-Work scheme actually recorded 27 million euros in savings, simply by reducing absenteeism. 5

Another significant change can be brought about by paying attention to where the staircases are built. In many offices, the staircases are tucked away at one end of the building and are often nothing more than an emergency exit. But if they are spacious and centrally located as in the case of the 3-floor open volume staircase at thebridge @ Ascendas Innovation Plaza, Shanghai, employees are more likely to take the stairs rather than wait for the elevators.

thebridge @ Ascendas Innovation Plaza, Shanghai

Besides having a user-centric sustainable design, a workspace can also have real-time feedback mechanisms that report on energy and water usage, indoor air quality, and waste management within the premises. This allows for continuous monitoring and refining of the space.

2. Design that encourages non-wasteful, green usage

From construction to the post-occupancy stage, sustainability can be built right into the workspace design. Non-toxic chemicals can be used as the office is designed and built, and special attention paid to the proper disposal of construction waste. Solar panels and rainwater harvesting units fitted on the office terraces can reduce dependence on non-renewable resources for years to come.

Compost pits, differentiated bins and recycling units in the work and pantry areas are a great way to promote eco-consciousness among the workforce and encourage employees to recycle and segregate their waste. Companies can also make more sustainable choices with water-efficient commercial dishwashers, water extractors and smart showers.

We recently used these strategies to help Nutanix build a highly sustainable workplace in Singapore. Not only did we recycle 75% of the construction waste generated, but we also installed LED lighting and low flow water fixtures across the office to cut down waste at the source.

Nutanix, Singapore

3. Ambient features

When it comes to greening the workplace, sometimes the simplest solutions are the most effective. While designing the ServiceNow office in Singapore, we put the workstations along the perimeter of the building. This lets employees work in natural sunlight while reducing the office’s dependence on electric lights. In fact, by using all new LED lights throughout the office, we managed to keep the total installed lighting at 8653 watts. This resulted in a total saving of 39% as compared to the BCA Green Mark base case.

ServiceNow, Singapore

For the Adobe workspace in Bangalore, we included a gorgeous rooftop work area where people can tackle their tasks while making the most of the cool Bangalore weather.

Adobe, Bangalore

Lights being left on through the day or a central air conditioning system cooling empty rooms are massive energy drains. Making use of smart sensors are an ideal solution here. Northern Trust’s Pune office features a circadian lighting system, where sensors are used to detect the amount of sunlight and adjust the level of illuminance within the office.

Northern Trust, Pune

Temperatures can be regulated based on factors like occupancy, the weather outside and employees’ preferences. One brilliant example is the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH), which has been recognised as a Green Mark Platinum building. The hospital café addresses the issue of over-cooled workspaces by letting people eat in a natural setting. The air conditioner is turned on only once the temperature exceeds 34°C.

4. Greenery indoors

Incorporating biophilic elements into office design not only has major positive effects on employees’ health and mental wellbeing, but it also offers striking environmental benefits, an aspect we explored when we worked on the award-winning design of Prudential’s WorkPLAYce.

Prudential WorkPLAYce, Singapore

Potted plants absorb harmful chemicals and toxins, thereby improving indoor air quality without the need for electric-powered purifiers or humidifiers. Green walls and moss walls also have an added benefit of cooling down spaces and reducing the need of having the air-conditioning on at full blast. Cosy cafes and work nooks resplendent with greenery can become attractive spots to work from when employees need to move away from closed, air-conditioned environments. Besides the resource-saving benefits, the new office has enabled Prudential to place their employees' wellbeing at the core of their everyday functioning. This shift has enabled Prudential to double their hiring and improve employee satisfaction. In fact, they have jumped an incredible 31 places in the past year to rank at number 11 as an employer of choice in Singapore.

When incorporating energy efficiency and wellness into a workplace, thinking sustainability right at the conceptual stage is important. That’s when we measure and model the environmental impact of the space and take a holistic approach to building performance as well as design in order to minimise energy and resource usage. Finally, analysing your employees’ needs and workstyles right at the planning stage helps to create a design environment that focuses on their wellness, too.

Are you ready to make sustainable choices with your corporate office design and be LEED or Green Mark certified? Let’s talk.